Branch Lines Round Britain By J A M Vaughn with Dust Jacket

Branch Lines Round Britain By J A M Vaughn with Dust Jacket

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Branch Lines Round Britain By J A M Vaughn with Dust Jacket
 
Branch Lines Round Britain By J A M Vaughn Dust Jacket  96 Pages
Prior to the First World War, a fine network of branch, cross-country and minor railways covered all but the remotest parts of Britain. This was the heyday of British branch lines and these railways had been responsible for the prosperity of many rural areas and communities. However, just as the railways had superseded the stagecoach and canal barge, so in time they themselves faced growing competition from motor lorries, omnibuses and automobiles as the internal combustion engine developed. Branch lines in particular were vulnerable to bus competition which was at its keenest over short distances and in many cases offered a door-to-door service at lower fares. In some locations, the limited budget of the branch line constructors had resulted in stations being built some distance from the towns or villages they served and all too often the inclusion of the word 'Road' on the name board heralded a lengthy hike for the traveller. Rail services dwindled and 'Bradshaw's' timetables of the late 1920's show only a skeleton service on many lines. Efforts were made to emulate the low running costs of road transport by introducing internal combustion-engined devices such as the Ford and Shefflex railbuses on the Colonel Stephens' lines in the 1920s and the G.W.R. streamlined railcars in the 1930s. But despite these efforts numerous lines succumbed to the axe before the start of the Second World War.
Following the 1939-45 war a gradual reduction of rural area services by British Railways continued but the wholesale closure of thousands of miles of unremunerative railway line did not earnestly commence until the introduction of the policies attributed to Dr. Beeching.
Despite these general cutbacks, attempts were made to improve the profitability of some lines and from the mid-1950s a variety of diesel motor units (DMUs) were introduced for this purpose. The withdrawal of the old locomotives and rolling stock and the commencement of regular interval diesel services led, in some cases, to a significant increase of passenger receipts. On certain branches, new halts were opened and economies were made by reducing once important stations to unstaffed halts, truncating lines, removing sidings at minor stations, eliminating signal boxes, demolishing station buildings (to save maintenance and rates), installing automatic barriers at road crossings, removing passing loops, running on a 'one engine-in-steam' principle and carrying conductor-guards. However, with one or two exceptions, not even these measures were enough to save many lines although some continued to be used for profitable bulk load freight traffic long after passenger services had been withdrawn. In other areas branches were closed without any attempt being made to rationalise.
The most unsatisfactory aspect of all closures is the unavailability of official costings to show exactly how the alleged losses were quantified. There are a number of instances of track renewals, replacement wiring and other major works being completed only months before the withdrawal of services. Such expenses obviously added to the high cost and depreciation factors included in the accounts of the branches concerned.
The railway enthusiasts' primary interest in branch lines had for years been the nostalgic search for the ancient pre-grouping locomotives and rolling stock which eked out their days in semi-retirement on country branches. But with the further decline of the branch line in the 1960s, which coincided with the decline of steam as well as increasing modernisation and standardisation on the main lines, the enthusiast was drawn to the surviving branches which were often museum pieces with antique signs, signals and all manner of railway paraphernalia. The upsurge in this interest in branch lines was also attributable to the enthusiasts' attraction to any disappearing feature of the railway scene and the massive attendances to witness the last rites of branches all over the country on the final day of service and the compulsion to travel on the last train is evidence of this.
Today the wheel has almost turned full circle with official acknowledgement being given to the social service provided by some of the few remaining country branches and cross country lines. Subsidies are being granted on a grand scale and the majority of lines listed for closure have been reprieved. There is talk of the reinstatement of some lines to combat the nation's energy crisis but unless the closures were recent the track will have been torn up, bridges demolished and new buildings erected where once the branch trains trundled. Little can be done in these cases and the best that can be hoped for is the retention of some branch line survivors. Happily, a few of our most scenic branches have been perpetuated by preservation societies as tourist lines using largely steam traction.
This book deals specifically with diesel traction on British branch lines during the last decade. Some of the lines featured have been closed since the photographs were taken and it is hoped that the volume will provide a pictorial survey of these branch scenes which may have memorable associations for readers. In the selection of photographs it has, of course, not been possible to include views of all branches, although all Regions are represented. Electrified lines and suburban branches in the immediate vicinity of our major cities have not been included and the majority of lines covered are in the 'get away from it all' corners of our railway system. Finally may I thank my publishers for the freedom allowed me in the choice and arrangement of the photographs in this volume; a handful of close friends for their assistance and the scores of railwaymen who have provided so many lasting memories of a rapidly disappearing way of life, the British Branch Line.

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