The Reshaping of our Railways: 6. Exordium and Bus/Rail Terminus

The sixth and final part of East of the M60’s report on the effects of its area’s railways before, during and after the publication of The Reshaping of British Railways

Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar
‘Looks Like We’ve Made It!’ – people power has not only been instrumental in the successful restoration of Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar, but also the retention and expansion of existing rail services.

Increasingly so in my later years, I made more of my middle or long distance journeys by train. Besides my usual station, which was unaffected by The Reshaping of British Railways, all the other stations I’ve used would have been. It is incredible to think that three quarters of Tameside’s rail services would have been affected had the report’s recommendations been fully implemented.

Thankfully they weren’t, thanks largely to the public outcry. Another major turning point was the launch of Passenger Transport Executives and SELNEC PTE’s steps in securing the future of our local rail services. Nowadays, train travel is at its most popular for 80 years, in spite of fare rises, substandard rolling stock on local services and overcrowding. The last point, due to the original terms of Northern Rail’s franchise being a ‘no growth’ one, denying its passengers new trains over their tenure.

The timing of Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act couldn’t have come at a better point for Greater Manchester’s passengers. Without which, Ashtonians would have had to make do with catching a 127 or 128 to what could have been their nearest station at Guide Bridge. Hydonians and Glossopians would have been cut off unless they travelled to Guide Bridge (difficult by bus in 1963 and even now from Hyde) or Hadfield. Equally incredulous, Bury wouldn’t have had a direct link to Manchester Victoria.

And, it is the 1968 Transport Act which we have to thank for the Metrolink’s rise. Ditto the above in Merseyside with their upgraded Merseyrail tunnels; the Tyne and Wear Metro; and the Birmingham to Wolverhampton Midland Metro.

Pantomime Villains

It is often said that the real villain of the piece was Doctor Richard Beeching himself. To some extent this may be true, but the real villain of the piece is Ernest Marples.

Marples’ interests lay in road building. His vision of the future involved motorways instead of high speed railways. He, consistent with the Conservative Party’s individualist policies, saw private motoring as a liberating force for good. Trains, along with other forms of public transport, was organised, communal and lacked aspiration in their eyes. The railways also had strong trade unions, anathema to the entrepreneurial nature of the new generation of haulage firms and private couriers.

Furthermore, his decision to employ Doctor Richard Beeching was Conservative Party ‘public bad, private good’ personified. He joined the British Railways Board from ICI, on a salary which would be equivalent to £500,000 per annum in today’s figures. His claim was that an outsider would look at British Railways through fresh eyes. Therefore, no sentiment nor feeling for the railway industry, nor respect for its past.

The passenger survey which took place on the 23 April 1962 (which was chosen as an average weekday outside the summer holiday season), also made no allowances for seasonal traffic. Some stations, like Skegness’ for example, had low patronage outside the summer season, and were slated for eventual closure (thankfully the town whose prosperity came from the railways still has her station). Conversely, the Whitby to Scarborough line was closed: a decision truly lacking in foresight, given inadequate bus services and that part of Yorkshire’s rise in tourism thanks to Heartbeat.

However, if there was any positive foresight that The Reshaping of British Railways had, it was the development of Inter-City services. The success of which not only allowed holidaymakers to travel from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Paignton with little or no changes, but also extended commuting areas. Had it not been for the closure of the Woodhead Line in 1981 (which – I must repeat – wasn’t slated for closure in Beeching’s report), Manchester Piccadilly would have had a potential link with Europe and be part of Beeching’s vision for Inter-City travel. Had it not been for the Tories’ closure in July 1981, we could have had Eurostars passing Guide Bridge and Crowden. It could have saved us a few million for HS2. Instead, the Woodhead line is part of the Longdendale Trail, a lovely six mile path, though somewhat out of place without EM1s or EM2s.

Aftermath

Post-Beeching, and after the last steam locomotive left Manchester Victoria railway station, it was felt that the romance of rail travel had gone. I would say it has lost something since loco hauled trains were supplanted by DMUs and EMUs. Even so, I am grateful for the fact our lines survived The Reshaping of British Railways, and that they are flourishing.

We also have these developments to thank for the rail preservation movement. Our love of the railways has not only allowed younger generations to ride on real trains, but also ride on hitherto closed lines. Close by, the East Lancashire Railway has been a great success. In recent times, it has extended its line to Heywood, revamped the Bury Transport Museum on Castlecroft Street, and acquired the canopy from Oldham Mumps railway station. The restored railway is now a must-visit part of Bury along with its Trackside Buffet Bar, nearby shopping centres and the famous market.

