Great Central mainline closure

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nw1

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Which can be resolved by connections on the following routes:
Leicester-Nuneaton-North West
Derby-Stoke/Crewe-North West
Nottingham-Sheffield-Manchester
if there genuinely is demand. The common view is that the demand is minimal.

I suppose my theory on whether medium- or long-distance links should have been kept open is: 'if there is a green-signed trunk road [the A6 in this case], there's demand for a through rail route'. Not saying this theory is correct though.

Could tourism have also been a factor in keeping this route alive, with the 'right' service (i.e. a limited-stop service from the cities as suggested above) given it goes right through the Peak District? I still maintain that part of the reason these lines were unprofitable was that they had a poor service - Oxford to Bletchley is perhaps a striking example of this. The theory is "make the service good, and people will use it" - which has been proven in recent times on Chiltern for example, but was not a popular theory at the time of Beeching.
 
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LNW-GW Joint

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IIRC, when Justine Greening was in charge of transport she was picturing a possible route for HS2 that would have followed an 'old line'/ no longer used/ with capacity ie the Paddington- Banbury line and onward to the midlands, which could have served Birmingham (like Chiltern) and/or Leicester etc via GC. She was already conscious of costs and NIMBYs and was perhaps prescient, in hindsight.
I think that was Ruth Kelly, well before Justine Greening.
Ruth had no feel for the railway at all, and claimed there was a disused route from London to Birmingham.
Justine (Coalition period) knew her stuff, and so did her successor Patrick McLoughlin, when HS2 got real parliamentary traction.
Labour's Ruth Kelly and her successor Geoff Hoon did nothing for the railway in their 2 years, until replaced by Andrew Adonis.

HS2 does use bits of the GC alignment in west London and north of Aylesbury, and also some of the Kenilworth-Berkswell route in Warwickshire.
 

MichaelAMW

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There were really very few through services via the GC between Leicester and Manchester. The Midland was the well established link.

Back in the day such long distance passenger journeys were quite rare anyway.

I suggest that you look at some old timeables.
The last few posts, including this one, have hit the nail on the head for something that I find a bit frustrating in these "We should have kept..." conversations. There simply weren't that many trains around then and the lines were often able to survive because of the needs of freight. Marylebone never had much more than about an hourly service, half of which didn't get beyond Rugby, so the idea that the GC was this hugely busy mainline is just wrong. There were about as many trains from Marylebone to Manchester in a day as there are now from Euston in an hour or so! RT4038's reply at post #116 details six trains a day from Leicester to Manchester but two didn't come from London and one was a sleeper. Talk of a missing link for Leicester to Manchester is perfectly sensible but these days people would assume a frequent service would be needed, say hourly, not a small number daily. The destinations of interest would be swamped with trains, so the modern way is to have some through services and some connections.
 

RT4038

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I suppose my theory on whether medium- or long-distance links should have been kept open is: 'if there is a green-signed trunk road [the A6 in this case], there's demand for a through rail route'. Not saying this theory is correct though.

Could tourism have also been a factor in keeping this route alive, with the 'right' service (i.e. a limited-stop service from the cities as suggested above) given it goes right through the Peak District? I still maintain that part of the reason these lines were unprofitable was that they had a poor service - Oxford to Bletchley is perhaps a striking example of this. The theory is "make the service good, and people will use it" - which has been proven in recent times on Chiltern for example, but was not a popular theory at the time of Beeching.
But in 1967, where would these extra passengers come from? Making what kind of journeys? Oxford-Bletchley trains, running about every 2-3 hours were running seriously under utilised and making a massive loss. Doubling the service would have doubled the operating costs. Would it seriously have doubled the number of passengers? And even if it did, the line would still be making a loss.
In a way British Railways did follow your theory - consolidate the available passengers onto the minimum of lines (recognising that those not catered for were going to be lost, but they could not be catered for economically anyway) and then increase frequencies on those lines remaining. But real success had to wait until social changes put more money into peoples' pockets and increased leisure travel, and also made people less residentially mobile, thereby increasing longer distance commuting.
Prior to the Beeching period passenger numbers were on a downward trajectory on most lines. There was very little evidence that increased service would result in sufficient extra business to turn loss making lines into a profit. Where it had been tried (Bristol suburban for example) they had often not produced worthwhile increases in passengers to pay for the additional costs. What manager would have staked his career on doing just that between Oxford and Bletchley at that time? None.

