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Oh! Mr Beeching, Where Are We Now?

I was reading issue No.i of 2018 N Gauge Journal when I came across “Modelling West Wycombe Station”. I do not plan to model West Wycombe in the near future, but I found that Mr.Cooney had a very good point regarding the history of the line, why it was there and the assorted “quirks” that produced the final result. Had the political frenzy which produced the wide ranging closures in the 1960s and 70s been more aware of the various small lines histories and logic behind them we would not be facing the problems now seen, nor would the obscene cure-all that is HS2 have been contemplated. So I scribbled a few lines to encourage the “little gray cells” either for a letter or an article for the website:-

“I much enjoyed Mr. Cooneys’ article on “Modelling West Wycombe Station”, and he is quite right, knowing a railway lines history and it’s “raison d’etre” is always very useful and stops a number of the errors heard and seen at exhibitions e.g., “It wouldn’t have done that” or “that’s not suitable for the line”. My favourite story is of the guy who spent ages researching and building a working model of a sewage farm. On its first trip out one of the first people to see it was a guy who worked in the industry, who told him “the vanes don’t go that way round”. It was of course an “old style” sewage farm.

I was raised in Maidenhead and knew the Maidenhead, Bourne End and High Wycombe “branch” line very well. I put branch in quotation marks because only the Bourne End to Marlow piece was a branch line, the rest is best described as a connecting or avoiding line and consequently almost any type or class of loco could be seen on it. I “copped” my last Manor on it one morning on my way to school, the train was late and so was I. Later the family moved to a bungalow opposite “Burnham Bucks” station and that and a new racing bike bought me with-in a short ride of Beaconsfield station and discovered exotic variety of trains using the GWR/GCR joint line; ER, LMR, Standards and GWR all in one place. At that time the services weren’t that numerous compared to home, but then that was Brunels’ “racetrack” out of Paddington.

The joint lines finest hour was when GWR/GCR joint became the line of choice for the West Midlands and northward during the WCML electrification. Swindon redrafted the Kings (hence the double chimneys seen thereafter) and express services travelled from Paddington via the Old Oak to Northholt link line and proved the GWR line was the fastest to Birmingham.

The Maidenhead to Wycombe line was one of those useful alternate routes which Beeching seemed to hate so much. It was capable of removing considerable traffic from the Thames Valley route (Reading to Didcot), a section which now drowns in traffic and will get much worse after the service intensification planned after electrification and this is without application of the electrified “Spine Route” planned for freight from Southampton area up through to Oxford and eastward to the WCML. Why not reinstate the GWR line to full capability and allow freight and expresses to use it to Wolverhampton and the North; yet another Beeching exorcism, the line from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton. The WCML line from northward from Brum is now a total bottle neck with traffic very slow. Many of our club members will know that the circuitous route from Marylebone to Oxford is yet another poor substitute for a line closure, our own model “Waterstock” never allowed the Thame branch to be closed, when the M40 was built, but allows for it to remain open and gives a connection to GWR/GCR line from below Oxford to Quainton Road for expresses and freight. 

I must say that the old Old Oak to Northolt GWR link (marked in yellow) provides the new hub at Old Oak Common with connections to  Paddington, CrossRail, Heathrow Express and local services, and could give immediate express access to the West Midlands and the North, via that link, which would be a God-send to travelers. However, I believe that HS2 has dibbs on it! (Dear Mr.Cooney I am one of those Luddites who think that HS2 is not what this country needs, we would be far better off reinstating some the links and old lines from the pre-Beeching era. In fact the GWR/GCR joint is one of them, the whole line has been reduced to branch line status. The old Maidenhead to Wycombe line could keep substantial amounts of traffic off the Thames Valley line (Reading to Didcot). Our railways are now run by accountants, politicians and statistics all of which deal in short term solutions to problems and are subject to, shall we say “external” influences”.

Line Callout 2: Old Oak Common

Below is Beaconsfield as I knew it. I used to sit on the embankment here,      and watch the pick-up freight playing in the yard beyond station opposite me.

Cloud Callout: Yard

Note the apparent four track format through the station, only the centre two were running lines. The outside two were “loops” which  were for stopping trains to allow passengers get on and off or for freight to clear the running lines. This seems a very good arrangement if you wish to run express trains and freight  or any non-stop service along the line.

After Beeching the running lines) were removed and only the loop lines remained; a strange choice, as what remained was a running line with a kink in it! Beaconsfield was not the only station so treated, which means that Chiltern Trains have a real problem if they wish to run HST speeds.