Chances of integration not taken

Kirknewton Station in Northumberland was closed to passengers on September 22, 1930 and for goods traffic on March 30, 1953.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 27th February 2016, 5:03 pm
A scene in February 2016 outside Kirknewton station in Northumberland very close to the Scottish border.
A scene in February 2016 outside Kirknewton station in Northumberland very close to the Scottish border.

The Alnwick to Coldstream line was built by the North Eastern Railway in the 19th century when everybody wanted a railway and investors thought shares offered a reward. However, this part of Northumberland was sparsely populated so passenger traffic was thin.

The main expectation of reward was from livestock and agricultural produce. The flock of sheep in the accompanying image would have gone to market by train.

Many railways built during that century never had a hope of profitability.

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At Coldstream Station, which was in Cornhill, the line joined from St Boswells and Kelso to Tweedmouth. It was North Eastern as far as Kelso, beyond which it was the North British Railway. Just before it left England, the North Eastern passed Carham Hall, the residence of the chairman of the North British.

Railways were regarded as businesses, and taxable, but the First World War wreaked havoc with the state of the railways and there was a proposal for the state to run them at a loss as a national asset. Instead, the Government hoped to keep them going as viable businesses, but following the war ex-servicemen bought redundant army lorries and set up small businesses carrying goods and passengers, resulting in the loss of business to the railways.

In 1923 the North Eastern and North British became part of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), when about 120 companies were amalgamated into four broadly territorial ones. The LNER was the least profitable, in 1926 earning only a fifth of its target revenue.

Help came in 1928 when an Act of Parliament enabled railways to operate buses. They chose to buy shares in existing bus companies. When they tried to take over the United Automobile Services, there was an almighty row with the group and it was agreed that the railways could have equal shares with the bus groups.

The railways never exercised their influence with the bus companies to run buses to railway stations. The busmen proceeded to spend the 1930s building bus stations in towns as far from the railway station as possible. What the railways did was to take the opportunity of their share-holding to withdraw loss-making local passenger services, like those on the Alnwick to Coldstream line, and give the business to the bus companies.

There was more help in a similar Act that gave the railways authority to operate lorries. They set up ‘Country Lorry Services’ as local carriers, and to collect and deliver goods to and from railway stations.

After the Second World War the railways were in an even worse state, partly because of aerial bombing. This time they really were nationalised, and so was road haulage, but road and rail were kept apart.

Worse was to come when the National Bus Company and Scottish Transport Group were formed in 1969. Despite trains, most buses and ferries now being publicly owned there was no requirement for them to work together. Buses and ferries in Scotland did because they always had, but the connection between ferries and railways gradually broke down, and the situation in England was no improvement.

Towards the end of the 20th century some far-sighted managers began to drag the railways up, and the privatised companies, which took over services in 1997, have been receiving the credit.

It is to be hoped that those managers, now well into retirement, know the saying that you can do a great deal of good in this world so long as you do not mind who takes the credit.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp?, £14.95, post paid and signed. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, £11.95. Order at