IT WOULD be good if the rail-loving anoraks and their fellow travellers in the media, dancing around the grave of the late Dr Richard Beeching (27 March), could rest awhile and study what the 50 years since his report actually mean for the finances of rail, particularly in Scotland.
Beeching confronted heavy losses due to 30 per cent of the network carrying only 1 per cent of traffic, so even if traveller numbers eventually doubled in the years since 1963, mass re-openings firmly remain in the realms of economic madness.
The losses of £76 million in 1962 (adjusted for inflation, about £1.1 billion today) are actually far lower than Network Rail’s £3.9bn annual subsidy in recent years. Unusually for a business where extra passengers should be costless, sales have risen, but losses have grown even faster, as the McNulty Report observed last year.
The Scottish position on independence would be dire.
In 2010-11, the ScotRail subsidy (accounting for 95 per cent of traffic) was £290m on revenues of £259m. But there is Network Rail also to consider; and, with 15 per cent of the UK’s route length, Scotland’s share of the annual infrastructure deficit is about £585m. Then there are the costs of Transport Scotland as they relate to rail. Much of this is off-balance sheet, so has not yet been debated as regards separation.
The overall conclusion is that, whereas the average £5 ticket spend attracts £4 subsidy in Britain as a whole, it is sucking up around £15 in attributable support in Scotland. The rail enthusiasts are wanting to pick the pockets of the taxpayer even more if they think that wholesale re-openings can make any economic sense.
AS A regular walker on one of the Beeching railway line casualties and a regular driver on the roads, I concur with Alex Burgon (Letters, 28 March), and his comment: “One person should not have the power to make decisions that will affect communities for decades to come.”
Here we are, 50 years after Dr Beeching ripped up the rail network across the country, the roads thick with HGVs and many lamenting the loss of a transport system that would still be moving goods around Britain had the short-sighted recommendations of the good doctor not been acted upon. Surely an object lesson about appointing someone to produce a report in the interests of trimming budgets, etc?
The same fallacy is probably being mirrored today whether in trimming air-sea rescue services, coastguards, border controls, closing rural schools and post offices, and too many such likes. Hindsight is an easy act; foresight is what we should expect from politicians who are paid amply to demonstrate it.