The Metrolink, besides its Bury, Oldham Loop and Altrincham lines, and street-running lines (East Manchester Line, Eccles/MediaCityUK), has also extended onto the Midland Railway route from Manchester Central up to St. Werburgh’s Road. By Summer, it shall reach East Didsbury.

It is thanks to the people of Greater Manchester and a late red-haired MP as to why we don’t need to get a 347 to Guide Bridge from Ashton, or a 237 from Glossop to Hadfield station. Without the Woodhead line’s suburban service, gridlock in Glossop would be much worse than today’s traffic levels. Ditto the above along Huddersfield Road. Imagine trying to the Whit Friday contest or the Ale Trail without the local service.

For the next fifty years, we still need to do everything to ensure the continued operation of our rail services, whether or not another Beeching style report comes. Today, we need to push for more carriages, new trains, the retention of our ticket offices, an alternative to the proposed skip-stop temporary service during electrification work. Or the restoration of a hourly Stockport to Stalybridge service. This time, the argument’s environmental as well as ideological.

Where on earth could we mull over the future of our rail services? Well, some of us could do so at the landmark seen at the top of this entry…

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Key Dates:

1885: Opening of Micklehurst Loop Line;

1907: Micklehurst station closed to passengers;

1909: Staley and Millbrook station closed to passengers;

1917: Closure of Uppermill and Friezland stations;

1948: Nationalisation of the Big Four Grouping Era companies into British Railways;

1950: Closure of Dukinfield and Ashton and Hooley Hill stations;

1954: Third Woodhead tunnel open, using continental loading gauge: electrification work from Manchester London Road to Sheffield Victoria and Wath-upon-Dearne completed using 1.2kV d.c. overhead line equipment. New depot opened in Reddish for EM1 and EM2 locomotives plus Class 506 EMUs;

1955: Closure of Delph branch and Greenfield to Oldham Glodwick Road lines to passengers: Delph, Measurements, Dobcross, Moorgate, Grasscroft, Grotton and Springhead, Lees and Oldham Glodwick Road stations closed;

1956: Rail Modernisation Plan. Ashton Park Parade station closed;

1959: OA&GB Railway closed to passengers, with Park Bridge and Ashton Oldham Road stations closing as a result. Closure of Dukinfield Central and Heaton Norris stations;

1960: DMUs seen on many local and regional express routes;

1962: Dr. Richard Beeching appointed chairman of newly formed British Railways Board;

1963: Publication of The Reshaping of British Railways. Sizeable amount of lines in Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside, Stockport and the High Peak affected. Middleton Branch, plus Middleton and Middleton Junction stations first to close;

1964: Royton branch and Royton station closed to passengers: line would close to all traffic in 1966;

1965: British Railways became ‘British Rail’ – station signage, liveries and graphic design overhauled by Design Research Unit;

1966: Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston electrification to 25kV a.c. system completed. Stockport Tiviot Dale station closed. Bacup – Rawtenstall line and stations closed;

1968: Cuts to local services and stations on Manchester Victoria – Huddersfield line: Diggle, Saddleworth, Slaithwaite, Golcar and Longwood stations closed. Local service reduced to peak periods only. Sunday service abolished. Droylsden station also closed;

1969: Formation of Passenger Transport Executives. Closures of Manchester Exchange and Manchester Central stations;

1970: Closures of Hayfield branch line and Castleton – Bolton line. Manchester Piccadilly – Macclesfield service via Hyde station curtailed to Rose Hill Marple, following closure of line to Macclesfield via Bollington and Higher Poynton. Woodhead line closed to passengers;

1971: Picc-Vic Project plans announced. Altrincham line converted to 25kV a.c. system, closure of Rawtenstall – Bury line to passengers;

1972: SELNEC PTE agrees to subsidise most local train services in Greater Manchester – the first Passenger Transport Executive to enter such an agreement with British Rail. Paytrains introduced on Stockport – Stalybridge service;

1974: SELNEC PTE becomes Greater Manchester PTE, as part of new Greater Manchester County Council boundaries;

1975: SaverSeven season ticket introduced, offering weekly travel on all local trains and buses throughout Greater Manchester;

