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Author Topic: Article in The Economist about re-opening railway lines closed in the 1960s  (Read 7767 times)

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Offline jamespetts gb

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I thought that a few people would be interested in this article from The Economist about re-opening a few of the great many railway lines that were closed in the UK in the 1960s.

Offline Ters

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It might be a new wind blowing. There is a lot of talk of reopening railroads in Norway as well. In most cases, it is not actually about reopening railroads themselves, as they are still open for freight traffic, but reestablishing the passenger service. The goal isn't quite the same as the local trains of old. Population centers have shifted away from the in between rural stations, or alternatively stopped shifting towards them, so the goal seems to be "intertown" trains between the termini that outcompete the buses on speed and comfort. On one of the potential lines, there is a question of whether there is enough potential end-to-end passengers to justify the train, and if the train would steal so many passengers from the bus line that the bus line would go out of business, leaving all the hamlets and small towns in between with poorer or no service.

Offline gauthier

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In France, talks are not about reopening railways, even if there are very interesting ones like the "petite ceinture" (literally "small belt") around Paris. Decision makers prefer building new trams (low capacity and saturated only a couple years after opening  :-X ) or metros. The project named "Grand Paris Express" is about opening several new automatic metros in the suburb.
France also lost about half of its rail lines to cars and highways in the 20th century.

Offline Ters

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Both of those seem very different, being urban transportation rather than commuting across the countryside.

Offline prissi

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Living in Cambridge I would say that the reopening for the Line to Oxford is considered realistically for around 2040. The new station should have been opened in 2012 and maybe will open in 2017. (It reminds me of the new Berlin airport of my former hometown, althouhg they fail there in a much larger scale).

There are plans on a second station "Addenbrooks" at one of the largest hospitals in the country. It would need four switches and two platforms, bridges at either end already exists. During my time in Japan such a station was build in less than 6 months. (It was the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitachino-Ushiku_Station )

Also the right of way is lost, so has been used to build a guided busway, houses and a radio observatory.

Offline Ters

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The railroad they plan to build around here (project staff is being hired these days) was first decided in 1955, but put on ice a year later, only to be repeatedly reconsidered. In 1992, it was again decided to build it, but nothing happened. It is primarily a shortening of a major intercity line (the basic idea of finding a shorter route around here dates back to the construction in 1894), but will also likely bring back the local trains. Everybody seems happy about getting fast commuter trains in to the capital, but "not in my back yard". (The railway will partially be built together with a new highway, which makes the construction more intrusive than just a railroad. Even a double tracked one, which is still unusual for Norwegian railroads.)

As for other delayed projects, when I was young (probably early teens), I learned that by the time I would have a drivers license (that is 18 years old), I could drive on a motorway all the way from my original home town (which is not where I live now) and in to the capital (100 km). A third of the route was already motorway at the time, which was quite exotic for a rural person like me. I'm now past thirty, and they are still not done! Only half of the new motorway has opened. And recently, I read that they have found some unstable clay along the selected route, and have to start all over again with the planning for that part.

At least my original home town has gotten its regular passenger train service back (and now even the high speed train between Oslo and Stockholm, although it's only high speed in Sweden, and possibly a short section inside Oslo). One still can't take the train to Oslo from my home village like one could when I was a child, though. That is one of the things being considered. It depends on whether they put up overhead wires or not, apparently. The overhead wires would be built to give freight operators an alternative route between Oslo and Trondheim. The star-shaped single-tracked rail network in Norway is very vulnerable, so those wanting to send freight won't depend on it if delivery times are important. And the concept of "bus-for-train" has become very common, when tens or hundreds of buses must suddenly be scrambled to get passengers past a closed section of rail (which might be the central station itself).

Online DrSuperGood

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The railways were only closed in the UK due to flawed research and to overall promote the car industry. Some stations and lines were literally closed because one guy was there on one day for a few hours, independent of peek time or not or the average daily/monthly passenger traffic. They also did not factor in growth at all, meaning that some lines were closed which were once in suburbs but would now almost exclusively be in cities.

With the move towards being "green" trains are now being promoted again to some extent as cars are now discouraged. It only makes sense that some of the bad decisions are at last undone. Too bad this will just end up costing the consumer more than if they remained open to start with.

Also train lines are painfully slow to build in the UK. China has planned to have their new multi-thousand kilometer highspeed railway built long before the UK is anywhere near finishing their highspeed railway to Scotland.

Offline Ters

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There is a difference there, as Britain did the cuts much earlier than Norway. Here, the major cuts took place in the late 1980s. This was at a time when cars were stating to get a bad reputation. On the other hand, there had recently been great economic boom in which cars, with all the focus on individualism that tends to follow, and cars are a status symbol. (Ironically, I wonder if electric cars are a bigger status symbol now, because it means you can afford to live close enough to work and/or have the perk of charging it at work.) The boom had turned out to be a bubble, which probably didn't help barely profitable lines. We'll never know if their economy could have improved if allowed to live until the economy recovered a few years later.

