Monday, 22 June 2009

Railways in the UK

To people in Britain born before -- say -- 1955, the name "Doctor Beeching" automatically conjures up the story of the drastic curtailing of the UK railway network. Following a study of the financial health of the UK railway system, in the early 1960's, Doctor Beeching recommended the closure of many railway branch lines and many stations on the remaining lines. From a network which connected cities, towns and villages, the network became one which connected cities and large towns. The report envisaged rail users commuting to their nearest station by car or public transport, and continuing their journey by rail. Over the years, the Beeching closures have been condemned by many people. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to reverse them; old tracks have been taken up, and the land has reverted to farmland or used for housing. Some stretches of the network have become footpaths and cycleways.

Last week, proposals were published to try and reverse some changes, by reopening lines and reinstating stations. Intriguingly, the proposals were based on a cost-benefit analysis, and the proposals were those which exceeded a threshold for the ratio of costs to benefits. So O.R. was used, at least in the financial model. Two cheers for the report! It would get three cheers, if there was evidence that the compilers had looked at the feasibility of the proposals, asking questions such as the availibility of car-parks for rail users, and whether or not timetables could be adjusted to include the new stations and lines.

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