Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Beechingesque Folly

Posted in Commuter, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 21 December 2009

I think it’s fair to say that even into the 1990s, British Rail were still in the grips of a Beechingesque attitude to the railways, not seeing an improvement in passengers or income, and so doing all it could to maximise what it had, usually by closure, rundown and consolidation, which was the mantra of The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways when it was published in 1963. Obviously, I speak with hindsight, whereas those in charge of British Rail would have needed foresight. Nevertheless, was it too great a leap to suggest that rail traffic might increase? However, although some good was achieved during the 1980s, there was also acts of folly that have prevented the railway from operating even better. My bone of contention here returns me to the lost rail terminals of London, namely Broad Street and Holborn Viaduct. I have already said that Broad Street is an opportunity lost to give commuters from north-east and north-west London, which have poor rail links into the City even now, direct access by train. Broad Street was set to be closed under Beeching, but was reprieved after protests. However, British Rail ran down the level of service steadily through the 1970s, which meant that fewer passengers used the station, allowing BR to then claim it would be more economical to close the station. Of course, it’s easy to claim this when the company that makes the claim is the one that is reducing the levels of service. Broad Street was located on prime land right in the City of London, and was worth a fortune when British Rail sold it for the Broadgate development. “Don’t worry,” they said, “you’ll still be able to get the train into the City”. But, funnelling the services that used to use Broad Street via a connection into Liverpool Street next door was never an answer, because Liverpool Street was already full to bursting. As I’ve said, it would have been no bother at all to have incorporated even a four platform station (because that was what was left by the time Broad Street closed) into the Broadgate. In today’s privatised railway, open-access operators would no doubt be clambering over themselves to gain access to such a facility. The second terminus I spoke of is Holborn Viaduct. Unlike Broad Street, this at least was replaced by City Thameslink. However, Holborn Viaduct, which sat at the end of a 300 yard branch from Blackfriars, was a six platform station, while City Thameslink is a two platform throughway built for the Thameslink project in the mid 1980s, which saw the reopening of the Snow Hill Tunnel through the City. I’ve thought about this and have come to the conclusion that when the decision was taken to close Holborn Viaduct, the decision makers must have been smoking a bad batch. Rather than do this, surely it would have been more logical to close the inferior Blackfriars, which after all is only 300 yards away, and have high level and low level platforms at Holborn Viaduct, which could be used for all of the terminating services from the south, the Thameslink services through towards King’s Cross (now St Pancras) and as a relief for services into Cannon Street/Charing Cross. So, that’s my idea – in my alternate railway world, Holborn Viaduct would be there instead of Blackfriars, serving the purpose that Blackfriars currently serves, while Broad Street would be the nexus of a large part of the London Overground network, with services to Clapham Junction via both the East London Line and West London Line.

Pip's Alternate London


2 Responses

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  1. Claire said, on 22 December 2009 at 3:12 am

    Did you make this map yourself? If so, how?

  2. Chairman Pip said, on 22 December 2009 at 9:18 am

    I took the ATOC London Connections map and jiggled it a bit. Of course, as is often the case with these things, you look at it and realise you left bits out. It will be done to my satisfaction eventually!

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