Great Central mainline closure

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RT4038

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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.
Not only did the buses actually serve the villages that the stations purported to serve, but (in Rugby's case at least) served where the people wanted to go in the town better too. Even in Nottingham and Leicester, where the GC had well sited stations, the bus routes also served other parts of the City on their journey in and out. It is also to be realised that in that era buses were seen as a cleaner form of transport - my mum always says that you didn't travel by train in your best clothes, take the bus rather. In the late 50s/early 60s the railways were really dirty and run down.

Buses were seen as comfortable, convenient and dependable. Although really to be the subject of a different thread, this started changing with traffic congestion causing delays, one man buses being more powerful to enable the same journey time with the driver collecting the fares giving a less comfortable ride, the specification of buses reaching new lows on the altar of economy, and weaving through parked vehicles and traffic calming at speed, and diverting off the direct road due to by-pass construction, all conspiring to turn bus riding into a last resort. Ending a far cry from the Beeching cut period.
 
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A0wen

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Not only did the buses actually serve the villages that the stations purported to serve, but (in Rugby's case at least) served where the people wanted to go in the town better too. Even in Nottingham and Leicester, where the GC had well sited stations, the bus routes also served other parts of the City on their journey in and out. It is also to be realised that in that era buses were seen as a cleaner form of transport - my mum always says that you didn't travel by train in your best clothes, take the bus rather. In the late 50s/early 60s the railways were really dirty and run down.

Buses were seen as comfortable, convenient and dependable. Although really to be the subject of a different thread, this started changing with traffic congestion causing delays, one man buses being more powerful to enable the same journey time with the driver collecting the fares giving a less comfortable ride, the specification of buses reaching new lows on the altar of economy, and weaving through parked vehicles and traffic calming at speed, and diverting off the direct road due to by-pass construction, all conspiring to turn bus riding into a last resort. Ending a far cry from the Beeching cut period.

Though to be fair rural routes such as those which would have served places like Finmere and Helmdon would have been moved to one man operation in the 1950s - single decks like the Bristol LS, MW, AEC's Reliance and Leyland's Tiger Cub all arrived in the early 50s and would have been put to work on such rural routes.
 

RT4038

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Though to be fair rural routes such as those which would have served places like Finmere and Helmdon would have been moved to one man operation in the 1950s - single decks like the Bristol LS, MW, AEC's Reliance and Leyland's Tiger Cub all arrived in the early 50s and would have been put to work on such rural routes.
Well yes, of course. Having said that, Finmere was served, inter alia, by Service 131 Bedford-Buckingham-Oxford, jointly between United Counties and City of Oxford Motor Services. Whereas the COMS share went OMO in 1971, Bristol Lodekkas of United Counties served up to 1975. But the sentiment is correct, and services that went one-man in the 1950s generally were not in a good financial condition at all by the 1970s......

Any bus services paralleling the former GC route between Aylesbury and Lutterworth were pretty thin on the ground, even after closure of the line, and certainly not well paying economic propositions.
 
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A0wen

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Well yes, of course. Having said that, Finmere was served, inter alia, by Service 131 Bedford-Buckingham-Oxford, jointly between United Counties and City of Oxford Motor Services. Whereas the COMS share went OMO in 1971, Bristol Lodekkas of United Counties served up to 1975.

Though of course that didn't shadow the route of the GCR ! It served Finmere on an east <> west axis - as indeed the current buses still do linking Finmere to Brackley and Buckingham.

But the sentiment is correct, and services that went one-man in the 1950s generally were not in a good financial condition at all by the 1970s......

If indeed such routes actually made it into the 1970s - there were local authority funding cuts in the late 60s and early 70s - such a round of funding changes in the 1970s was part of the reason London Country closed their Luton depot and routes transferred to United Counties.

Any bus services paralleling the former GC route between Aylesbury and Lutterworth were pretty thin on the ground, even after closure of the line, and certainly not well paying economic propositions.

And this is the point - there wasn't demand to travel from Aylesbury to Brackley or Brackley to Rugby - and in reality there probably still isn't.

There is still demand to travel from Woodford Halse to Banbury or Daventry and there's still a bus covering that route.