The last few posts, including this one, have hit the nail on the head for something that I find a bit frustrating in these "We should have kept..." conversations. There simply weren't that many trains around then and the lines were often able to survive because of the needs of freight. Marylebone never had much more than about an hourly service, half of which didn't get beyond Rugby, so the idea that the GC was this hugely busy mainline is just wrong. There were about as many trains from Marylebone to Manchester in a day as there are now from Euston in an hour or so! RT4038's reply at post #116 details six trains a day from Leicester to Manchester but two didn't come from London and one was a sleeper. Talk of a missing link for Leicester to Manchester is perfectly sensible but these days people would assume a frequent service would be needed, say hourly, not a small number daily. The destinations of interest would be swamped with trains, so the modern way is to have some through services and some connections.
An hourly frequency out of Marylebone onto the Great Central proper [i.e. beyond Quainton Rd] is a little overegging things, and no train terminated from the south at Rugby Central! In Summer '56, the departures on Mo-Fr were 7.47am (to Leicester, stopping), 10am (to Manchester, express), 10.20am (to Brackley, stopping), 11.55am (to Manchester, express), 1.30pm (to Woodford, stopping), 3.20pm (to Manchester, express), 4.50pm (to Bradford, express), 5pm (to Woodford, stopping), 6.12pm (to Woodford, stopping), 6.18pm (to Sheffield, express), 10pm (to Manchester, express).

I am not sure where forum posters think all the resources would have come from to increase services to hourly clock face headways? The railways were virtually bankrupt - increasing services double (or more) in the hopes of gaining enough extra business to produce profits would just be laughed at - perhaps some key inter city routes, but certainly not bucolic byways. Quite rightly too.
 

tbtc

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The last few posts, including this one, have hit the nail on the head for something that I find a bit frustrating in these "We should have kept..." conversations. There simply weren't that many trains around then and the lines were often able to survive because of the needs of freight

This is a bugbear of mine too - plenty of British Railways routes that survived continued to have terrible services/ frequencies well into the 1980s - I've mentioned before that the combined London - Leicester service was only every forty five minutes as late as the 1990s under BR - so the idea that we'd have ever been able to realistically throw sufficient resources at providing some of these failing routes is a bit ... optimistic!

But it's the same with every discussion about a failing station/line nowadays - you'll get someone suggesting that somewhere with low passenger passenger numbers in 2019 (i.e. you're still seeing hardly anybody use it after a generation of rising passenger numbers, when most other places have seen numbers double)...

...then the reaction is "well, before we look at closing it we should significantly increase the frequency for a trial period of ten years before taking any drastic action"!

Any spare resources have a long list of priorities for where they could be allocated (same today as it was in the 1960s), rather than trying to prop up failing routes

Yet we'll keep seeing the same attempts at deflection - people suggesting that cash strapped BR (who barely had the money to keep the lines that were running, without stumping up for all of the mothballed lines etc) should have kept finding the money to throw more resources at the "one man and a dog" services just in case they ever bounced back
 

Bald Rick

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I suppose my theory on whether medium- or long-distance links should have been kept open is: 'if there is a green-signed trunk road [the A6 in this case], there's demand for a through rail route'.

Point of order, the A6 isn’t a trunk road for any part of its route, and hasn’t been for a while.
 
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Dr Hoo

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Point of order, the A6 isn’t a truck road for any part of its route, and hasn’t been for a while.
As someone who regularly drives on part of it in the Peak District I can assure you that there are plenty of 'trucks'. (But it hasn't been a 'trunk' road for ages.) :)
 

Dr Hoo

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Do you see any elephants on it?
We'll get into trouble for going off-thread but the answer is 'only if you go as far south as Luton and there are tourist signs to Whipsnade Zoo with elephants on. (I suppose that the GC did occasionally run 'circus trains' like other railways back in the day but hardly a reason to keep it open.)
 

