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Former station manager recalls the Beeching axe

Rod Lock in 1963 Photo:

March 27th 1963 - a day Rod Lock remembers as if it was yesterday.

He was working at London's Liverpool Street station when he and fellow railway staff were called to a meeting. He was aware some kind of announcement was to be made but what Lord Beeching was proposing took him and the majority of people in this country totally by surprise.

"We were divided into little groups and given the news, " said Rod, who worked for more than 40 years on the railways. "I think we were all in a state of shock. I recall just about everyone asking whether their individual station would be closing."

Beeching was planning to axe hundreds of stations and hundreds of railway lines across Britain.

Rod - now 81 - had previously been the station manager at Narborough and Pentney in West Norfolk, one of the stations earmarked for closure.

Despite the savagery of the cuts, he believes that Lord Beeching was right to do something drastic about Britain's unprofitable lines.

"If you look at the line between Thetford and Swaffham, there was really no case for keeping that going, " he admitted. 'They did all the surveys which showed the average number of people who travelled on that train was just nine!.How could you justify keep that going?"

Today, Rod Lock is the secretary of the East Suffolk Travellers' Assocation. Beeching recommended the East Suffolk line from Lowestoft to Ipswich be closed but, remarkably, this one survived.

Kept going because local people refused to give up on it.

It provoked a huge campaign to keep it alive. There were so many protests that an inquiry was held at Saxmundham. The criteria was that if you could prove hardship there would be a rethink. Well, it was deemed there was real hardship so the then Transport Minister Barbara Castle ruled that it should stay open."

– Rod Lock

Since then, the East Suffolk line has never looked back. Today, 600,000 people use it every year and the recent introduction of a new loop at Beccles station allowing trains to pass each other there has allowed Greater Anglia railways to run an hourly service.

Inevitably, views are mixed as to how history will judge Lord Beeching. Was he a savage or a saviour?

"Somebody at some stage whether it would have been Doctor Beeching or anybody else would have had to have taken that step to reshape and look at the network we had in the early 1960s to make it fit for purpose," said Peter Meades from Greater Anglia

" We have seen a tremendous revival of railways to the extent that we're now carrying more people across the network service as a whole since the 1920s and clearly the industry is now planning for growth whereas in the 1960s it was planning for decline."

But Christine and Mick Bates take a different view. Travelling on the East Suffolk line to Ipswich and then to London, they've not forgiven him for shutting Haverhill station, where Christine lived. It was on the Marks Tey to Shelford line which was axed."

"Haverhill was a growing town. It was incredible to do away with that line, " said Mick. "It was all about trying to save a few bob. Just short-termism really."