The only way I think the GC London Extension *could* have survived is if a 'Garden City' or 'New Town' had been built at somewhere like Woodford Halse - the line would probably have then justified its existence to Leicester, but probably not through Leicester Central, but into Leicester Midland. North of Leicester it was a duplicate of the Midland - did the right line close ? Good question. The Midland had better links to Sheffield and Derby. The GCR omitted Derby, but had a better route beyond Sheffield and onto Manchester. I'm sure in a parallel universe the opposite decision was taken and there's a debate ongoing on Railforum's boards in that universe about how the "wrong" route was closed.
 

Gloster

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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.
Of these, Calvert, Finmere, Helmdon and Charwelton should have closed with the beginning of the 1961 summer timetable, but along with twelve others between Quainton Road and Heath were reprieved: they lasted until the beginning of March 1963. Culworth had closed in 1958.
 

Western Sunset

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I'm sure in a parallel multiverse, where all options are infinite, there's a GC worked by EM1s and EM2s working into Marylebone on 1,500vDC...
 

6Gman

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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 WycombAnd, i

I'm sure in a parallel multiverse, where all options are infinite, there's a GC worked by EM1s and EM2s working into Marylebone on 1,500vDC...
And of course, if the options are infinite then there are an infinite number of GCs worked by EM1s and EM2s!

;)
 

RT4038

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Though of course that didn't shadow the route of the GCR ! It served Finmere on an east <> west axis - as indeed the current buses still do linking Finmere to Brackley and Buckingham.
Which just shows how irrelevant that section of the GC was for local traffic. Having said that, the WCML and ECML weren't much either, once a similar distance to Aylesbury had been reached northwards!
If indeed such routes actually made it into the 1970s - there were local authority funding cuts in the late 60s and early 70s - such a round of funding changes in the 1970s was part of the reason London Country closed their Luton depot and routes transferred to United Counties.



And this is the point - there wasn't demand to travel from Aylesbury to Brackley or Brackley to Rugby - and in reality there probably still isn't.

Well quite. However this wasn't local authority funding cuts at that time. The territorial bus companies had been largely profitable up to about 1970 (some with lots of green fields such as Western National had lurched into loss a few years earlier, and some of the northern companies such as West Yorks Road Car and Northern General a few years later). However, they had all been formed into the Central Government owned National Bus Company in 1968 which now found itself in deficit. Local Authorities had very ill defined and challengeable powers to subsidise buses (other than their own Municipal undertakings) at that time and by and large did not subsidise them. in 1971 the NBC got all of its loss making companies to write to their Local Authorities and demand money with menaces. Most refused at that time, hence the sweeping route cuts/depot closures of Western National, Western Welsh in West Wales, Eastern Counties routes around the Ipswich area etc. Look around most NBC companies and you'll see their 1971 cuts. An early example of Central Government offloading its financial woes onto Local Government.

London Country Bus Services Ltd were particularly loss making. However those services in the 1971 cut in the Luton area initially passed to Court Line and Jey-son Coaches, only coming to United Counties when they collapsed later.

Even the Great Central north of Rugby was not exactly good bus territory - the Lutterworth-Rugby service has always been pretty thin.
 
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WesternLancer

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The only way I think the GC London Extension *could* have survived is if a 'Garden City' or 'New Town' had been built at somewhere like Woodford Halse - the line would probably have then justified its existence to Leicester, but probably not through Leicester Central, but into Leicester Midland.
This got me thinking - when the line was built the country had a wholly different (and far less restrictive) planning system than that which started to emerge in the inter-war period and became more solidified soon after 1945. It's not improbable that investors might have seen prospects of new towns / garden cities plus their own ability (metroland style) to create new communities on their route. All of that would have become far less possible as national planning policies changed in the wake of world war one.

That is not to say the GC route might have been based on those assumptions, but the nature of the route and the size and scale of the places it served might have changed had such planning approaches panned out differently.

A big 'what if?' of course.
 

Taunton

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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.
People constantly look at just the passenger side. The line handled a large and wide-ranging amount of freight, keeping it all on the GC instead of handing it over to the Midland or GN as previously. Coal traffic from Notts/Yorks to both London and the GWR at Banbury was substantial, and there was a lot of express freight as well, from Manchester, the docks at Grimsby/Immingham, etc. Passenger traffic was almost secondary. The loco allocations at the freight depots of Annesley (Mansfield) and Woodford Halse (Northamptonshire) were very substantial.
 

WesternLancer

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I recall talking to a late friend of my fathers who grew up in Nottingham and lived there until a young man AFAIK. He told me that he always preferred to use the GC from Nottingham to London because the trains were more comfortable to travel on. I would estimate that this would have been perhaps from late 1930s through to 1950s.

