Great Central mainline closure

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Bevan Price

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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.
Yes - but the connections at Sheffield or Nottingham were useful for people living in the North (Manchester, etc., ) travelling eastwards (via Woodhead). Until the rundown of GC-related routes, Sheffield Victoria was on the only through route between Manchester and Doncaster & Lincoln plus the East Coast Resorts from Cleethorpes down to Great Yarmouth.

It was only for travel south of Nottingham & Leicester from Manchester where other routes became better choices than the GCR Main Line. (For many years, the Midland route between Manchester & Nottingham only had about 2 trains per day each way; at other times you had to change at Derby Midland.)

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
In some cases there might have been no need to use more resources to attract additional passengers. What should have been done was to examine the timetables to see how they could have been more useful. As I have commented previously. if you look at plenty of old timetables, it was obvious that they were totally useless if you wanted to commute to/from work or school. In other cases, it was equally impracticable to make sensible leisure trips for shopping or cinema/theatre entertainments. Whether it was due to complacency, lethargy, or even incompetence, that rarely seemed to happen.

Now some people comment that commuting was less common historically - but how much was due to commuting being impossible because timetables did not allow it? A basic replanning to run trains to suit passenger convenience rather than operator convenience could have attracted lots more passengers -- but no - "close as much as we can" seemed to be the preferred Beeching era solution.

(Not that I think that the GC Main Line express services could have been saved, but I think replanned timetables might have let a useful semi-fast service remain north of Leicester Central. )
 
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Bald Rick

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if you look at plenty of old timetables, it was obvious that they were totally useless if you wanted to commute to/from work or school. In other cases, it was equally impracticable to make sensible leisure trips for shopping or cinema/theatre entertainments. Whether it was due to complacency, lethargy, or even incompetence, that rarely seemed to happen.

It may be obvious with the benefit of more than half a century of hindsight, but it wouldn’t have been obvious then.
 

Bevan Price

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It may be obvious with the benefit of more than half a century of hindsight, but it wouldn’t have been obvious then.
Well it should have been. Any competent manager should have been able to examine the times at which they were likely to be most useful. Instead, the same poorly planned timetables were allowed to continue with, at most, very minor changes for years & years.
 
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Peter Sarf

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Well it should have been. Any competent manager should have been able to examine the times at which they were likely to be most useful. Instead, the same poorly planned were allowed to continue with, at most, very minor changes for years & years.
I suppose that a lot of the railways with indifferent passenger services were primarily a freight route. From what I have read the Great Central Route seemed to be primarily a freight railway. Until the 1950s freight was probably the dominant customer on most of the UK railways. Exception would be the London Underground including the Metropolitain Line at the very South end of the GCR.
 

Taunton

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The principal GC Marylebone-Manchester etc expresses were withdrawn at the start of 1960, long before Beeching, replaced by the handful of semi-fasts as far as Nottingham, which lasted for about another eight years, followed by the little shuttle between Nottingham and Rugby for a short while. On the last Saturday in 1960 of these "expresses" (which actually stopped every 20-30 miles or so) there was an all-day observation of them at Leicester Central, an engine changing point for them, which was reported at length in an article in Trains Illustrated magazine, Modern Railways' predecessor. This included comments on the loads carried, which were not that much even then, the most being on the one through York-Bournemouth train each way, which was retained. Of course nowadays you can get on Cross Country every 30 minutes via Birmingham for much of this service, which is more appropriate.

Any competent manager should have been able to examine the times at which they were likely to be most useful. Instead, the same poorly planned timetables were allowed to continue with, at most, very minor changes for years & years.
Trains weren't just for passengers then. A lot (far more than the "postal specials") were contracted for a van or so in the train to the post office, at specific times, as part of their nationwide mails network.
 

edwin_m

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Now some people comment that commuting was less common historically - but how much was due to commuting being impossible because timetables did not allow it? A basic replanning to run trains to suit passenger convenience rather than operator convenience could have attracted lots more passengers -- but no - "close as much as we can" seemed to be the preferred Beeching era solution.
There were commuters into office jobs in city centres, and where the railway thought it could compete it would provide frequent services and even invest in electrification, as seen in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. This was mainly for the more long-distance commuters. Trams and later buses were slower, but for a smaller city with shorter commuting distances this was outweighed by the convenience of a stop nearby and a much better frequency.