One railroad was replaced with an airport, which doesn't seem particularly profitable (several bankrupcies). It might not be much faster than a modern rail service either, especially with the increased security controls. The bus link seems to do well, though, but a modern fast train could perhaps challenge it. Unfortunately, it is one of the few places where the tracks have been partially removed, not just mothballed, turned into museums or kept as freight lines. The track was also connected to the rest of the network at a wrong angle, so the passengers would either have to change trains or the train would have to switch direction.

Also train lines are painfully slow to build in the UK. China has planned to have their new multi-thousand kilometer highspeed railway built long before the UK is anywhere near finishing their highspeed railway to Scotland.

A high disregard for those living in the area and for the workers has some advantages, for everybody except those. But I am not impressed at the speed of government projects in the western world compared to just 50 years ago, or even less, and I don't think those factors are as prevalent in this comparisson. Private enterprises seem much more willing to take risks and push ahead, but not even the most right-oriented political parties in Europe seem willing to hand estabishment of transportation infrastructure back over to private companies, as was the case back when the basis of our sea, rail and air infrastructure was established. They stop at the vehicles and maintenance. (Private companies seems to be getting ahead at space transportation, though.)

Offline prissi

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What me amazed most ist that most major lines in Britain were built in less than 15 years from 1820 to 1845; in that time now we may get one high speed line at all. And there was a lot of red tape then, you had to pay about 200000 pounds to discuss about you railway act in parliament and had to buy the land too. Still in 1850 there were many major lines already built https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rail_transport_in_Great_Britain_1830%E2%80%931922#/media/File:Cheffins%27s_Map_of_English_%26_Scotch_Railways,_1850.jpg

Of course, the history of the US is even greater, when poeple built railways lines no knowing what lies in the next valley (when they built the transcontinental railways, there were stuck for time to time in a valley which was to steep to climb out. But then, times have moved on, and nowadays the callenge is rather in making and playing games ...

Offline Ters

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What me amazed most ist that most major lines in Britain were built in less than 15 years from 1820 to 1845; in that time now we may get one high speed line at all.

Exactly, although it should be noted that it was built by private companies, even if there was some government involvement. More recently, the Channel Tunnel was built in less than ten year, also by a private company. The red tape doesn't appear to be as much on constructing railroads, or any other road for that matter, but on spending tax money on it. At least over here, where projects spend years in feasability and socal economic studies. By the time they are done, there is a new government, with other, or just slightly different, plans.

A slightly different set-back with the local railroad project was that by the time the planning was done, they realized single-track wouldn't be enough, so they had to start all over again. Not much future proofing in the original plans, then.

And there is such stupidity as not putting out the tender for building a new bridge until after the old one was torn down. Meaning that traffic has to crawl over the temporary bridge for many months while "nothing" happens. Was removing the old bridge so risky that they could not commit to the next phase until the first phase was succesfully completed? That is will take 2 years to build 2 km of road (including a footpath) seems a bit excessive, though, even if it includes two (or four) short bridges.

(The government doesn't always like using much time on it's projects. My IT-projects must be completed within the year, no matter how big.)

Offline Vladki cz

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Good to hear that at least somewhere, railroads are considered useful.

Here in Czech republic and Slovakia, local railroads continue to be closed and turned into bike trails... Classic scenario is - make the train schedule unusable, complain that there are too few passengers, reduce the trains further so that all potential passengers have to use cars or buses, finally stop all traffic, remove tracks,...

And the fact that local pax traffic is subsided by regional goverments makes it even worse. Local trains do not pass regional borders any more - thus effectively splitting one long line into two dead end branches. With luck you can at least transfer, where a few years ago was direct connection. Sometimes to get over the regional border you have to take local train backwards to the centre of region, change to fast train to cross the border, and approach the border with local train from the other side.

Offline killwater

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Here in Czech republic and Slovakia, local railroads continue to be closed and turned into bike trails... Classic scenario is - make the train schedule unusable, complain that there are too few passengers, reduce the trains further so that all potential passengers have to use cars or buses, finally stop all traffic, remove tracks...

Sounds familiar to what we have in Poland...

Offline Ters

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Seems like closing railways is development moving from west to east at one degree every second year or so. Hopefully, this new development moves faster.

And the fact that local pax traffic is subsided by regional goverments makes it even worse. Local trains do not pass regional borders any more - thus effectively splitting one long line into two dead end branches. With luck you can at least transfer, where a few years ago was direct connection. Sometimes to get over the regional border you have to take local train backwards to the centre of region, change to fast train to cross the border, and approach the border with local train from the other side.