I assume that in that era it would have been LNER stock vs LMS stock on the Midland Main line (or would there have been plenty of pre grouping stock still?). Is / was such stock regarded as more comfortable? I don't think I have ever been on any ex LMS stock on preserved lines come to think of it, but have been on an LNER set at the Severn Valley.
 

Bevan Price

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I recall talking to a late friend of my fathers who grew up in Nottingham and lived there until a young man AFAIK. He told me that he always preferred to use the GC from Nottingham to London because the trains were more comfortable to travel on. I would estimate that this would have been perhaps from late 1930s through to 1950s.

I assume that in that era it would have been LNER stock vs LMS stock on the Midland Main line (or would there have been plenty of pre grouping stock still?). Is / was such stock regarded as more comfortable? I don't think I have ever been on any ex LMS stock on preserved lines come to think of it, but have been on an LNER set at the Severn Valley.
I always preferred LNER to LMSR stock in terms of comfort, but both were inferior to SR (Bulleid) or GWR stock. LMSR seats always felt harder, and were often stuffed with horse hair that poked through the surface and could irritate your legs (even when wearing trousers)
 

Western Sunset

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Probably more chance getting a seat on the GC too, rather than the Mid, where (on the latter) the train might've originated at Glasgow/Edin or Leeds/Bradford.
 

WesternLancer

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I always preferred LNER to LMSR stock in terms of comfort, but both were inferior to SR (Bulleid) or GWR stock. LMSR seats always felt harder, and were often stuffed with horse hair that poked through the surface and could irritate your legs (even when wearing trousers)
Thanks Bevan - I bet that is what he meant.

Probably more chance getting a seat on the GC too, rather than the Mid, where (on the latter) the train might've originated at Glasgow/Edin or Leeds/Bradford.
That's a good point too - and probably a factor.
 

gg1

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I always preferred LNER to LMSR stock in terms of comfort, but both were inferior to SR (Bulleid) or GWR stock. LMSR seats always felt harder, and were often stuffed with horse hair that poked through the surface and could irritate your legs (even when wearing trousers)

The LMS /GWR comparison tallies with conversations with my dad about rail travel in the late 40s to early 50s, he always thought GWR (and WR post 1948) trains were more comfortable than LMS/MR trains. He also commented on the stations, with GWR/WR stations being generally cleaner and appearing better maintained.
 

Grumpy

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Labour's Ruth Kelly and her successor Geoff Hoon did nothing for the railway in their 2 years,
I believe Crossrail was pushed forward and the legislation developed and the Bill authorised by Parliament on Ruth Kelly's watch.
 

Railwaysceptic

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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 doubt that by the 1890s it was still believed that railways were a fool proof investment. Already numerous railway companies had been rescued by bigger companies, and I believe that the rail passenger market to London from Yorkshire and the Midlands was considered at that time to be catered for more than adequately.

People constantly look at just the passenger side. The line handled a large and wide-ranging amount of freight, keeping it all on the GC instead of handing it over to the Midland or GN as previously. Coal traffic from Notts/Yorks to both London and the GWR at Banbury was substantial, and there was a lot of express freight as well, from Manchester, the docks at Grimsby/Immingham, etc. Passenger traffic was almost secondary. The loco allocations at the freight depots of Annesley (Mansfield) and Woodford Halse (Northamptonshire) were very substantial.
You have a point but I'm not sure it's a strong one. Watkin's sales pitch was that the London Extension was not mainly about freight but was about passenger services to London and to Europe. If the other directors had recognised that freight was the real justification, they should have insisted on a freight-only route with no stations at small villages and no Marylebone station either but with a very definite spur towards the Port of London, the biggest port in the country at the time. The Great Central (ex MS&L) was a railway company with a vibrant trade in and out of ports.
 

NoRoute

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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 wasn't obviously doomed, that statement depends entirely on hindsight. The London Extension opened in 1899, so planning likely at least 10 years previously, possibly longer but in 1890 the railways were dominant and growing, the motorcar had only just been invented and was little more than a curiosity, a self-propelling tri-cycle for amusement. Trams were still pulled by horses.

I doubt you, me or anyone around in 1890 could have foreseen the huge changes in transport over the next 50 years. Cars were toys, lorrys hadn't been invented, motorways weren't even a concept.