6Gman

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I am not sure where forum posters think all the resources would have come from to increase services to hourly clock face headways? The railways were virtually bankrupt - increasing services double (or more) in the hopes of gaining enough extra business to produce profits would just be laughed at - perhaps some key inter city routes, but certainly not bucolic byways. Quite rightly too.
Long distance passenger trains were, in some ways, a nuisance in the 1950s as they got in the way of what the GC was really all about.

Coal (and a bit of other freight).

For example, in 1951 there were something like 40 southbound freight trains scheduled through Rugby each weekday.
 

Dr Hoo

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Long distance passenger trains were, in some ways, a nuisance in the 1950s as they got in the way of what the GC was really all about.

Coal (and a bit of other freight).

For example, in 1951 there were something like 40 southbound freight trains scheduled through Rugby each weekday.
Quite so. Especially when the WCML, Midland Main Line and ECML had extensive sections of quadruple track (or alternative routes) that facilitated separation of traffic flows whereas the GC was very largely two-track.
 

Dr_Paul

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... the MML is a relatively slow, twisty line even today.
I remember my first journey from St Pancras to Sheffield, it was on an HST and, compared to long-distance journeys from Paddington (steam, in 1961) Euston (electric) and Kings Cross (diesel and electric), I was surprised at how slow it was, I felt that the HST never really got going. Whether a journey on the Great Central to Sheffield in an HST, had the line survived, would have been quicker is not a question I'll attempt to answer.

We had a thread on this question a few years ago with links to some good references, I’ll try and find it. As you say it’s a railway myth that just doesn‘t ever give up…
Indeed, only just the other day I read this canard somewhere or another. It's strange how the Great Central European Loading-Gauge tale is accepted as genuine.
 
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BrianW

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I think that was Ruth Kelly, well before Justine Greening.
Ruth had no feel for the railway at all, and claimed there was a disused route from London to Birmingham.
Justine (Coalition period) knew her stuff, and so did her successor Patrick McLoughlin, when HS2 got real parliamentary traction.
Labour's Ruth Kelly and her successor Geoff Hoon did nothing for the railway in their 2 years, until replaced by Andrew Adonis.

HS2 does use bits of the GC alignment in west London and north of Aylesbury, and also some of the Kenilworth-Berkswell route in Warwickshire.
Thank you for that correction; it caused me to look further.


I wonder how history will tell the 'story'- a lot of chapters (volumes) yet to be written; and early chapters re-written?
 

Grumbler

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Long distance passenger trains were, in some ways, a nuisance in the 1950s as they got in the way of what the GC was really all about.

Coal (and a bit of other freight).

For example, in 1951 there were something like 40 southbound freight trains scheduled through Rugby each weekday.
GCR = Great Coal Route!
 

Western Lord

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I remember my first journey from St Pancras to Sheffield, it was on an HST and, compared to long-distance journeys from Paddington (steam, in 1961) Euston (electric) and Kings Cross (diesel and electric), I was surprised at how slow it was, I felt that the HST never really got going. Whether a journey on the Great Central to Sheffield in an HST, had the line survived, would have been quicker is not a question I'll attempt to answer.
No, it wouldn't have been quicker, not least because you would have to spend several miles trundling along the Metropolitan line at 60 mph. The GC "London Extension" never actually reached London on its own and the route from Marylebone to Leicester was longer than the Midland (and longer still if via High Wycombe).
 

ChrisC

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I remember my first journey from St Pancras to Sheffield, it was on an HST and, compared to long-distance journeys from Paddington (steam, in 1961) Euston (electric) and Kings Cross (diesel and electric), I was surprised at how slow it was, I felt that the HST never really got going. Whether a journey on the Great Central to Sheffield in an HST, had the line survived, would have been quicker is not a question I'll attempt to answer.
It’s a question that I’ve often wondered about. If the Great Central had remained open and been fully modernised and upgraded to speeds of up to 125mph what would journey times be from Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester to London? The southern section into Marylebone would always be the problem with slow running along the Metropolitan Lines. Sheffield to Nottingham and Nottingham to Leicester would probably have been faster than current timings.

