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How To Close a Railway  

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Here we see a railway line. The black line is the mainline, the dark blue line is the mainline, the pale blue line is the river, red marks the main roads and yellow marks marks minor roads. Dashed railway lines mark tunnels.

Now before you start to close a railway you have to see if it is possible. If you want to close the West Coast Mainline or the old Network SouthEast then you will have to go through lots of silly paperwork and would probably find it impossible to prove any case except that some of the stock used to be a bit old - and we all know that. That case also disappeared during 2005 with the end of nearly all the old trains.

However, this innocent little branch line will prove to us quite nicely how you go about it.

At the top is the scoreboard, showing the number of trains on the left and the number of buses on the right. Period stock is used.

Start by eliminating any service from the timetable which loses more than £1 per year (petty cash is difficult to prove - it helps if you can "prove" a loss of over £30,000). Preferably do this in winter if the line goes to a beach resort, or in summer if it goes to a mountain climbing or skiing one. Also get rid of any spare excursion stock or engines you find lying around in sidings out of season.

Then you close any unprofitable stations.

Now if you have a really busy line, lots of people will come and use it from a long way off because they know that if they miss a train another will be along soon. Also, they know the line will be there if they want it. When you cut down on the service, there are fewer trains when people want them. They find other forms of transport, and people like to standardise on things, like one form of public transport and either a car or a taxi. So less people use the railway and often forms of competition will appear. Therefore, we now have a fleet of buses (probably pirate buses) emerging.

Now you close stations which are unprofitable, or at least if they aren't they should be. So the innocent stations which are some way from the main road or a bit close to another station come out - with the benefit that schedules get accelerated a bit and the disadvantage that you lose the passengers furthest from the bus services.

White, as you may have guessed, marks a closed station on an open railway.

Now you repeat the cycle.

When you have as few DMUs as possible, you lift the last section of double track and knock it down to single. The section between the first two and last three stations has now been singled, leaving an awkward double track bit in the middle.

Now we have a minimal line with very few trains - known in positive jargon as a "basic" railway. Due to the long sections of single track, we have a poor service to the top station.

You can now proceed to carry out various steps to improve reliability and value for money - sell off the station buildings, downgrade the least used stations to request stops and build a motorway (fat mid-blue line).

You may also wish to single the rest of the line, leaving the remaining intermediate stations as passing loops - which is a great way to utterly screw up service reliability, because any delays build up through the rest of the day due to a lack of flex in the schedule.)

Due to this lack of reliability, it may be advisable to avoid using the second unit on off-peak services and run the railway on a "one diesel in oil" basis. Of course, this makes peak services far more expensive to operate because they use a second unit which sits around between the peaks doing nothing and accordingly earning nothing. It's cheaper to send the second unit off to operate somewhere else - which is what we do next.

This has the effect of halving the peak-time service frequency, causing grotesque overcrowding and further loss of passengers. There is only one way to remedy this. You axe the top half of the line and can use the time saved to double the service frequency on the bottom half of the line again. This can be marketed as a service improvement, despite it just restoring what used to be a status quo.

The abandoned bits of line are used for road improvements (to ease access to the railhead) and housing developments (which would probably have justified the retention of the line if built a few years previously).

The rest of the route fails to serve the large town at the top, so patronage topples, maintenance of the two tunnels and the river crossing becomes unjustifiable and the closure process is a mere formality.

Also demolish the viaducts (this is possible even with the listed ones), landscape tunnel portals, and build on the stations.

Of course there is probably going to be a preservation society trying to reopen the line (there generally is), but the demolition of viaducts and redeveloped stations mean that they'll never get anywhere.

It is not wholly unknown for there to be a further step in this process - you annouce that, in the absence of connecting traffic from the branch, the mainline station is grotesquely underused and accordingly will be shut as well.

(Insult can be added to injury by taking out the mainline at the same time.)

In a few decades the inconvenience caused by the closure of the railway will be remedied by converting three miles of it into a cyclepath.

Last modified 01/04/11

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