In 1890 the railways were the dominant form of transportation and likely to remain so, likely with strong growth in traffic forecast over coming decades. As a major railway network in the North of England, having a trunk route to London would be vital to that future growth and not serving towns along the route wasn't important if its primary purpose was to connect the North to London. And if rail traffic had continued to grow then the GCML would have been a great project. What sunk the GCML wasn't obvious flaws at the time of conception or construction, but the emergence of competition over the next 50 years which dramatically reduced rail traffic, violating the assumption and business model.

For all we know, we could be going through the same process today with the growth of video conferencing and remote working. How will future generations judge projects like HS2, justified on assumptions around continued growth of rail passenger numbers for years to come, will it prove a worthwhile long term investment? Or will they laugh at the (at that point!) obviously doomed project, with laughable assumptions of passenger numbers just as video conferencing and remote working, knocked the financial foundations out of the project? I don't know, it's not obvious.
 

tbtc

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It wasn't obviously doomed, that statement depends entirely on hindsight. The London Extension opened in 1899, so planning likely at least 10 years previously, possibly longer but in 1890 the railways were dominant and growing, the motorcar had only just been invented and was little more than a curiosity, a self-propelling tri-cycle for amusement. Trams were still pulled by horses.

I doubt you, me or anyone around in 1890 could have foreseen the huge changes in transport over the next 50 years. Cars were toys, lorrys hadn't been invented, motorways weren't even a concept.

In 1890 the railways were the dominant form of transportation and likely to remain so, likely with strong growth in traffic forecast over coming decades. As a major railway network in the North of England, having a trunk route to London would be vital to that future growth and not serving towns along the route wasn't important if its primary purpose was to connect the North to London. And if rail traffic had continued to grow then the GCML would have been a great project. What sunk the GCML wasn't obvious flaws at the time of conception or construction, but the emergence of competition over the next 50 years which dramatically reduced rail traffic, violating the assumption and business model.

For all we know, we could be going through the same process today with the growth of video conferencing and remote working. How will future generations judge projects like HS2, justified on assumptions around continued growth of rail passenger numbers for years to come, will it prove a worthwhile long term investment? Or will they laugh at the (at that point!) obviously doomed project, with laughable assumptions of passenger numbers just as video conferencing and remote working, knocked the financial foundations out of the project? I don't know, it's not obvious.

Good points - it's hard to know how much was "the vanity of a London link" versus "reasonable speculation, given the way that markets had expanded" versus "not wanting to be left behind or reliant upon other companies" versus "foolhardy business"

At the moment there are a number of "new" technologies that may be amazingly successful or drop away to nothing.

It may only take one twist of the Bitcoin price to scare away the new people required to keep a "bubble" going, and make some existing holders sell theirs at a loss to try to recoup anything, causing the price to freefall - but at the moment it seems like a success story (at least the acolytes tell me it is...) - maybe in five years time it'll be taught in business schools as the bubble that cost millions of ordinary people their life savings or we'll see many shopping websites quoting their prices in Bitcoin first and foremost as it becomes a default international currency... who knows

I can see why the GC wanted a slice of the London market. You don't want to rest on your laurels, you've seen other companies expand (which gives them the money and market share to threaten your existing routes), you don't want to be reliant upon other companies to get goods/passengers to where they need to be... plus, I can see the narrative than businessmen who want to be taken seriously in terms of raising funds need to have a London presence.

Its easy to criticise them for not integrating with other routes but then that was the nature of some private companies - everything was done piecemeal - you built your lines and other companies built theirs - building connections onto the lines run by other companies might have been a double edged sword (and also depended on those other companies wanting you to cut into their networks)

Certainly it was a more understandable decision than the Midland Railway's folly of the S&C!
 

Western Sunset

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I imagine a freight-only GC would've been a non-starter, as folks living in the area would've wanted some benefit from the railway themselves, rather than the coalowners up in Notts, Derbys and Yorks. Oops; sounds like the reaction to HS2 in the Home Counties...

The MSL was very keen to get the GN on board to build a joint line down to London, but Watkin's charm didn't work on that occasion.
 

Pigeon

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It's not true to say that the GC didn't serve anywhere. It did. It served lots of places. The thing is that someone else was already serving them too.

