Letter: Spectre of Beeching

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The Independent Culture
Spectre of Beeching

Sir: With the first major cuts in branch line services since privatisation, a shadow hangs over the future of the rural rail network ("Train services axed as subsidies fall", 19 April).

There are two scenarios. The first is to slide towards a second Beeching by allowing rural routes to enter a spiral of decline, with low frequencies, low usage and high costs. The more positive scenario is to develop rural services through better marketing and management and a partnership approach.

Partnership means embedding these railways more firmly within the communities they serve. Redundant station buildings can be converted into premises for local businesses, rail-based tourism can be promoted and the railway can act as the "spine" for wider public transport networks.

This approach can and does work. Take the Settle and Carlisle line. A few years back this spectacular railway was seen as an irredeemably uneconomic "basket case" and closure was proposed. When a successful community campaign prevented that closure, efforts were made to turn the railway around and now ridership has sky-rocketed and the line is seen as an essential part of Britain's rail freight network.

The Government can start by making good its promise to renegotiate the contracts with the operators to provide a better deal for passengers. Part of that better deal must be to return rural service frequencies to a level equivalent to the best service provided in any of the last 15 years. This would represent the clear commitment of support for rural railways that is so worryingly absent at present.