The main problem, as discussed many times is that Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham Victoria and Leicester Central had no easy onward connections to other lines. Therefore it could only really have been kept as a self contained route with no easy through running or connections to other destinations.
 

RT4038

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It’s a question that I’ve often wondered about. If the Great Central had remained open and been fully modernised and upgraded to speeds of up to 125mph what would journey times be from Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester to London? The southern section into Marylebone would always be the problem with slow running along the Metropolitan Lines. Sheffield to Nottingham and Nottingham to Leicester would probably have been faster than current timings.

The main problem, as discussed many times is that Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham Victoria and Leicester Central had no easy onward connections to other lines. Therefore it could only really have been kept as a self contained route with no easy through running or connections to other destinations.
The Sheffield-Nottingham section had an issue with mining subsidence, which would have been quite expensive to mitigate.
 

ChrisC

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The Sheffield-Nottingham section had an issue with mining subsidence, which would have been quite expensive to mitigate.
Fully understand that as it’s that section of the old GC route which is closest to where I live. I just about remember, as a very small child, regularly standing and watching the York to Bournemouth train passing along that section. I very clearly remember the green southern region carriages. My question was purely hypothetical as I fully understand that the Great Central probably did have to be closed.
 

edwin_m

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Sheffield to Nottingham and Nottingham to Leicester would probably have been faster than current timings.
Sheffield to Nottingham maybe, subject to the issue of subsidence, as it would avoid the crawl round Radford and Trowell (though the bit in between is much faster than it was a few years back).

Nottingham to Leicester probably not, or at least not significantly. The Midland route is about 80mph to Trent then 100mph+ pretty much right into Leicester.
 

Dr_Paul

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Indeed, only just the other day I read this canard somewhere or another. It's strange how the Great Central European Loading-Gauge tale is accepted as genuine.
Found it! '... the Great Central main line... Britain's only major route constructed to the Continental (UIC) loading gauge' -- Adrian Vaughan, Railway Blunders (Hersham, 2003), p 93. That it's in a book on mistakes, misjudgements and outright tall tales in respect of British railways makes it all the more remarkable.
 

Dr Hoo

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Found it! '... the Great Central main line... Britain's only major route constructed to the Continental (UIC) loading gauge' -- Adrian Vaughan, Railway Blunders (Hersham, 2003), p 93. That it's in a book on mistakes, misjudgements and outright tall tales in respect of British railways makes it all the more remarkable.
Dunno. Sounds just like the right place for it.

Authors are, of course, just as likely to 'blunder' as the rest of us anyway.
 

Dr_Paul

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Authors are, of course, just as likely to 'blunder' as the rest of us anyway.
All too true. Each time I've had a book published, I've always dreaded that moment when I or (worse) a reader notices a mistake. A spell-check error on my part in a book I edited resulted in George Orwell becoming an Old Estonian.
 

nw1

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Point of order, the A6 isn’t a trunk road for any part of its route, and hasn’t been for a while.

Ah ok. I do remember it being green-signed last time I was in the area, but admittedly this was some time ago, perhaps 20 years.

I guess, therefore, it's no longer the recommended road route from Manchester to Derby.

This is a bugbear of mine too - plenty of British Railways routes that survived continued to have terrible services/ frequencies well into the 1980s - I've mentioned before that the combined London - Leicester service was only every forty five minutes as late as the 1990s under BR - so the idea that we'd have ever been able to realistically throw sufficient resources at providing some of these failing routes is a bit ... optimistic!

I guess those of us not around in the 1960s didn't really understand the 1960s approach to railways and are trying to apply modern enhancement strategies ("this route can be saved by an hourly clock-face service with modern stock" or "they're opening Oxford-Bletchley now, surely it could have therefore been 'saved' by a better service then") to the situation as was then.