The GC was very like a sort of slightly further north version of the Midland; both of them developed as provincial outfits connecting up the different bits of northern industrial areas, both of them were heavily concerned with major coal mining areas (often the same ones, side by side), and both of them found as a natural result that dragging endless tons of the stuff down to this giant pollution hotspot in the south where a significant chunk of the country's population all sat round on top of each other burning it like there was no tomorrow became a similarly important concern. And both of them accordingly went through the same kind of process of trying to find ways to do that without spending too much money by trying to batten on to existing lines for the southern end of the run, both of them found that basically didn't work because the other lines were more concerned with their own doings, and both of them eventually went "sod it, we'll have to build our own route to London", and did build it despite some lack of internal unanimity over the idea. It just took the GC a bit longer to get pushed over that edge.

There was a tremendous amount of overlap between the operations of the two, with a great many sources and destinations served by both of them over their own independent routes, even when those independent routes ran together for many miles down the same bit of valley twisting over and around each other like mating snakes (and the GN making a threesome in some places). Similarly they eventually worked out, after trying both options a few times, that it was more productive to cooperate rather than bicker when it came to making progress against the LNWR's efforts to keep Manchester and the Mersey to itself, and ended up spawning this kind of shared subsidiary outfit to cover that area together.

It would have made a lot of sense for them to have settled on cooperation both earlier on and to a greater degree, and simply merged together, some time before the Midland route to London was built. (To be sure this would have meant overcoming not only internal tribalism but also the dimwit politicians worshipping the demon of competition, who aren't a new problem by any means.) Once the two systems finally did become forced into the charge of one outfit, the profusion of duplicate routes they had come up with due to not having acted together became too obviously silly to ignore, and getting rid of the crappier bits was only sensible. Naturally this affected the GC routes more because they were usually the second or third arrivals and had to squeeze their lines through what was left after someone else had taken the best alignments.

So the loss of most of it north of Leicester was really only to be expected once people started being a little bit sensible. Unfortunately they were not sensible enough not to go too far and we lost most of the bits that were not more or less useless alongside the bits that were.

Between Leicester and Rugby there is a silly great hole which forms part of the severe anisotropy that afflicts transport in England generally (road as well as rail, although rail is notably worse). Two more or less parallel defunct rail routes used to cross this hole. Me, I'd probably have kept the Midland route as the exit from Leicester, joined it to the GC where the two cross over, and keep a stub of GC north from that new junction plus a couple of km of new chord to make a westward connection with the Nuneaton line. ("You can't do that!" Oh yes I can, the land's not built on and they shoved a whole flipping motorway through nearly the same spot.) Then at the south end, I would have at least added a north to east chord at Harlesden off the Dudding Hill line, and perhaps also carried on the programme of four-tracking the Met through Ricky to Amersham; and of course we have the GC/GW joint route which was always the main access once it opened. That gives you feeds both from the NLL and from the GWR and LSWR routes, and provides a freight route bypassing both the southern end of the MML on the way to the East Midlands etc, and via the Nuneaton flyover also bypassing the southern end of the WCML for freight to Birmingham and beyond.

As for the silly hole, it would also be straightforward to add a chord north of the WCML at Rugby (again, across unbuilt land) cutting across from the GC heading south onto the Market Harborough line heading south-west, which would allow local passenger services between Leicester and the WCML station at Rugby. You might even be able to squeeze in a curve by which services having reversed at Rugby could get back onto the GC heading south, as long as you didn't try to run Pacers round it. You could also add a chord where the two lines cross at Brackley to allow north-south passenger locals to call at both Brackley and Buckingham, if you kept Buckingham as well, which I would because Buckingham not having a railway is crap. Though I will admit there's an increasing amount of something akin to scraping the barrel coming in here.

I'm not entirely convinced about the ideas proposed around keeping Victoria station in Nottingham instead of Midland, probably because I don't know Nottingham well enough to understand the advantages, although I do agree that Midland is a bit stuck out on the edge. Assuming it would be useful, though, then from checking out six-inch 1947 OS maps and guessing that not much more stuff had got built by the sixties, it actually isn't too hard. A connection to the routes out of the east end of Midland is there already, and sorting its deficiencies is basically a matter of rearranging some of the use of what is railway land already. Connecting the Victoria route north to the Midland to Mansfield is trivial, and connecting it northwards onto the Earwash Valley line only needs a chord. The only notably awkward bit is connecting to the route to Trent and onwards, but it could still be done by looping round and hitting the Lenton triangle from the south side.