I don't think the railway could have competed in somewhere like Nottingham even if it had thrown money at increasing the frequency. Most stations were poorly placed, and as mentioned freight made (what looked like) a solid profit and took much of the capacity. West Bridgford, an sizeable commuter dormitory for Nottingham, had the Midland as well as the Great Central passing through, both built late in the railway era when competition was starting to bite, and neither provided a station (Edwalton station was brought into the West Bridgford boundary much later).
 

Irascible

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It may be obvious with the benefit of more than half a century of hindsight, but it wouldn’t have been obvious then.

That's probably worth a thread of it's own ( when did it become obvious? ) - but any railway with an existing long-standing communter operation ( and that's any of them who went near a major city ) should have found it obvious - there was already hindsight!

Directly relating to the GCR, well... not much of a commuter railway no matter what you did to it.
 

Taunton

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Now some people comment that commuting was less common historically - but how much was due to commuting being impossible because timetables did not allow it?
Actually it was something different. A large number of "commuting" office jobs until the 1960s worked on Saturday mornings, including all the City of London etc. It made a significant difference (says one who, likewise, had school on Saturday mornings) to the distance you went if you only had one day a week off travelling, instead of two, and thus the commuting cohort tended to live much closer to their workplace than nowadays, and indeed were far more ready to move house if they changed location even within one employer. It was particularly galling to travel a good distance in on Saturdays just for four hours in the office.

In passing, I notice a number of "enthusiast specials" pictured in old magazines/books from the 1950s-60s with itineraries actually departed from termini in London, Manchester etc at about 1.30pm on Saturday afternoons, because many of their participants would be working on Saturday mornings in central offices of banks, insurance companies, etc - and of course the offices of the railway itself, which did the same.
 
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MichaelAMW

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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.
You're both right, actually. There were a small number of years, approx 1993-95 (not done an exhaustive check) when the SATURDAY service was indeed every 45 mins out of St Pancras. The Sundays were even less frequent, with 90-minute gaps out of St Pancras in the morning/middle of the day, although it picked up somewhat later on for the returning weekenders. Weekdays were more or less as you describe.
 

D6130

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Wasn't it quicker to go via High Wycombe?
90 limit North of South Ruislip, but longer mileage, so the two routes would more or less balance each out IIRC. I don't have a relevant timetable to hand though, but that's what I was told by old hands when I worked at Aylesbury more than 30 years ago.
 

Grumbler

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It amazes me that Watkin ever managed to get the funding for the London Extension in the first place. As I understand it, the MS&L was known as "money sunk and lost" and when it became GC "gone completely".
 

JonathanH

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You're both right, actually. There were a small number of years, approx 1993-95 (not done an exhaustive check) when the SATURDAY service was indeed every 45 mins out of St Pancras. The Sundays were even less frequent, with 90-minute gaps out of St Pancras in the morning/middle of the day, although it picked up somewhat later on for the returning weekenders. Weekdays were more or less as you describe.
There was a period in the late 1980s before extra HSTs became available that there was a pattern repeating every 90 minutes of half hourly departures to Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester so only one train every 90 minutes to each of Sheffield and Nottingham on weekdays - see https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/intercity-midland-mainline-timetable.213817/#post-4982485
 

RT4038

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Wasn't it quicker to go via High Wycombe?
In Summer 1956, the 'South Yorkshireman' 4.50pm was booked 2h10m from Marylebone to Leicester (Central) with one stop at Aylesbury. The 'Master Cutler' 6.18pm, which ran via High Wycombe, was booked 2h11m with one stop at Rugby (Central). So a bit of a muchness (via High Wycombe was a faster route but a greater distance).
 

WesternLancer

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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.
Points well made - tho west of Friargate the line via Etwall (that was a BR test track in later years) would have provided the potential for services to Stoke and Crewe. I just assume they were not offered. Did that route have passenger services eg pre grouping?
 

Railwaysceptic

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It amazes me that Watkin ever managed to get the funding for the London Extension in the first place. As I understand it, the MS&L was known as "money sunk and lost" and when it became GC "gone completely".
I agree. It also amazes me that the other directors of the company did not stop him. The venture was obviously doomed to commercial failure. It went south via Brackley instead of via Daventry and Buckingham, used the Metropolitan Line route which was poor south of Wendover, had no spur towards east London and had island platforms which reduced speed potential for express trains. I've always found the entire venture highly suspect.
 

