Justifying a line closure

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Andy873

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I have a theory based on how BR justified in part closing a line - the staff / wages of those on the line.

I have a copy of a meeting between BR & the N.U.R. (May 1964) where BR state they are closing this particular line, one of the reasons is the staff cost...

Now looking at the report, it relates to 15 actual staff (Gangers & Lengthmen), but it states a total complement of 23 (i.e. 8 vacancies).

My theory is that BR would have put the staff cost down as all 23 not the actual 15, as they would have said that they have budgeted for 23.

I wondered what your thoughts might be on this, could I be right? or am I completely wrong?

Thanks,'
Andy.
 
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Dr Hoo

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Seems fairly plausible. Obviously if a line was 'under review' local management would hardly have been busting a gut to recruit up to full establishment. Rather, a degree of 'maintenance holiday' or reliance on overtime might have been happening. But if the line was going to be kept on a permanent basis it would need 'full' maintenance resources.
 

Gloster

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When I was a signalman it was quite normal for there to be a higher than normal number of vacancies (and a lot of overtime) when a panel signal box was being built. It was accepted that we were working ourselves out of a job: I was late shift on Friday, redundant on Monday.
 

WesternLancer

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I have a theory based on how BR justified in part closing a line - the staff / wages of those on the line.

I have a copy of a meeting between BR & the N.U.R. (May 1964) where BR state they are closing this particular line, one of the reasons is the staff cost...

Now looking at the report, it relates to 15 actual staff (Gangers & Lengthmen), but it states a total complement of 23 (i.e. 8 vacancies).

My theory is that BR would have put the staff cost down as all 23 not the actual 15, as they would have said that they have budgeted for 23.

I wondered what your thoughts might be on this, could I be right? or am I completely wrong?

Thanks,'
Andy.
Plausible - all big orgs seem to load costs high when they want to justify a course of action type of thing. EG my local council announced 250 job losses this year, achieved through voluntary redundancy of I think c180 posts - the other 70 posts were already vacancies being held as such, ie not people being paid as they had already left/retired etc, so the costs had already been saved for them, but their salaries were in the budget - so they can claim they have saved x million (for example) when in reality some of x was no longer being spent to start with (if that makes sense....)

On a wider issue it seems to me that some lines could have been saved by conversion to a 'basic railway' with fewer staff, but I suspect the Beeching report calcs were done on the basis of stations / signaling staffed at late 1950s levels potentially including staff provided for duties like goods that were also not covering their costs. I am sure railway people on this forum would correct me if that suspicion is inaccurate.
 

RT4038

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On a wider issue it seems to me that some lines could have been saved by conversion to a 'basic railway' with fewer staff, but I suspect the Beeching report calcs were done on the basis of stations / signaling staffed at late 1950s levels potentially including staff provided for duties like goods that were also not covering their costs. I am sure railway people on this forum would correct me if that suspicion is inaccurate.
However, conversion to 'basic railway' would invariably cost investment money, which would have had to be taken from elsewhere (modernising the Inter-City routes), and probably only converting a large loss to a medium size loss (but still a loss) in the process.
 

WesternLancer

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However, conversion to 'basic railway' would invariably cost investment money, which would have had to be taken from elsewhere (modernising the Inter-City routes), and probably only converting a large loss to a medium size loss (but still a loss) in the process.
That's a fair point - tho I suppose one for the Minister to decide in terms of whether maintaining a service that was socially necessary would justify that. In the context of the time it would seem neither party of govt before or after 1964 was that bothered about that...
 

Taunton

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The BR costing systems in the 1960s (and much later) were pretty poor, even by the non-computer standards of the day, and there wasn't any breakdown, either by employees or work hours per line, or who worked where. There was an "establishment", which was normally just done on a mileage basis, and there was a budget based on this. Those were generally the figures available to the BRB HQ team. Out on the line there were commonly less men (they all were, then) than the establishment, but this meant that overtime, which was much appreciated, was substantial and available. Where they worked bore little relationship to the mileage, but broadly they spent more time than the allowance on the main line and Taunton station, and less than the allowance on the branches.

There were also some "special projects" authorised by Paddington outside the normal mileage-based allowances. The key constant one at Taunton was flooding alleviation on the Castle Cary main line over the Athelney marshes. Everything and anything, men and materials, got booked on paper to that!

However, to get back to the justification argument, I can't think of a closure where the revenue was not so obviously so far behind whatever the real costs were that you can't really challenge it on that basis. Lines where just the station staff costs alone substantially exceeded the overall revenue, regardless of all the rest of the expense.
 