On a different aspect, there does seem to be a bit of false dichotomy going on in the "keep vs close" arguments, in that much of the motivation for "keep" seems to be based on the only alternative being "close and destroy" so that to avoid that calamity it is necessary to argue for "keep it intact and running" however desperate the cause may be. But there is in fact a third class of options based around "close" being interpreted as nothing more than "just stop using it", which is the way it should have been interpreted (and not only for the GC).
 

Western Sunset

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In their original plans, the GC was going to make a connection to the LNWR at Rugby. It would've curved round to join the LNW east of Rugby station, to provide a North to West spur.
 

BrianW

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Clearly Watkin was a very interesting 'big picture' man; MP for three very differing places- Gt Yarmouth, Stockport and Hythe in Kent; director of the Great Western Railway, Great Eastern Railway and many more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Watkin
However committed he may have been to the Great Central and the Channel Tunnel I doubt he was hugely concerned about Lutterworth, Loughborough or even Leicester, let alone Woodford Halse or Woodhead.
More of a Branson , or Bezos?
 

70014IronDuke

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It wasn't obviously doomed, that statement depends entirely on hindsight. The London Extension opened in 1899, so planning likely at least 10 years previously, possibly longer but in 1890 the railways were dominant and growing, the motorcar had only just been invented and was little more than a curiosity, a self-propelling tri-cycle for amusement. Trams were still pulled by horses.

...
Indeed.

I must confess that when I saw this thread appear my immediate thoughts were: Oh no, hasn't this subject been done to death several times already?

Anyway, it's still alive. And a thought which came to me (along the lines of a new garden city at eg Woodford Halse, as suggested up thread) was: What if the Roskill Commission had been taken up, and a third London airport had been built at Cublington?

Now, granted, the obvious first rail link would have been a spur to the WCML somewhere near Ledburn - but then northbound passengers would have no clear route out of the airport, and building a loop, so that any northbound extension would have rejoined the WCML somewhere north of Leighton Buzzard would have involved a fair bit of demolition, I suspect.

Much easier, I'd have thought, to have continued in a NW direction and joined up with the GC somewhere between Aylesbury and Brackley. True, this would not have allowed easy access to the main population centre of Coventry-Brum without yet another chord somewhere, but it would have got folks to Rugby-Leicester-Nottingham, either directly or via a chord south of Leicester to the Midland.

Of course (a little like the closure of Oxford-Cambridge coinciding with the decision to make the hamlet of Milton Keynes a serious city) the closure of the GC had already gone ahead before any decision had been made on any third London airport. Just a big what if, of course.
 

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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.
I agree about Grinling's book. I wonder whether the C.O.A.L. Railway — the Bill was before parliament in 1871 — would, if it had been built, would have been just for coal or whether it would have turned out to have the normal sort of intermediate stations for passenger traffic. If not, then it would indeed have been an early example of a long-distance railway bringing no benefits to the localities along th way.
 

181

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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.

I agree about Grinling's book. I wonder whether the C.O.A.L. Railway — the Bill was before parliament in 1871 — would, if it had been built, would have been just for coal or whether it would have turned out to have the normal sort of intermediate stations for passenger traffic. If not, then it would indeed have been an early example of a long-distance railway bringing no benefits to the localities along th way.
I'm not familiar with that proposal, but the later GN & GC joint line, which I think served a similar purpose apart from being partly controlled by the GN, did have intermediate stations.
 

Railwaysceptic

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It wasn't obviously doomed, that statement depends entirely on hindsight. The London Extension opened in 1899, so planning likely at least 10 years previously, possibly longer but in 1890 the railways were dominant and growing, the motorcar had only just been invented and was little more than a curiosity, a self-propelling tri-cycle for amusement. Trams were still pulled by horses.

I doubt you, me or anyone around in 1890 could have foreseen the huge changes in transport over the next 50 years. Cars were toys, lorrys hadn't been invented, motorways weren't even a concept.

In 1890 the railways were the dominant form of transportation and likely to remain so, likely with strong growth in traffic forecast over coming decades. As a major railway network in the North of England, having a trunk route to London would be vital to that future growth and not serving towns along the route wasn't important if its primary purpose was to connect the North to London. And if rail traffic had continued to grow then the GCML would have been a great project. What sunk the GCML wasn't obvious flaws at the time of conception or construction, but the emergence of competition over the next 50 years which dramatically reduced rail traffic, violating the assumption and business model.