Local train regions in Norway is by now nowhere near each other. To some degree, they never really where. There are some curiosities around the capital Oslo. Oslo is itself a combined regional and local government, which is only capable of containing the capital itself by definition (it has otherwise spilled over its own borders, like so many other cities around the world). As such, local transport is jointly operated with the surrounding regional government. But even that region is quite small, by Norwegian standards anyway, so many commuters live beyond even that. As such, local trains, which I understand are subsidized by the two innermost regions, actually cross multiple regional borders, often extending into yet another region, sometimes on either side. I don't know if this last bit is formally subsidized by the inner regional governments. There is another local train crossing a regional border, but those regions talk about merging. (Which the central government found such a good idea, that it seems all regions will have to merge by the end of the decade. Except Oslo.)

In all, I think regional involvement in trains is poor in Norway because all railroads essentially radiate from the capital, and give poor coverage in other regions (with one or two exceptions) they pass through. There is however some, rather far-fetched, idea of using the existing railroad between two towns in the same region, to create a common tram network. Neither has or have had trams. (I'm not sure any town that small has, anywhere in the world.) Subsidized buses frequently cross regional borders all over the country, although usually only to the next major town.

At least one train service owned by and named after a Swedish region (but operated by subcontractors) actually cross into Norway.

Offline Vladki cz

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Seems like closing railways is development moving from west to east at one degree every second year or so. Hopefully, this new development moves faster.

Our goverment started to close local railways in 50's or 60's. It was just gradual, one by one. Not like the beeching axe in UK. Unfortunately it just did not stop...

Offline Ters

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That's a bit curious. I would expect the circumstances around closing railways in Czechoslovakia in 1950 to be a bit different than now, or in Britain at the same time. Were competition from private cars really an issue that soon after the war, and on that side of the Iron Curtain? Or was limiting movement a goal in itself? On the other hand, according to Wikipedia, Czech Railways was the biggest employer in the country until 2008, so there must have been a lot to take from. (Unless they had a ridiculous administrative overhead.)

Single lines started closing quite early here as well, but the major closings didn't really happen until around 1990. There never were many to close in the first place. They were possibly countable on fingers and toes even when the number of railroads in Norway was at its peak, if you didn't get too pedantic about individual parts of a line built in stages. (The line between Oslo and Trondheim can be counted as at least four different lines, maybe even more, but is rarely considered more than at most two.)

Offline Vladki cz

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Czech Republic had (and still has) quite dense rail network, see the maps here: http://provoz.szdc.cz/PORTAL/ViewArticle.aspx?oid=594598
So there is a lot of choices to cut. See the first map (kjr.pdf) and look for dotted lines - those are without passenger traffic.

Recently I have read a book about closed railway lines in Czech republic. http://www.dokoran.cz/?p=book&id=451
It was printed in 2009 and since then more railways were closed. Just to sum up, it says the the total number of closed lines was 76, making 752.6 km.
However, some of those were just rerouted to avoid open coal mines or water dams. Some were upgraded from local branch to mainline (or downgraded to tram), so they are not all lost. Some of them (114 km) are still used for cargo, 218 km are abandoned but not removed - just rotting ...
Just a few local lines were closed before WWII due to bankrupcy. The main cuts took place in 1970's. The main reasons were:
- expelling Germans from Sudetenland (borderland) after WWII, and thus reducing the demand for transportation
- cutting many cross border connections, not only due to iron curtain. Connections to Poland and East Germany were cut too.
- competition from diesel buses and trucks, and also individual cars.
- neglected maintenance
- closed due to mining or flooding the area.
In 1966 there was a study telling to close 93 lines (1323 km). Fortunately, they did not close all of them.
228.6 km were closed since 1989. So communists do not take ll the blame :-/ and they were more modest than Mr. Beeching ;-)
Since 1989
 - some lines were privatised, and turned out to be profitable. (jhmd.cz)
- Further decline of local cargo transport, much more individual cars.
- Split of lines due to regional borders - see 4th map (kraje.pdf) - especially since 2000
- closed some border connections to slovakia, plans to reopen some connections to germany

Some closed lines were really badly routed. Bus connection to nearest regional centre was cca 20-30 km, but train trip would be 2-3 times longer with 2-3 transfers. No wonder that people preferred bus :)

Offline prissi

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Some of the reasons were true in Germany too. For instance a big company closed or changed to road transport, mine closures. Up to the 90ies only freight was the reason for keeping low profile lines open. In Germany now the goverments pay quite nice subsidies (although not as much as in Britain) and many local operators are now competing or try to even reopen lines (to reap in more subsidises).

Although economically viable are only few branch lines, the subsidises are needed.