RT4038

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That's a fair point - tho I suppose one for the Minister to decide in terms of whether maintaining a service that was socially necessary would justify that. In the context of the time it would seem neither party of govt before or after 1964 was that bothered about that...
That is not quite right - there were a number of line closures that were not approved for socially necessary / political reasons (Central Wales/Far North/Kyle etc).

However, the Minister's hands were also quite tied - they would know that retaining lines for socially necessary reasons would cost money, and would be diverting funds from the development of the Inter City railway, both in keeping the loss making service going and the non realisation of sale of redundant assets (scrap value and sale of land). At that time the country was in a difficult financial situation, requiring IMF loans and strings to go with them, including rail rationalisation.
However, to get back to the justification argument, I can't think of a closure where the revenue was not so obviously so far behind whatever the real costs were that you can't really challenge it on that basis. Lines where just the station staff costs alone substantially exceeded the overall revenue, regardless of all the rest of the expense.
Obviously there were some closer to break even than others, but the market was declining, staff costs were inflating and every line required investment/renewals of some kind or another.
From this distance it is difficult to imagine how few people were travelling on many lines - the 'Cuckoo' line from Eridge to Hailsham, with a 'takt' hourly timetable of some 16 trains each way, was cited as having 120 passengers daily. On the generous assumption that they all bought return tickets that is less than eight passengers per train. And this was probably one of the better patronised lines. Turning this into a 'basic' railway, which would have cost investment money, would not have brought it anywhere close to break even, and the convenient frequency of service could hardly be criticised as unattractive.
 

WesternLancer

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That is not quite right - there were a number of line closures that were not approved for socially necessary / political reasons (Central Wales/Far North/Kyle etc).

However, the Minister's hands were also quite tied - they would know that retaining lines for socially necessary reasons would cost money, and would be diverting funds from the development of the Inter City railway, both in keeping the loss making service going and the non realisation of sale of redundant assets (scrap value and sale of land). At that time the country was in a difficult financial situation, requiring IMF loans and strings to go with them, including rail rationalisation.

Obviously there were some closer to break even than others, but the market was declining, staff costs were inflating and every line required investment/renewals of some kind or another.
From this distance it is difficult to imagine how few people were travelling on many lines - the 'Cuckoo' line from Eridge to Hailsham, with a 'takt' hourly timetable of some 16 trains each way, was cited as having 120 passengers daily. On the generous assumption that they all bought return tickets that is less than eight passengers per train. And this was probably one of the better patronised lines. Turning this into a 'basic' railway, which would have cost investment money, would not have brought it anywhere close to break even, and the convenient frequency of service could hardly be criticised as unattractive.
Thanks - interesting points - were the IMF loans considered problematic for the UK prior to the 1976 'crisis'?

This looks like a an interesting piece on that, tho only skimmed it - suggests main emphasis was balance of payments, but more pressure after circa 1965

Cuckoo line an interesting case as an area I know very well - of course from the 1980s, (so just 20 years later) given UK policies that lead to serious regional imbalances, the traffic potential there nowadays, with increased population density of major proportions and much longer travel to work patterns, is significant and roads are frequently gridlocked / permanently slow to destinations like Eastbourne, and no doubt london commuters pre covid, and bus services seen as poor. And the seeds for expansion of towns like Hailsham were in place by at least the early 1970s if not late 60s. Recent govt planning White Paper will accelerate this yet further.
But that was not part of Beeching's remit of course. Mind you, one wonders if those patronage figs the notorious counts made on low useage days.....?
 

Merle Haggard

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Don't forget that, if the staff numbers were lower than complement, overtime and rest day working would be required.

A more general point is that in the days of B.R., basic rates of pay were poor but overtime was readily available and this made the pay attractive for those prepared to do it. The advantage to B.R. was that some costs are per employee not per hour, so having 5 people covering 200 hours on a basic week may be more expensive than 4 people each doing 10 hours overtime.

I worked in freight traffic costing in the 1980s - 1990s and I don't agree we didn't understand what we were doing - though attributing joint and shared costs on a network is not easy...
 

Mcr Warrior

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Mind you, one wonders if those patronage figs the notorious counts made on low useage days.....?
Indeed. Beeching's infamous 1963 report was much criticised for using this methodology. Many have wondered whether this was deliberate.

Be a bit like measuring commuter flows on one of the dog days between Christmas and the New Year and making out this was representative of the rest of the year. :s
 

RT4038

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Indeed. Beeching's infamous 1963 report was much criticised for using this methodology. Many have wondered whether this was deliberate.

Be a bit like measuring commuter flows on one of the dog days between Christmas and the New Year and making out this was representative of the rest of the year. :s
But that was not part of Beeching's remit of course. Mind you, one wonders if those patronage figs the notorious counts made on low useage days.....?


