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From the 'Suffolk Free Press' of Wednesday 10,18 and 25 April 1963
I find it difficult to understand the indignation of many of your readers about Dr Beeching's report. If they are so anxious to retain their particular branch line all they have to do is to pay for it. It would then cease to be uneconomical and so would not be closed.
The trouble seems to be that they want their cake but want someone else to pay for it.
10 April 1963
We must all applaud the prompt protests of your paper and the Sudbury and Haverhill councils against the proposed murder of our railway line. We must follow up this protest with action while there is still time to prevent this catastrophe.
I believe that the proposed closures are nothing short of disastrous, both locally and nationally.
We know what is bound to follow. The strangulation of Sudbury and Haverhill as well as many other towns throughout the country will mean more and more people piling up in the cities and suburbs. The redundancies of thousands of workers who have given a lifetime of service will bring hardship to them and their families. The congestion of our already over-strained roads will mean serious delays and a mounting death roll, and to reach London by road will be a positive nightmare. Economy? Well, that is doubtful too. The cost of building new roads will be immense, and if the line is to remain open to goods for sometime the saving will not be very great.
It is not too late to defeat the plan if firm, united and, above all, sustained action is taken. We must give our utmost support to the councils and the railwaymen in whatever action they take. I would like to see public meetings sponsored by the councils all along the valley, not only to protest, but to consider constructive suggestions for the more economical and efficient use of the railways. Mr Burns' suggestion is one that should be thoroughly gone into. I believe that a Stour Valley petition would meet with almost unanimous response. And last, but not least, we must bombard our three local M.P.s with letters of protest.
To borrow a well known phrase: we must fight, fight and fight again.
10 April 1963
Mr Richard Burn, photographer and member of Sudbury Borough Council, should stick to taking pictures because his other lenses are quite obviously fogged. His suggestion, as reported by you last week, that the Stour Valley railway could be saved by cheap rail-buses was obviously made without any reference to the facts and current indications.
First let Mr Burn consider why rail-buses have failed to save any other line in the country, some only short distances away in East Anglia. Does he really think they can be so profitable as he would have us believe?
Then perhaps he will go on about the fantastic cost of maintaining and installing the automatic signalling system about which he talks so glibly.
He also suggests that each rail-bus (those in current use seat about 65 people) should be in the charge of one unfortunate man, who drives, collects fares and presumably operates the unmanned crossing that Mr Burn advocates.
These unmanned crossings, by the way, are something about which the Ministry of Transport is very reluctant. Understandably so, considering the increased danger that would be involved.
I think that Mr Burn would not prove a popular man with the unions, who naturally have their agreements for working conditions for train drivers.
However, I will concede Mr Burn one point - opposition to the closure of the Stour Valley and many other branch lines, but the efforts of the populace must be directed along more profitable lines.
There is a very worthwhile leaf to be found in the Scandinavian book. Sweden's transport system operates at a profit. It is fully integrated - rail, road, sea and air - and provides a service unequalled in Britain, where different transport systems compete against one another.
This integration is open to us although many still feel that making the railways a social service independent of other systems is still the answer.
I am no railwayman, nor likely to be, but I want to see our harassed British Railways a concern anyone would be proud to work for.
10 April 1963
'Motorist' wants to have his cake and eat it. He makes cheap sneers under the cloak of anonymity and yet expects his arguments and views to have some value.
And this after writing on April 4th, "Many Tories, like myself" and putting forward six days later the Swedish transport system as a model for Britain. Sweden nationalised its 10,000 miles of railway in 1939!
The case for closing the Stour Valley line is considerably weakened by the entire absence of statistics, but Mr Suddaby said in his reply to your interviewer (page 14, April 10) that the cost of running smaller units would be little different from that involved with the present (but comparatively recent) two coach units, also emphasised that the actual running of the units is only a fraction of the cost of running the line.
Other countries have found that automatically controlled crossings and signal systems are an economy and in this country thousands of controls have been installed on the roads, the cost being borne by the rate and tax payer.
To dismiss the idea is nonsense. I feel sure the railway unions would not and would back any efforts that would streamline and so save a service and their members from being thrown on the scrap heap.
Dr Beeching is aiming at an efficient and economically sound rail system based largely on the main through lines. Surely one way of ensuring their prosperity is by maintaining a first class 'feeder' system.
My suggestion was made in a constructive spirit and because I feel it is up to all of us who have the welfare of the town at heart to do all that we can to preserve and improve its amenities, and surely a rail link is a very important amenity.
18 April 1963
As the former secretary of the Haverhill Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen, I should be pleased if you would allow me to comment on the present precarious position of the Stour Valley line.
Mr Norman, secretary of the Sudbury branch of the N.U.R. is quite right. The Stour Valley line has been sabotaged, just as the Colne Valley line was for some years before the axe fell.
Mr Hare's comment that "the safeguard to rail closures is that each closure proposal can be placed before a Transport Users Consultative Committee" was ludicrous in the extreme. He knows better than most that the T.U.C.C. has long since been reduced to a completely ineffective body absolutely dependent on the dictatorial powers wielded by Mr Marples. The Beeching Report makes it quite clear that the already negligible power of the T.U.C.C. will be reduced to nil.
