British Railways
before and after the

"Beeching Axe"

The cover of the Beeching Report
Part of
Joyce's World of Transport Eclectica

 

This page has links to two sets of maps of the British railway network. The first set are from 1961, before the infamous "Beeching Report" and the pruning of many branch and secondary lines. The second set are from 1969.

The first two images are scans of the map published with the Summer 1961 London Midland Region timetable. One shows the whole of the British Railways network that was open to regular timetabled passenger traffic. The second, more detailed picture covers the London Midland Region only. It was published as the reverse side of the same map.

The next images are scans of maps published with the "Beeching Report" in 1963. The actual title of this report was "The Reshaping of British Railways" and it was published for the British Railways Board by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, price £1 0s 0d. Part 1, the Report proper, runs to 148 pages and quotes a huge number of statistics for the costs and revenue of passenger, parcels and freight traffic on the railways. Part 2 is a collection of 13 maps showing the density of traffic, the distribution of passenger traffic receipts, the location of competing bus services and so on. In particular, there are two maps outlining proposals for the complete withdrawal or the modification of passenger train services. (You can see the full text of the report in pdf format at Roger Viggers's Beeching Report website, and also at the Railways Archive.)

Finally there are scans of the map published with British Rail's timetables for 1969. This shows the whole network on one side and a series of more detailed sections of the network on the reverse. (Unlike the 1961 map, this version clearly shows which ferry routes were operated by the railways - quite a lot of them!)

Now, all of these pictures are big! The original 1961 network map is close to A2 in size, which means I've had to scan the map in four chunks and then stitch them together so it looks a little like a jigsaw - you'll have no trouble spotting the join! It also means that the resulting images are huge files. The trouble is that any condensed versions of the images lose clarity, and a lot of the station names can become very difficult to read. The 1969 map is slightly bigger than A2, so that ended up being scanned by an industrial size scanner at a digital copyshop - one slight drawback is that the scanner has managed to "see through" the paper and pick up some of the print from the reverse.

After some thought, not least for the availability of free web space, I've selected what I think are the optimum file sizes for clarity and download speed. Jpeg format seems to be the most suitable. Note that each picture is too large to fit neatly on your screen and still be legible, so you will have to scroll around to see it all. Remember - the pictures aren't linked back to this page so you'll also need to use whatever passes for a BACK feature in your browser if you want to return here.

Anyway, these are the maps:
 
British Railways' complete passenger network in 1961 (893 KB)
The London Midland Region in 1961 (passenger network) (784 KB)
Beeching's Proposed Withdrawal of Passenger Train Services (707 KB)
Proposed Withdrawal of Passenger Train Services - London Area (410 KB)
British Railways Density of Passenger Traffic in 1961 (458 KB)
British Railways' complete passenger network in 1969 (695 KB)
Detailed maps of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham in 1969 (386 KB)
Detailed map of the London area in 1969 (347 KB)

Only the "density of traffic" map has been changed in any way other than strictly necessary for the purpose of achieving a legible digital image. Purely in order to make a large image easier to understand, I have "cloned" the map legend which now floats in the Irish Sea and the English Channel as well as the North Sea. This last image (map 1 of the Beeching Report) is based on studies carried out during 1961 when 17,830 route miles were open to traffic. Of these, 17,062 route miles were open to passenger traffic and the remainder to freight traffic only. The Beeching Report proposed the closure of 2,363 stations and halts, of which 235 had already been closed when the Report was published. Services were to be withdrawn completely from some 5,000 route miles of the network.

Some lines and stations escaped the so-called "Beeching Axe", as can be seen from the 1969 map, and many others were subsequently re-opened to traffic or regained their passenger services. It should be remembered that Beeching also proposed investment in new services, notably "inter-city" passenger trains and "liner" freight trains, which proved very successful.

I think I should add a "health warning" here. The railways were not and still are not 100% up to date when they publish their maps. Lines and stations have closed and re-opened, and it's often been a year or two before the people who do the maps have noticed.

(To be fair to them, these people were/are at BRB HQ/Railtrack and they relied/rely on people in the Regions/Train Operating Companies to tell them about changes. They don't actually flick through the timetable to look for something new, and if they did, it would be too late - the map would already have gone to press.)

"The thought underlying the whole Report is that the railways should be used to meet the part of the total transport requirement of the country for which they offer the best available means, and that they should cease to do things for which they are ill suited. To this end, studies were made to determine the extent to which the present pattern of the railways' services is consistent with the characteristics which distinguish railways as a mode of transport, namely:- the high cost of their specialised and exclusive route system, and their low cost per unit moved if traffic is carried in dense flows of well-loaded through trains. As a result, it is concluded that, in many respects, they are being used in ways which emphasise their disadvantages and fail to exploit their advantages."
(from the Summary of the Report on page 57)

"Dr. Beeching's pronouncement that there is no sensible alternative to his plan must be challenged with the utmost vigour" (from a contemporary pamphlet published by the Great Central Association and preserved on the Web by the London School of Economics Library).

"Probably the frankest, most convincing treatise ever produced on railway problems" (from an article in Modern Railways, May 1963)


This page was last updated in May 2010. Comments on this site, or notice of any broken links, are always welcome: mail me.

Return to the top of this page
Return to Joyce's World of Transport Eclectica
Go to the Railways Archive if you want to download the good Doctor's complete Report in two big pdf files. Part 1: Report weighs in at a 'mere' 4.6Mb but, thanks to the wonders of Acrobat and Foxit, is fully text searchable. Part 2: Maps comes to nearly 5 MB.
Have a look at the Wikimedia Commons collection of Railway Clearing House Junction Diagrams
Or Richard Fairhurst's embryonic New Adlestrop Railway Atlas
If you want a map of the network today, go to the National Rail website
View Manchester's railway network of 1924 in my reproduction of the Ordnance Survey One Inch Map of Bolton and Manchester
Explore the railway network of central London in 1935, Underground as well as overground, in the 1935 Railway Clearing House map of London
For a contemporary report on the Beeching Report, look at this page from the Manchester Guardian archive
Or go to the Railway Cuttings website for a look at The Hancock Report - The Truth About The Railways - a BR advertising campaign featuring The Lad Himself
The Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History has a series of reproductions of contemporary press articles on the Beeching Report
And for modern views on Beeching, go to the Bilderberg site or the Timmonet site
If you want to research old railways or old maps generally in much more detail, try the GenMaps site, the Old-Maps site, the Vision of Britain Through Time site or the Old OS Maps site, or a new one, the New Popular Edition Maps site (which concentrates on OS maps from the 1940s). And here's another new (to me) one, which seems a lot easier to use than others: the SABRE maps site (old OS maps from the 1920s onwards).
You'll also find scans of old railway maps on the Hipkiss site.
And you can also have a look at some French railway maps.