Well of course the patronage figures were criticised by those who wanted the lines kept open; first thing you do is to try and rubbish the figures Doesn't mean to say they were right though. A one week traffic survey was carried out in April 1961 - doesn't seem to be 'dog days', probably as representative as could be got. BR would have known which were as best representative as possible from the total revenue figures.

I think it has to be accepted that a significant proportion of the network carried very small numbers of passengers and no matter what was done was only going to move them from big losses to less of a big loss. All of the network also required investment/renewals to compete against road transport, and the financial choice was to invest in the Inter City routes to make them fit for purpose, or spread money thinly over everything and watch the losses balloon, possibly threatening even more of the network in the process. Trying to artificially hold back the tide of road transport, to increase rail share on an outdated network, was just not going to work.
 

Mcr Warrior

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Well of course the patronage figures were criticised by those who wanted the lines kept open; first thing you do is to try and rubbish the figures Doesn't mean to say they were right though. A one week traffic survey was carried out in April 1961 - doesn't seem to be 'dog days', probably as representative as could be got.
If I rightly recall, the survey used for Beeching's 1963 report was carried out over one single week, a fortnight or so after Easter 1961, so for anywhere mainly reliant on tourist traffic, the resulting figures were quite possibly not that representative of other, busier, times of the year.

Of course, the traffic figures and resultant finances of many lines were absolutely hopeless, regardless of the frequency and the time of the year that any such survey(s) was/were undertaken, the biggest surprise maybe being that some of these backwater lines hadn't been closed many years earlier.
 

Dr Hoo

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Well of course the patronage figures were criticised by those who wanted the lines kept open; first thing you do is to try and rubbish the figures Doesn't mean to say they were right though. A one week traffic survey was carried out in April 1961 - doesn't seem to be 'dog days', probably as representative as could be got. BR would have known which were as best representative as possible from the total revenue figures.
Precisely. This was after Easter and well representative of typical usage (i.e. not summer Saturdays but neither 'a wet Tuesday in February').

To be quite clear, Richard Beeching didn't even take up his role as Chair of the British Transport Commission until after the survey, so he had no chance to influence it. The results were metaphorically waiting for him on his desk when he arrived.

Bearing in mind that such detailed data had never been collected before I can imagine that a lot of people in HQ offices were staggered to see just how few passengers (and how little wagonload freight) was being handled on around a third of the network.
 

RT4038

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Bearing in mind that such detailed data had never been collected before I can imagine that a lot of people in HQ offices were staggered to see just how few passengers (and how little wagonload freight) was being handled on around a third of the network.
Funny you should say that.... My Pa, a lifetime railwayman starting in the closing days of the GWR, worked at WR HQ at Paddington at that time and took part in the survey. In the 70s and 80s, when I used to quiz him about the efficacy of the Beeching cuts, he always used to say how so few passengers were using the local trains on main lines, and secondary/branch lines, and that the '61 survey shook up alot of people in HQ.
 

WesternLancer

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I guess the real question was why the BTC / BR etc had been so poor at carrying out regular and robust traffic analysis for some time in the years before Beeching....I guess the levels of computer power available would have made that harder to do in those days but even so. MoT and Treasury could have made this a condition of Modernisation Plan funding streams even, maybe.

I guess it is hard even now to base decisions on anything other than what you know from years before, even when the world is changing fast.

IIRC BR(NER) had a more keen closure process well before Beeching, were they more advanced in traffic analysis work than other regions?
 

RT4038

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I guess the real question was why the BTC / BR etc had been so poor at carrying out regular and robust traffic analysis for some time in the years before Beeching....I guess the levels of computer power available would have made that harder to do in those days but even so. MoT and Treasury could have made this a condition of Modernisation Plan funding streams even, maybe.

I guess it is hard even now to base decisions on anything other than what you know from years before, even when the world is changing fast.

IIRC BR(NER) had a more keen closure process well before Beeching, were they more advanced in traffic analysis work than other regions?
I guess that comprehensive Traffic Surveys were expensive and/or disruptive in manpower terms, both in collection and analysis. This would have been entirely manual, there were no computers then.
I think you are confusing the situation today with that of the 1950s - the MoT and Treasury were not exercising the kind of micro control that occurs now. They could have made it a condition of Modernisation funding, but in the circumstances of the time this would not have entered their heads.

I think all regions had been engaged in line closure programmes before Beeching - the largest being the ER closing the (virtually) entire M&GN system. Many, many branch lines closed, but the process was more laborious and time consuming until the 1962 Transport Act paved the way for the Beeching cuts. However, no doubt these original closures were the result of local surveys, helped along by expensive infrastructure renewals etc. Whilst the NER and ER had some fairly large closures, the other regions were participating too. I expect that the ferocity depended on the local management and their foibles. The Beeching era brought in more modern centralised management and accounting practices.
 

