Dr Beeching may be dead but his spirit lives on

The government is showing the same type of contempt for the UK’s railways and communities that Beeching did all those years ago.

Matt Dykes is rail policy officer at the TUC

This week the TUC organised protests at over 35 railway stations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beeching report.

They were an opportunity to remember the devastation caused by Dr Beeching – his report led to over 2,000 station closures and 70,000 job losses – and to raise awareness about the huge challenges facing our railways today.

While the scale of Dr Beeching’s cuts are unlikely to be ever seen again, rail companies are embarking upon a new programme of cost-cutting that Dr Beeching would be proud of.

Over the next six years train UK companies are looking to axe up to 20,000 railway jobs, close 675 ticket offices and increase the number of unstaffed stations by 50 per cent.

If these cuts go ahead one in ten staff currently working on the railways – including train guards, maintenance workers, and ticket office staff – could lose their jobs and around three-quarters of all the UK’s railway stations could be left without any staff.

Dr Beeching may be dead but his spirit, alas, seems to live on.

This new era of swingeing railway cuts is the last thing passengers need.

In return for paying the most expensive train fares in Europe, they now face the prospect of ghost stations and trains.

Not exactly my idea of a world-class service.

However, if train companies are guilty of failing to learn from history then so too is the government.

While the fiftieth anniversary of Beeching is a significant milestone, the big rail story this week is the decision by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to re-privatise the East Coast Main Line.

Since returning to public ownership, the East Coast Main Line has flourished with passenger numbers and customer satisfaction increasing and all profits re-invested back into improving the service.

According to shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle, The East Coast has generated £640 million for the Treasury and more than £40m has been spent on improvements.

The government doesn’t seem to be interested in evidence-based policy and once again it is putting the interests of private companies and shareholders before those of long-suffering commuters and taxpayers.

This is privatisation for privatisation’s sake, as ministers steadfastly ignore what is best for the rail industry and for the people who work on it and use it.

The government is showing the same type of contempt for the UK’s railways and communities that Beeching did all those years ago.

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