Pre-Nationalisation rail passenger service withdrawal process

Page updated: 3 January 2016.

Winsford & Over branch (CLC), 1891 and 1931

From The Railway Gazette 25 December 1936, page 1075

“… a decision of the Railway & Canal Commission, given on July 23, 1931, … provides a useful reminder that it is not a “reasonable facility” to require a railway undertaking to continue maintaining an unprofitable passenger service. The latter arose in connection with the discontinuance of passenger traffic over the branch, about 6¼ miles long, from Winsford & Over station to a junction near Cuddington on the CLC main line. The branch was opened in 1870 … An accident in [1888] led the Board of Trade to require considerable expenditure in the way of interlocking points and signals before it would allow the line to … be used for passenger traffic. Disinclined to face the expenditure, the committee closed the branch to passenger traffic. This led to an application by the Winsford Local Board to the Railway and Canal Commission which made an order on February 25, 1891, enjoining the Cheshire Lines Committee to afford all due and reasonable facilities for … passenger traffic [which eventually resumed – see below]. … In December 1930 the committee issued large posters announcing that as from January 1, 1931, the passenger train service … would be discontinued, and that direct access from Winsford to the [CLC’s] main line … would be provided by motorbuses. The train service was discontinued on the date named, and buses were introduced by the North Western Road Car Co. Ltd.

“In April, 1931, the Winsford Urban District Council made an application to the Court virtually for the re-inforcement of the order of 1891, while the Cheshire Lines Committee applied later to have it rescinded; the Court took the two applications together. In the course of the hearing some very striking evidence of the expense involved in the passenger service on the branch was given by Mr S T Burgoyne, then Manager of the Cheshire Lines Committee, who showed that between 1924 and 1930 the number of passengers had fallen by 32 per cent, i.e. from 99,000 to just over 68,000, and ordinary passenger receipts by no less than 54 per cent, i.e. from £1,700 odd to just over £800, while season ticket receipts had fallen from £117 to £37. Expenditure was reduced from over £5,000 in 1924 to £3,700 in 1930, due chiefly to the fact that in the last two years the passenger service has been maintained by a Sentinel-Cammell steam railcar, which had replaced the ordinary trains, but the necessary expenses of signalmen and station staff had also to be met. Mr Burgoyne also stated that from January 1, 1923, to that time the four amalgamated railway companies had closed for passenger traffic 82 branch lines, involving total mileage of 711. In their decision to dismiss the application of the Winsford Council and to rescind the [1891] Order, the Commissioners were unanimous, pointing out that it was in the discretion of the Cheshire Lines Committee, having regard to economic conditions, to decide for itself whether it would resume passenger traffic on the branch.”

The branch opened for passengers 1 July 1870, closed 1 January 1874, reopened 1 May 1886, closed again 1 December 1888, reopened 1 February 1892, and finally closed 1 January 1931.

Edmonton - Cheshunt branch (GER), 1909

In the House of Commons, on 22 September 1909, a local MP raised the legality of "the Great Eastern Railway Company [having] given notice to the district council of Enfield that as from the 1st October next it is their intention to relinquish the passenger service on their Edmonton and Cheshunt branch lines (sic), including the stations at Churchbury, Forty Hill, and Theobald's Grove". The President of the Board of Trade, Winston Spencer Churchill, responded: "The matter to which my hon. Friend refers is not one in which the Board of Trade has any jurisdiction, but I have communicated with the railway company thereon and have received a reply, of which I am sending him a copy."

The branch in question was the line between Bury Street Junction and Cheshunt, opened for passengers 1 october 1891, closed 1 October 1909, reopened 1 March 1915, closed again 1 July 1919, and reopened again 21 January 1960.

Alexandra Palace branch (GNR), 1954

In the House of Commons, on 20 July 1956, in a response to a local MP who questioned the legality of the withdrawal of the passenger services over that line two years previously, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, Hugh Molson, said inter alia: "Except in the case of one or two individual cases, of which the East Grinstead case is one, the former railway companies were not under any obligation to keep open their railway lines, and no obligation has been put upon the British Transport Commission under the Acts of 1947 or 1953." He goes on to elaborate the role of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee - the full exchange can be read here.

The branch opened for passengers 24 May 1873 and - after a very chequered career in which it closed and reopened no less than nine times - it finally closed 5 July 1954.

So it seems that there was (and is) no general obligation to provide a passenger service. Prior to 1948 the railway company would need to be prepared to defend its judgement on the provision of "reasonable facilities" (1) in front of the Railway & Canal Commission, if a challenge - such as that mounted by Winsford council - was raised, there then being no procedure akin to that created by the Transport Act 1947.

(1) = see Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 1905

Richard Maund

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