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The story of our much-loved railway branch lines is being told through a collection of 400 photographs and stories in a new book just published, spotlighting the Beeching era.

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Rail buffs are queuing like passengers at the ticket office for copies of John Vaughan’s ‘Rise and Fall of British Railways.’

His collection begins with the early days of 19th century railway mania and recounts the financial struggles of the railway companies and closures in the 1920s and 30s which saw 1,000 miles of track made redundant, such as the Nunhead-Crystal Palace branch in south London and the Wealdstone-Stanmore Broadway spur in north London. It continues through to the 1948 railways nationalisation.

One of London’s more recent branch closures was the Finsbury Park-Highgate-Alexandra Palace branch in the late 1940s, just after nationalisation, now converted to a green walkway.

But the main focus is on the problems British Railways had in its 50-year struggle to show a profit while being plagued by regular political interference.

The Government famously called on industrialist Dr Beeching to chair British Railways Board in 1963 who proposed widespread closures of loss-making lines and stations.

Vaughan examines the findings of the Beeching Report—popularly known as ‘the Beeching axe’—which threatened little-used branches that provided a lifeline for many communities. Increasing car ownership had seen their usage gradually wane.

Public affection for branch lines led to stiff opposition to Beeching’s axe—but not enough to save thousands of lines and stations.

More recent events are also included, leading up to British Rail’s 1998 privatisation and beyond.

The wealth of evocative images taken by photographers past and present will invoke much nostalgia among railway enthusiasts.

Vaughan has been a railway buff himself since he was 10—like all schoolboys, probably. He took his first picture of a steam engine in 1953 on a simple plastic camera.

The former editor of ‘Modern Railways Pictorial’ magazine has written 40 books following his first in 1968.

John Vaughan’s ‘Rise and Fall of British Railways: Branch and Minor Lines’, by Haynes Publishing, £30 hardback.

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