No British government report has had such a disastrous impact on this country as the one produced by transport minister Richard Beeching in 1963, recommending drastically reducing the rail network. On the basis of its fatally flawed premise – that “the car was the future and rail the past” – hundreds of stations and thousands of miles of track were axed, isolating many of the most economically challenged parts of the country.
By favouring north-south trunk routes and links between the capital and other big towns and cities, the report unquestionably “contributed to the London-centric nature of the economy”. The Beeching report assumed that buses would fill the gaps in areas hardest hit by the cuts, but that didn’t happen. Instead, those areas suffered a “double whammy” as new road-building schemes went on to favour cities that still had rail connections. Beeching’s rail cuts established a “geographical divide” that has polarised our politics ever since. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that without Beeching, Brexit might never have happened. (Larry Elliott, The Guardian. 19 Oct)
My comment: this was a huge lifestyle upheaval for tens of thousands, a political decision that was totally unnecessary, driven by the unremitting desire to cut costs, and taxes, without caring too much about actual people. I remember the event very well – the closing of so many rail lines caused outrage, up-turning the lives of tens of thousands of people nationwide who depended on train travel, and who now had to buy cars and drive along roads not designed for the purpose. The only upside is that the rail lines were ripped up and the routes were converted into hiking paths, spurring a minor boom in walking gear.
I mention this because governments are regularly doing things with unintended consequences, failing to think things through (or not being capable of thinking things through). Epicurus must have spotted this in ancient Greece, which is one reason he didn’t like party politics.