Offline Ters

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Inspired by the "successful" privatization of passenger trains in Britain and Sweden, the current Norwegian government is pushing ahead with privatization in Norway as well, probably more like the Swedish solution. It would be nice if this opened up for private initiatives to establish services on the disused lines, but I think it rather will be so that the government decides where to run passenger services, and then put out tenders for a company to operate on those lines, using trains the state provides (if I understand the Swedish model correctly). In essence, the government will retain full control over the things they haven't been able to do right (infrastructure, services and rolling stock) while getting rid of employees that seems to be doing their job (which after this might be unable to land a secure job, as they will likely have to switch jobs every time another company gets the tender).

But the Norwegian market might be too small for anyone else than the current government-owned company to show any interest. Connex/Veolia did operate various public transportation, though obviously not trains, as it is still a state monopoly, but sold out after little more than ten years. Green Cargo, the Swedish government owned freight train operator has recently (re)entered the Norwegian freight train market after the first big private freight operator in Norway since the nationalization gave up earlier this year (citing that private companies were discriminated, facing stricter inspections and sanctions). Previously, Green Cargo owned nearly half of the once-and-again Norwegian (indirectly) government owned freight train operator, but sold out again. Not that Green Cargo ever completely left, as they have always run freight trains across the border, so they know how to live with the "red tape". A handful of other companies run non-passenger trains in Norway, but in very niche markets, often with connections to Sweden. One of them seems to be expanding in the wake of the previously mentioned demise.

Offline Octavius

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I've collected a small database with all railway stations and lines that were, are and will soon be in the Netherlands. It could be interesting in view of this discussion.

The first attached plot ("Stations") shows the number of stations over the years. normal = an ordinary station, still in use; special = station used on special occasions, like stations at football stadiums; closed = station no longer used, but still present (although the tracks may be gone); demolished = station completely gone and not rebuild; reused = station now in use as tramway stop, metro station, heritage rail or railway museum.

The first two stations were opened in 1839. The peak in the number of normal stations came in 1916, when there were 851 stations. They were rapidly closed in the 1930s, replaced by buses. Some were reopened in 1940. Because of the war there was no diesel fuel for the buses, but coal for the trains was no problem. In 1955 there was a minimum of 300 normal stations. Since that day the number has increased again, now there are 400. Next week there will be 399. Modernising the railway and rolling stock, which was necessary anyway as much of the old stock was destroyed in the war, paid off.

The next plot ("Route kilometres") shows the length of the network in route kilometres. pax = not electrified railways with passengers (and goods); E-pax = same, but electrified; goods = not electrified railways, goods only; E-goods = same, but electrified; disused = railway no longer used, but still present (you can see the track if you cut away the trees); dismantled = tracks removed; reused = no normal trains, but converted to metro, tramway or heritage railway; E-reused = same, but electrified.

The first railways were constructed using private money (although quite a lot of that money came from the king, who allowed construction by royal decree). Expansion of the network was slow when compared to neighbouring countries. Water remained (and still remains) the dominant way to move goods. This reflects the wet nature of the country. In 1860 an act of parliament allowed the government to spend money on railway construction, and from 1860 to 1872 the network increased from 384 km to 1559 km. It was directly followed by another wave of state railway construction, and by 1888 there was 2703 km of railways in the Netherlands (or just across the border, connecting to the Netherlands). Only two of these railways were later closed, and one of those was partially reopened later. The government granted concessions to private companies to run the trains on those new lines, similar to how it's done today. From then until about 1916 mostly local railways were constructed, again using private money. Closure time was from 1935 to 1950, a bit earlier than in the UK, Czechia or Norway. Many remained open for goods into the 1970s, but as gas heating replaced coal, the demand for goods transport fell and the lines were closed. Several new lines opened: bypasses for goods, an airport connection, suburban lines, a line connecting the new polders, the high speed line.

As an extra, the third plot ("Route kilometres per stop") gives the route length of passenger railways divided by the number of normal stations. This is more or less the average separation between neighbouring stations. This reflects the high population density of the country. The depression from 1880 to 1937 comes from the local railways, the jump in 2006 from converting two suburban lines with many stations to metro and tramway, the jump in 2009 from opening the high speed line (with no stations).

As another extra, the fourth plot ("Electrified fraction") shows the fraction of the network that was electrified. There was rapid electrification from 1927 to 1958 (when the last regular steam train ran), then closure of diesel goods lines and slow electrification of the remaining diesel lines. All main lines build post-war were electrified immediately. In the coming 5 years another 120 km will be put under the wire. In the late 1940s, the promo movies from the railway company spoke of the complete electrification of the dutch railway network. "It won't be easy, but we'll get there." They didn't say when.

I think that much of Europe now has this "Swedish model". Over here, many small lines in the east and north of the country have been privatised and run partially on subsidies from the provinces. The national railways make a small profit and occasionally pay dividend to the national government. Services on those small lines in the east and north have improved, but their connections to the rest of the network have deteriorated.

Offline prissi

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Wow, that is enough material to write a thesis on NL train transport ...