Western Sunset

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Points well made - tho west of Friargate the line via Etwall (that was a BR test track in later years) would have provided the potential for services to Stoke and Crewe. I just assume they were not offered. Did that route have passenger services eg pre grouping?
Yes, GN ran to Stafford via Uttoxeter. Also services to Burton.

Still holiday traffic into the 1950s, eg Leicester to Llandudno. Also the well-known King's Norton to Skeggy took that route into the 60s.
 

swt_passenger

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How much of the route is being repurposed for HS2?
Very little. For about 11 miles north of Quainton Rd it could be considered to be roughly overlaid on the GC formation, but not exactly. The curve radius required means it doesn’t align at the long curves, and I believe the vertical alignment is also completely different. I’d estimate only about 60% of that stretch is “on” the GC horizontal position.

There are detailed OS maps online, the following page has the “country south” area, it’s the four map sequence starting at “Route passes Buckinghamshire Railway Centre”:

 
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Philip

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People can make the case that the railway wasn't making a profit because it wasn't serving many 'important' places or was only duplicating an alternative route, but as a public service should that matter? For villages like Braunston, Willoughby and Woodford Halse; in the present age there wouldn't be much of a case for a railway station as the majority of people have cars and roads have improved, but in the 1960s the railway was a key part of these villagers' lives (because many people didn't have cars back then and bus travel would have been complicated because of poor access), so the closing of the railway would have been a big deal for people in those kind of places.
 

tbtc

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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.

The A6 is a great comparison for HS2 - this was once the main road from London to Manchester and western Scotland (which is presumably why Bonnie Prince Charlie came down as far as Derby before taking his troops back home for Christmas) - but practically no traffic from London to Manchester or western Scotland would go via Bakewell today, since we've got a significantly faster route up the Trent Valley (the M6) - but removing the long distance traffic has made the people in the Peak District get "their" roads back, since the towns are no longer congested with cars/ lorries that are passing through without stopping there and contributing to the local economy in any way

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

Good point - I can see that some of the arguments can look seductive but we are applying a modern lens to them

And if you had a route that saw a handful of people use a handful of services a day then it'd be very "brave" to decide that significantly increasing the frequency would not only increase the passenger numbers but in fact increase the average loadings too (rather than just spreading that handful of passengers thinner across more trains)

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.

You're both right, actually. There were a small number of years, approx 1993-95 (not done an exhaustive check) when the SATURDAY service was indeed every 45 mins out of St Pancras. The Sundays were even less frequent, with 90-minute gaps out of St Pancras in the morning/middle of the day, although it picked up somewhat later on for the returning weekenders. Weekdays were more or less as you describe.

There was a period in the late 1980s before extra HSTs became available that there was a pattern repeating every 90 minutes of half hourly departures to Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester so only one train every 90 minutes to each of Sheffield and Nottingham on weekdays - see https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/intercity-midland-mainline-timetable.213817/#post-4982485

Thanks for the clarifications - my memory was that things were every ninety minutes to Sheffield until the early 1990s (I certainly concede that I'm assuming a forty five minute service south of Leicester, but if there were shorts then that changes things a bit!), then increased to hourly for Sheffield (i.e. half hourly south of Leicester) in the early 1990s, so that was the pattern that Midland Mainline inherited, which they improved by introducing the hourly Derby - London and hourly Nottingham - Londons stoppers with the 170s (that sat at Leicester for a good ten minutes to ensure connections with the HST in the adjacent platform) - there was a token service to Burton, Barnsley and Matlock, but generally the 170 services were only to/from Derby and Nottingham - Sheffield only gained a second hourly London train when the 222s came along

People can make the case that the railway wasn't making a profit because it wasn't serving many 'important' places or was only duplicating an alternative route, but as a public service should that matter? For villages like Braunston, Willoughby and Woodford Halse; in the present age there wouldn't be much of a case for a railway station as the majority of people have cars and roads have improved, but in the 1960s the railway was a key part of these villagers' lives (because many people didn't have cars back then and bus travel would have been complicated because of poor access), so the closing of the railway would have been a big deal for people in those kind of places.

The "public service" aspect is something that's only been really tagged onto railways in modern times - they were built to make a profit - but if the passenger numbers weren't enough in an era when car ownership was low then I can see why an assumption was made that passenger numbers would continue to fall as car ownership grew and grew
 

A0wen

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People can make the case that the railway wasn't making a profit because it wasn't serving many 'important' places or was only duplicating an alternative route, but as a public service should that matter? For villages like Braunston, Willoughby and Woodford Halse; in the present age there wouldn't be much of a case for a railway station as the majority of people have cars and roads have improved, but in the 1960s the railway was a key part of these villagers' lives (because many people didn't have cars back then and bus travel would have been complicated because of poor access), so the closing of the railway would have been a big deal for people in those kind of places.