In case there is anyone foolish enough to place any faith in the outcome of a public inquiry, let me remind them that there were an unprecedented number of objections to the proposal to close the Colne Valley line. At the public inquiry, it was proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the line could be made to pay. Subsequently, the committee decided that the line should remain open with an improved service. It is hardly necessary to add that Marples reversed the decision reached by the panel of men and women of unquestionable integrity and utmost ability.
I was privileged, a few days ago, to meet Lord Stonham, chairman of the National Council of Inland Transport. The facts and figures he gave me make appalling reading and prove, beyond question, that lines such as the Stour Valley are being closed under false pretences. Some of the more important conclusions reached by the council are as follows.
The closure of all the branch lines mentioned by Beeching, will save only 18 million pounds a year, or 1.5d per person per week. The necessary increase in expenditure on the roads, due to the effect of the extra traffic diverted to them will cost the ratepayer and the taxpayer many times this figure.
Whereas the loss on our railways amounts to £150 million a year, the estimated cost, to the taxpayer and ratepayer, of road haulage is no less than £600 million a year.
Lord Stonham stressed that the figures given were not wild guesses, but the calculated conclusions reached by the country's leading experts in such matters.
Finally, may I comment on the statement, said to have been made by a British Railways spokesman, that "It is extremely unlikely that the Stour Valley freight line would be closed within the next 20 years". His words were, of course, rubbish, and I can only assume that he had not read Beeching's report at the time that he made the statement. Beeching makes it quite clear that the line will be ripped up as soon as alternative arrangements are made for the goods traffic. It is my considered opinion, and you may remember that I have been proved right before, that the line will cease to exist within two years from the start of 'Operation Beeching'.
18 April 1963
Although personally a disapprover all-along-the-line of the Beeching Plan, and a believer that there must be a high proportion of others in these parts equally opposed to it, it was nevertheless with astonishment, and applause, that I greeted the result of a petition against the closure of the Stour Valley passenger rail line organised by my wife on behalf of the villagers of Cavendish. Less than a dozen approvers of the Beeching Plan were encountered as opposed to 367 disapprovers.
If these figures are to be taken as indicative of opinion generally along the whole of the Stour Valley area, then surely supported by a properly organised and co-ordinated protest, such overwhelmingly one-sided opinion cannot possibly be disregarded, unless democracy is simply now a name behind which those in authority hide when it becomes a case of exerting their particular will over that of people.
The Beeching axe is a monstrous embodiment of ruthless disregard for the countless thousands whose lives will suffer under the full impact of its fall, individuals and institutions alike.
Those who argue that because certain sections of railway do not pay they should be closed, appear, on the face of it, to have founded their argument on sound enough logic. But the vital and democratic question surely is: pay who and in terms of what? The monetary saving - even supposing there would ultimately be any - brought about by the Beeching Plan is completely outweighed by the much more important and human considerations of how much disruption and hardship is likely to be caused by the Dr Beeching closures.
It is conceivable that at a time when so much new development is taking shape in towns such as Sudbury and Haverhill, to mention just a couple, the closure of the Stour Valley line should be given a serious second thought, except in solid opposition to it.
Instead of hacking out the so-called deadwood from his branches, Dr Beeching may find his labours and our money spent to greater and more permanent effectiveness in approaching his problem at root level. Get rid of the suckers who have for so long as there has been steam, infected the whole system of British Railways with their baleful influence of complacency, imprudence, inefficiency and disco-ordination, and it may be found that the suspect 'dead-wood' is after all simply dormant, awaiting the right treatment to enable it to flourish.
There is a saying - not irrelevant to this issue perhaps - that in Britain everything stops for tea. Any tourist venturing to discover what it is about our national beverage that has this stopping power, could be forgiven confusing meaning if perchance his first sample was sipped from one of the oil-grimed, cracked-crocks repeatedly slopped-up on British Railways. Certainly the experience would stop him wanting a second sip; stop him too from venturing again within wide circles of another British Railways buffet, and, I suspect, stop him dead in his tracks from travelling one wheel's turn further on British Railways than his pre-paid bookings absolutely necessitated!
It is this kind of small but damaging indignity that has for years symbolised the lowering standards in all departments of British Railways. The remedy - a long term one it is true - in part would be a wholesome clean-up rather than a wholesale close-down!
Anyone with imagination knows that within a year or two of closing down certain sections of the railways, it would be imperative to re-open them again in order to relieve the inevitable chaos that would result on the by-ways we call roads.
Clearly, the closure of the Stour Valley line would leave an unspanable gap, that no bus service, how ever potentially good, could even begin to fill, if only because of the time factor involved in long distance travel.
Such a monstrous scheme as the Beeching Plan, unleashed in, say, Russia instead of here would have sent the 'Free' World's journalists scurrying for their typewriters to tap out reams of blue-blooded propaganda deploring such totalitarian retrogression and quite rightly too!
Send Dr Beeching on a one-way trip to the moon and leave the Stour Valley passenger service alone!
KEITH. A. PRICE (Snr.)
25 April 1963