1976: High Speed Train launched, opening of Brinnington railway station and revamp of Altrincham railway station to become bus/rail/car interchange;

1977: Picc-Vic project scrapped, opening of Bury Transport Museum;

1978: Opening of Hattersley railway station;

1980: Opening of Bury Interchange and closure of Rawtenstall – Bury line;

1981: Closure of Woodhead line, discontinuation of British Rail’s Collected and Delivered parcels service;

1983: Sectorisation of British Rail, privatisation of Sealink ferries and British Transport Hotels. Closure of Reddish depot;

1984: Conversion of Hadfield line to 25kV a.c, first Pacer units enter service in West Yorkshire (Class 141). Announcement of new physical Piccadilly to Victoria rail link – today’s Metrolink;

1985: New railway stations opened in Flowery Field, Godley and Derker. Class 142 Pacer units and Class 150 Sprinter units reach Greater Manchester;

1986: Abolition of Greater Manchester Council, Greater London Council and other Metropolitan Councils. Hazel Grove chord completed;

1987: Arrival of Class 156 Super Sprinter units for longer distance services. Bury – Ramsbottom railway reopened by East Lancashire Railway. Class 90 locomotives introduced to West Coast Main Line;

1988: Windsor Link opened, Metrolink plans approved;

1989: Manchester Victoria bound Trans-Pennine services rerouted to Manchester Piccadilly: Stockport to Stalybridge service drastically reduced to five trains a day;

1991: East Lancashire Railway reopen Rawtenstall – Ramsbottom section. Loco-hauled trains disappear on Trans-Pennine routes, replaced by Class 158 Express DMUs. Substantial improvements to Manchester Victoria – Huddersfield local services;

1992: Altrincham – Manchester and Victoria – Bury lines converted to and reopened as Metrolink routes;

1993: Publication of 1993 Transport Act, signalling the way towards present day privatised network. Manchester Airport railway station opens. Stockport – Stalybridge service reduced to once weekly in one direction;

1994: Privatisation process begins with infrastructure taken over by state-run Railtrack (later privatised in May 1996);

1995: Miles Platting, Park and Godley East (formerly Godley Junction) stations close;

1996: Closure of Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. Privatisation of Railtrack;

1997: Reopening of Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. North West Regional Railways and Regional Railways North East franchises won by Great Western Holdings and MTL Holdings. Class 323 EMUs introduced to Hadfield line;

1998: FirstGroup take over NWRR franchise, then known as North Western Trains. Manchester North resignalling works completed, replacing gantry at Miles Platting with colour light signals;

2000: MTL Holdings taken over by Arriva: RRNE franchise renamed from Northern Spirit to Arriva Trains Northern;

2001: Industrial action affects Arriva Trains Northern with temporary timetable offering real improvements for Stalybridge passengers (who lost direct links to Scarborough and Liverpool Lime Street that year). Railtrack restored to public ownership, regrouping as mutual company Network Rail;

2004: Franchise reorganisation sees new Trans-Pennine franchise, awarded to First/Keolis. First North Western and Arriva Train Northern local services merged to form new Northern Rail franchise, awarded to Serco/NedRail. Welsh services moved to Arriva Trains Wales franchise;

2005: New Class 185 Desiro units make debut on First/Keolis’ Transpennine Express routes with new depot in Ardwick;

2009: Plans for Northern Hub unveiled: electrification work from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria announced, with wires extending to Stalybridge;

2010: Electrification from Stalybridge and Guide Bridge to Church Fenton announced;

2011: Launch of Sir Roy McNulty’s report Realising the Potential of GB Rail. Cost-cutting nature of report leads commentators to regard it as a Son of Beeching;

2012: Remodelling of Stalybridge railway station;

2013: Oldham – Rochdale Loop Line converted to Metrolink operation via Shaw.

*                         *                         *

Credits:

  • Thank you to Sammy, my Jack Russell Terrier who has stayed quiet during the course of this six part series;
  • Images courtesy of Flickr account (Mancunian1001);
  • Real ales courtesy of Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar, J.D Wetherspoon and The White House (great for the 343);
  • Background music courtesy of Supertramp, Simple Minds, Electric Light Orchestra and roaring Class 40 diesel locomotives;
  • Tea by Taylor’s of Harrogate – Yorkshire Tea no less (no other brand will do!!!).

© 2013 Stuart Vallantine.

S.V., 29 March 2013.

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