BIB - it was usually bus travel which did for such stations though, mainly because the buses actually served the villages the railway station purported to and tended to go to the places people wanted for shopping etc.

It's worth looking at the stations on the GC London extension between Quainton and Rugby and seeing exactly how remote some of these were:

  • Calvert - on the edge of the village which is only about 1000 people even now, it was much smaller in the 1960s.
  • Finmere - nearer to Newton Purcell than Finmere and 1.5 miles away from Finmere.
  • Brackley Central - on the edge of Brackley even now.
  • Helmdon - half a mile south west of the village - Helmdon's population is about 1000 currently.
  • Culworth - a mile away from Moreton Pinkney, 2 miles away from Culworth. Culworth in 2011 had population of 445, Moreton Pinkney 371.
  • Woodford Halse - was in the village - a village which grew because of the railway. The population at the height of the railway being there was about 2000.
  • Charwelton - was on the edge of the village, which in 2011 had a population of 220.
  • Braunston & Willoughby - basically on the edge of Willoughby, about 1.5 miles away from Braunston. Braunston has a population of about 1,800, Willoughby is about 400.
Equally of those, the nearest towns which would have been destinations for shopping etc would have been as follows:

Calvert > Bicester
Finmere > Buckingham
Helmdon > Brackley or Banbury
Culworth > Banbury or Towcester
Woodford Halse, Charwelton > Daventry
Braunston & Willoughby > Daventry or Rugby

So as can be seen the GCR didn't really provide a "valued link" to the nearest town for market, shopping, doctors etc. Only in 2 cases did it actually achieve this and even then only partially.

Discounting Brackley as the one 'large' place on the route (though small in the scheme of things) these stations barely scraped 7000 people across all of them. And most of them weren't close to the villages they were named after.
 

WesternLancer

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Yes, GN ran to Stafford via Uttoxeter. Also services to Burton.

Still holiday traffic into the 1950s, eg Leicester to Llandudno. Also the well-known King's Norton to Skeggy took that route into the 60s.
Thanks

I agree. It also amazes me that the other directors of the company did not stop him. The venture was obviously doomed to commercial failure. It went south via Brackley instead of via Daventry and Buckingham, used the Metropolitan Line route which was poor south of Wendover, had no spur towards east London and had island platforms which reduced speed potential for express trains. I've always found the entire venture highly suspect.
I assume railways were still seen as a licence to print money at that point? Hard to criticise people who can't see the future of course.

I guess we've learned from it - no sense in wasting money on getting on with building a high speed line from the 1970s onwards was there a la TGV.;)
 

Western Sunset

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The MSL did try to get the GN onside, by suggesting that a totally new route to London would be advantageous to both. It would avoid the GN having to "plaster-up" its route (presumably by adding goods loops), whilst also opening up new areas of the country hitherto undeveloped.
 

RT4038

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The "public service" aspect is something that's only been really tagged onto railways in modern times - they were built to make a profit - but if the passenger numbers weren't enough in an era when car ownership was low then I can see why an assumption was made that passenger numbers would continue to fall as car ownership grew and grew
That is not quite true - the Government quite early (1842?) mandated 'Parliamentary' passenger trains, which had to operate whether they made a profit or not. However, the gist of your point still stands.
 

Western Sunset

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Even before the MSL had eyes on London, Yorkshire coalmine owners had attempted a "Coal Line" further east of the GN, to break the GN and Mid hold on the coal trade. The ins and outs of late 19th-century railway politics are quite fascinating. I can recommend Grinling's book on the GN (written over a hundred years ago now), as an insight into the machinations that took place.
 

43096

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Thanks for the clarifications - my memory was that things were every ninety minutes to Sheffield until the early 1990s (I certainly concede that I'm assuming a forty five minute service south of Leicester, but if there were shorts then that changes things a bit!), then increased to hourly for Sheffield (i.e. half hourly south of Leicester) in the early 1990s
From memory, wasn’t the early 1990s improvement enabled by East Coast electrification? That enabled a cascade of HST sets, with MML, Great Western and Cross-Country all being beneficiaries.
 
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