For all we know, we could be going through the same process today with the growth of video conferencing and remote working. How will future generations judge projects like HS2, justified on assumptions around continued growth of rail passenger numbers for years to come, will it prove a worthwhile long term investment? Or will they laugh at the (at that point!) obviously doomed project, with laughable assumptions of passenger numbers just as video conferencing and remote working, knocked the financial foundations out of the project? I don't know, it's not obvious.
I disagree. My assertion does not depend on hindsight at all and is independent of the arrival of motor transport.

First, being the dominant player in a market is not the same as being commercially successful. By the 1890s, it had already become apparent that many railway companies were not commercially viable despite having no real competition. The shareholders of these failing companies were happy to be taken over by bigger companies because that was the only way they were going to "get out from under." The consequence was both a huge reduction in the number of operating railway companies and the end of "railway mania." No longer was it believed that investing in railways was a guarantee of a good return on capital. It was now recognised that a single railway company was unlikely to generate enough traffic to make a new line profitable. Instead, when a reason for constructing a new railway arose, for example because a new coal field had been discovered, it became normal for several otherwise competing railway companies to enter into a joint relationship to share the costs of new construction and to feed their new traffic onto the same new route. For example, in 1903 five railway companies participated in the formation of the South Yorkshire Joint Railway which was set up in to serve several new collieries.

The GC directors should have asked why, instead of building an entire new route to London, it was not more sensible to construct a spur from Rugby to Fenny Compton and come to an arrangement with the Great Western. It's illuminating that very soon after the London Extension opened, the Great Central did form a joint venture with the Great Western to build a route from Ashendon Junction to Northolt Junction; that route being part of today's Chiltern Main Line.

Second, it was already well established that the passenger market to London was not sufficient to fill the existing railway capacity and that adding new capacity would undermine the viability of the market. I believe attempts were made to dissuade the GC from proceeding.

It was only after World War 1 (WW1) that local and branch line passenger traffic was seriously depleted by competition from buses while bulk freight transport continued to be railway dominated throughout the 1930s. The London Extension never made a profit, not even before WW1 and it's commercial failure was not caused primarily by the arrival of motor transport. It was an entirely misconceived venture from the outset and the motives of the prime movers should have been questioned at the time.

Incidentally, there are many people who believe that HS2 is also misconceived and that the total new revenue it will generate, both directly and indirectly, will never equal the total new costs it will bring.
 
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NoRoute

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I disagree. My assertion does not depend on hindsight at all and is independent of the arrival of motor transport.

If motor transport had not arrived then the economic growth from 1900 onward would have been serviced pretty much exclusively by rail, that would have resulted in greater freight flows and through increased income, greater demand for passenger travel, pushing up the utilisation of existing networks and improving profitability. Even if the profitability of the London Extension in 1900 was marginal or loss making, then economic growth alone would have given it a huge boost over the next 30 years. As it is that didn't happen because from around 1900 onward motor transport started eroding rail's market share, such that it ended up with excess capacity.

Therefore I don't see how it is possible to assert that GCML was doomed to failure independent of developments in motor transport, because without motor transport it's likely that rail loadings would have been much higher, requiring more capacity between the north and London.

Incidentally, there are many people who believe that HS2 is also misconceived and that the total new revenue it will generate, both directly and indirectly, will never equal the total new costs it will bring.

Quite and much will depend on what happens with working patterns and video conferencing, or any other new technology which comes along. When HS2 was being conceptualised video conferencing was in the same, infant technology stage that the motor car, bus or lorry was back in 1899 when they were cutting the ribbon opening the GCML.
 
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XAM2175

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Incidentally, there are many people who believe that HS2 is also misconceived and that the total new revenue it will generate, both directly and indirectly, will never equal the total new costs it will bring.
Those people being the ones who assume that HS2 is being built solely to make a profit?
 

Senex

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The GC directors should have asked why, instead of building an entire new route to London, it was not more sensible to construct a spur from Rugby to Fenny Compton and come to an arrangement with the Great Western. It's illuminating that very soon after the London Extension opened, the Great Central did form a joint venture with the Great Western to build a route from Ashendon Junction to Northolt Junction; that route being part of today's Chiltern Main Line.
The Midland did actually raise the idea of whether its Leicester to Rugby line could be used by / perhaps even flogged off to the MS&L. Now if Rugby to Fenny Compton had also been built and the LNW could have been persuaded to spend still-more money on its recently rebuilt Rugby .....
 
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