Taunton

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... he always used to say how so few passengers were using the local trains on main lines, and secondary/branch lines, and that the '61 survey shook up a lot of people in HQ.
It's pretty poor that HQ got any surprises, one wonders what "management" was taking place. The rural railway lost much of its traffic, and relevance, 30 years beforehand, when lorries and regular buses became common. Many of the branch services from Taunton by 1960 had more carriages than passengers.
 

steamybrian

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With hindsight it is very easy to look back to the 1960s but it was a different world then.
The number of passengers using rail was falling.
The number of cars on the road was much less than today but at the time car ownership was steadily increasing year by year and it was thought at the time that more people would use the roads.
In 1963 a number of stations and branch lines were hopelessly uneconomic in fact it was surprising some stayed open until 1963.
Some stations threatened with closure by the Beeching Report were identified in Gerald Fiennes book "I tried to run a railway" and he undertook savings which turned some stations/lines under threat of closure into profit.
It does not matter if there were 15 staff or 23 required to operate a line if the income does not cover costs then the result is the same. Other costs are taken into account - operating costs (usage and cost of running the trains), signalmen, maintenance of the track and signalling. Are there future avoidable costs such as bridges need renewing, track needs relaying, signalling needs updating, etc.
I agree that taking the passenger census in an April is a good average and eliminates the high peak summer holiday traffic which Dr.B. mentions that many (Seaside) stations were only profitable for a the high summer (months of June, July and August). In the 1960s the British were increasingly choosing holidays abroad.
It would be helpful that Andy873 could name the line concerned so that further investigation could be carried out.
 

RT4038

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It's pretty poor that HQ got any surprises, one wonders what "management" was taking place. The rural railway lost much of its traffic, and relevance, 30 years beforehand, when lorries and regular buses became common. Many of the branch services from Taunton by 1960 had more carriages than passengers.
Quite possibly the 'management' were well aware, but the railway was quite compartmentalised then and the legions of office staff, beetling away at their particular tasks maybe nothing to do with passenger ticket sales, often did not go travelling around much as part of their work or for pleasure to see for themselves, especially on the secondary/local trains far from HQ.

Different world then.
 

WesternLancer

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I guess that comprehensive Traffic Surveys were expensive and/or disruptive in manpower terms, both in collection and analysis. This would have been entirely manual, there were no computers then.
I think you are confusing the situation today with that of the 1950s - the MoT and Treasury were not exercising the kind of micro control that occurs now. They could have made it a condition of Modernisation funding, but in the circumstances of the time this would not have entered their heads.

I think all regions had been engaged in line closure programmes before Beeching - the largest being the ER closing the (virtually) entire M&GN system. Many, many branch lines closed, but the process was more laborious and time consuming until the 1962 Transport Act paved the way for the Beeching cuts. However, no doubt these original closures were the result of local surveys, helped along by expensive infrastructure renewals etc. Whilst the NER and ER had some fairly large closures, the other regions were participating too. I expect that the ferocity depended on the local management and their foibles. The Beeching era brought in more modern centralised management and accounting practices.
all good points.

I think another thing unrealised then is the extent to which people would travel now (compared with then) seemingly 'just because they can' as it were - all related to the nature of work, the reliability of cars, more cars per household, massive expansion in student numbers and their travel patterns (although I suspect this perhaps balances against decline of military / national service personnel travel). Dual income/working households etc etc. I am often surprised at how far many of my colleagues work from our place of employment for what boils down to no other reason than 'they can' because the travel network - not just roads - facilitates it. This means they can move jobs without moving house etc if they are happy to travel more. Even my parents and their colleagues (working from 60s to 90s) would not typically expect to live as far from work as many of my colleagues seem to do - apart from if London commuters I would say.

These are major lifestyle changes. And of course covid has just accelerated change again.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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I guess the real question was why the BTC / BR etc had been so poor at carrying out regular and robust traffic analysis for some time in the years before Beeching....I guess the levels of computer power available would have made that harder to do in those days but even so. MoT and Treasury could have made this a condition of Modernisation Plan funding streams even, maybe.
One issue at the time was the way Modernisation Plan money had been spent since 1955, with little to show for it in improved performance/financials.
The railway had/has a habit of spending money like water when it is available, and then being surprised when the tap is turned off by DfT/Treasury.
Later episodes were Railtrack's WCRM project, and even more recently NR's GW electrification.
After Beeching, BR, or the wider railway today, was not trusted to spend money wisely, so every investment has to go through the Treasury wringer.
It's also why NR does not build new lines, with DfT firmly in charge of delivery.
 
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