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Rail campaigners celebrate Severn Beach, but want renationalisation
‘Fifty years on, Beeching’s still wrong’ is the message rail campaigners will be sending out on Saturday 23 March 2013.
Bristol agrees. Bernard Kennedy, Bristol secretary of the rail union ASLEF, said “History has proved that although promoted in glowing terms of 'financial viability' the Beeching Report was, in reality, an axeman's charter."
James White, Bristol Civic Society, said "The single most disastrous decision in the history of public transport anywhere in the world" followed by the deliberate sale of the land assets means we are now facing a public transport crisis. The deliberate dismantling of the system built by our Victorian ancestors will take a huge investment to replace, far more than was received for the sales. The demand for trains can be seen everyday and we must enable the system to react to this demand much faster”.
Severn Beach station was one of the 2,363 stations identified for closure in 1963. On Saturday, Friends Of Suburban Bristol Railways (FOSBR), with song sheets, and key players from the Tarka Rail Association (Barnstaple line) and AVOCET (Exmouth line) will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Beeching cuts on the scenic train route to Severn Beach station and back. The train is scheduled to arrive at Montpelier Station at 14.21 where a display of placards, maps and graphs on the station will be recorded for posterity by a Bristol film maker.
5,000 miles (8,000 km) of track were deemed redundant in the 1963 Beeching Report. Some sections were flogged off to extend private gardens, others converted into cycle routes. But public persistence ensured that 350 new stations have been opened in the past 50 years with Scotland’s enlightened government achieving a record of 87 stations. The South West openings include Bristol Parkway (1972), Tiverton Parkway (1986), Yate (1989), Worle (1990) , Cam and Dursley (1994). Every one of these stations were financed and built by public bodies such as British Rail, Somerset Council, Avon County Council and Northavon County Council.
Beeching was spectacularly wrong over passenger numbers as commuters in overcrowded trains are reminded daily. In March, the press reported that passenger numbers on the Severn Beach line almost hit the million mark.
There is nothing magic about this. It is entirely due to the 2006/2007 budget agreement, supported by all Bristol councillors, to pay First Great Western £1.3 million over three years for a more frequent service between Temple Meads and Avonmouth Stations. The investment by Bristol City Council improved on the franchise agreement and provided two trains and two train crews and a 40 minute frequency until early evening. Thanks to Councillor Mark Bradshaw for ensuring that this agreement was implemented. Mark proved that councillors will listen and can act.
A 30 minute frequency was the aspiration of the 2006/7 Joint Local Transport Plan, the demand of the FOSBR 2006/7 campaign and the first point on FOSBR membership form. FOSBR urges Bristol and South Gloucestershire councillors to ensure that the West of England Partnership (WEP) campaigns for their rail policy. The network exists, 25 stations exist. Henbury freight line could be relatively cheaply become a passenger line as well.
Three Bristol rail unions are affiliated to FOSBR – ASLEF, RMT and TSSA. Last year their national organisations funded ‘The Rebuilding Rail Report’ which compared our privatised rail network and the European network which is largely publicly owned. The challenge is to adopt the step by step approach in the report.
A new group called WE OWN IT says privatisation hasn't worked for our railways. The Rebuilding Rail report showed the government could save £1.2 billion a year by bringing all the franchises in the Uk into public ownership. Passengers suffer high fares and overcrowded trains as a result. We need to plan so that our railway works for us.
Britain’s Growing Railways, Railfuture in 2010 www.railfuture.org.uk
The Rebuilding Rail report www.fosbr.org.uk under Latest Updates.
NB This line was saved by Avonmouth dockers, rail workers, the Severn Beach Passenger Line Association (1975 – 1990) and since 1995 by FOSBR and affiliated groups.
The Half Hour Train Campaign ensured that Bristol City Council (BCC) acted as a transport authority and provided funding for two trains and two train crews between Temple Meads and Avonmouth Stations for three years. This involved detailed negotiations with the train operator. The improved service started in May 2008.
Tony Hill of the Barnstaple/Exeter North Devon 'Tarka' line;
Since the nadir when BR ran down the capacity of the line in the 1980s and a service of just seven trains per day, the Tarka Line has gone from strength to strength, especially since the turn of the century. Well over half a million journeys are made now – the most the line has ever carried! This has all be made possible through dialogue between the Tarka Rail Association, Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, Devon County Council, First Great Western and Network Rail. We now have 14 trains per day on weekdays (15 on Fridays when the late evening train runs) and seven each way on Sundays. As everywhere else, the main problem now is lack of capacity at peak times throughout the year which hopefully will be resolved in the near future.