What might have been if Beeching had failed

The sight of trains and cars passing over the swing bridge at Sutton Bridge must have been an impressive one.
The sight of trains and cars passing over the swing bridge at Sutton Bridge must have been an impressive one.
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SPALDING could have been an economically thriving town if a major railway line from Grimsby to London had been saved.

In fact Robin Jones, an author who lives in Baston, makes the even more astonishing claim that Spalding could have been an attractive commuter town for London if the line had been electrified.

Robin spends much of his working life writing about trains – he launched the railway title Heritage Railway – and has just published Beeching: The Inside Track, written, ironically, with the assistance of the man who acted as planning officer for Dr Richard Beeching, whose 1963 report recommended the closure of many lines.

Among them was the great main line railway route from Grimsby via Louth, Boston and Spalding to Peterborough and London.

“Everyone in Lincolnshire will forever maintain that great main line railway route should never have been closed,” said Robin.

“The route was closed to through passenger trains on October 5, 1970, after years of local people campaigning against the recommendations contained in British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching’s landmark report, The Reshaping of British Railways.

“Now, half a century after the publication of that report, the protestors have a new ally, albeit late in the day, in the form of none other than the last surviving member of Beeching’s planning team which implemented his infamous closures.”

According to Robin, the Beeching planner says another route that should never have closed is the Spalding to March line, axed in 1982.

Robin says: “He says if it had been kept, it would have provided a major freight highway for container traffic from Felixtowe Docks, alleviating the current and increasing pressure on Peterborough station and the East Coast Main Line.”

Railways were the primary form of transport for a century and a half in Britain, built mainly for goods, with passengers an after-thought, according to Robin.

Unbelievably, Lincolnshire had a “labyrinth of lines” crossing the county until after the First World War when lots of military vehicles were placed on the market. They were bought for “next to nothing”, says Robin, and started competing with the railways.

Robin says the real decline in railway usage by passengers and freight began in the 1930s, but it was in the late 1950s when local people received a major shock. That was when the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway was closed, including the line from Leicester through Bourne and Spalding and over to Norfolk. The North Norfolk Railway is a remnant of that line.

Apparently the A17 to King’s Lynn largely follows the route the line took, and at Sutton Bridge the 19th century swing bridge formerly carried both the road and the railway.

Robin says: “The excuse was given that repairs were needed to a bridge at King’s Lynn but I think British Rail had decided they wanted rid of it because it doubled up on other routes, but nationwide that was the wake up call to people that they were losing their railways.

“Basically, I would say all over the Western world railways were closing. Cars and lorries were forcing people off railways and British Rail was losing money hand over fist.”

However, it was the major route from Grimsby to the capital that Robin regards as the greatest loss to the town.

He said: “Imagine the benefits of a dedicated fast route from Grimsby to the capital today, when people commute over even longer distances.

“What better if it were electrified, like the line from King’s Cross to London. Had that railway been retained you could have seen Spalding take off really and if it had been electrified it would have been an attractive commuter town for London.”

Sadly, there is no going back as parts of the trackbed have been built on, making reinstatment of the old line very expensive or almost impossible, says Robin.

Lincolnshire’s line that never should have been closed is covered in Beeching: The Inside Track, published by Mortons Ltd, and available from WH Smiths or online at www.heritagerailway.co.uk for £6.99.