Was London-Leicester every 45 minutes that late, and continuously?
I am sure I recall the 'classic' pattern of the late 80s, early 90s (during the HST era) was an hourly service to each of Sheffield and Nottingham, the latter picking up the smaller stops such as Wellingborough, Kettering, Market Harborough, etc.

Then, sometime (late 90s?) it moved to 4tph, with 170s operating the slower services.
 
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Bald Rick

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Ah ok. I do remember it being green-signed last time I was in the area, but admittedly this was some time ago, perhaps 20 years.

I guess, therefore, it's no longer the recommended road route from Manchester to Derby.

Green signs doesn’t equal a trunk road.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Ah ok. I do remember it being green-signed last time I was in the area, but admittedly this was some time ago, perhaps 20 years.

I guess, therefore, it's no longer the recommended road route from Manchester to Derby.



I guess those of us not around in the 1960s didn't really understand the 1960s approach to railways and are trying to apply modern enhancement strategies ("this route can be saved by an hourly clock-face service with modern stock" or "they're opening Oxford-Bletchley now, surely it could have therefore been 'saved' by a better service then") to the situation as was then.

Was London-Leicester every 45 minutes that late, and continuously?
I am sure I recall the 'classic' pattern of the late 80s, early 90s (during the HST era) was an hourly service to each of Sheffield and Nottingham, the latter picking up the smaller stops such as Wellingborough, Kettering, Market Harborough, etc.

Then, sometime (late 90s?) it moved to 4tph, with 170s operating the slower services.

Service levels in the 1960's were a lot worse than today in many places (and I not talking branch lines here) , partly because the roll out of the Motorway network worked against the rail option - think M1 - until "proper" Inter-City came in after 1967 in particular with WCML electrification.

If you think Leicester had it bad , consider Liverpool which had 2 hour gaps into the early 1980's.
 

Bevan Price

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It’s a question that I’ve often wondered about. If the Great Central had remained open and been fully modernised and upgraded to speeds of up to 125mph what would journey times be from Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester to London? The southern section into Marylebone would always be the problem with slow running along the Metropolitan Lines. Sheffield to Nottingham and Nottingham to Leicester would probably have been faster than current timings.

The main problem, as discussed many times is that Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham Victoria and Leicester Central had no easy onward connections to other lines. Therefore it could only really have been kept as a self contained route with no easy through running or connections to other destinations.
That is incorrect about Sheffield Victoria -- the only difficulty was connections to Derby & beyond. The connection towards Lincoln and the East Coast was easier than the connection from Midland, and there were connections available via the old Rotherham Central to Doncaster, York, and (theoretically, Leeds, although there were no direct trains by the 1950s -- and you could get to Leeds via Penistone/Huddersfield).

Nottingham Victoria also had connections to Grantham, ECML & Skegness, also Derby -- the worst problem was the lack of connections at Derby Friargate for Birmingham, Stoke and the West Country.

Leicester Central was worst situated, with no connection to any other lines - a problem it had shared with the even more inconvenient Leicester Belgrave Road.
 

Dr Hoo

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That is incorrect about Sheffield Victoria -- the only difficulty was connections to Derby & beyond. The connection towards Lincoln and the East Coast was easier than the connection from Midland, and there were connections available via the old Rotherham Central to Doncaster, York, and (theoretically, Leeds, although there were no direct trains by the 1950s -- and you could get to Leeds via Penistone/Huddersfield).

Nottingham Victoria also had connections to Grantham, ECML & Skegness, also Derby -- the worst problem was the lack of connections at Derby Friargate for Birmingham, Stoke and the West Country.

Leicester Central was worst situated, with no connection to any other lines - a problem it had shared with the even more inconvenient Leicester Belgrave Road.
Whilst noting that Sheffield Victoria and Nottingham Victoria did indeed have potential connections to York, Doncaster, Retford, Lincoln, Grantham and so on I am struggling to understand why anyone would make a journey north from Marylebone via the GC route and change rather than going straight from King's Cross anyway (and v.v.).

The GC also only served Chesterfield via a slow loop and generally only with stopping trains. This was another reason for preferring the Midland route, which served the town comprehensively by all of its main route variations.
 
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