Wednesday 27 March 2013

Taking a Pill for Portishead [4]

The Joys of Modern Technology : Episode 124
Departure screens at Northampton Bus Station on Monday afternoon, 25th March:-
Alan, our Northampton correspondent writes:-
This cheery message was on all the screens at the bus station yesterday afternoon. But then Stagecoach info may also be right (?); we like to make bus travel exciting here. After all, we have only had 56 days notice that services were due to change and changing these computer generated thingees is not as easy as what Stagecoach were doing yesterday afternoon, namely sending a man in a van round to put new timetable sheets up at the stops. By tea time he had done the stop at remote Sixfields Stadium and been round Pineham.

But are the actual buses any better?
fbb is unable to remember which district of his former home town is being served by bus 16757.
Alan writes:-
To be fair, a few seconds later it changed to showing "5 St. Giles Park".
fbb supposes that, if they show gibberish, it will make all those inconvenient passengers go away.  It's so much easier to run buses without them.
Meanwhile, back in greater Bristol. A Bitter Pill to Swallow?

And a song to enjoy?
Michael Flanders and Donald Swann didn't get it quite right. Several of their "closed" stations didn't! fbb notices Ambergate, Chester-le-Street, Selby and the branch from St Erth to St Ives as escaping the Beeching Axe. But it is exactly 50 years today that Dr Richard Beeching, former big cheese at ICI, delivered his report.
Richard Beeching, Baron Beeching (21 April 1913 – 23 March 1985), commonly known as Dr Beeching, was chairman of British Railways and a physicist and engineer. He became a household name in Britain in the early 1960s for his report "The Reshaping of British Railways", commonly referred to as "The Beeching Report", which led to far-reaching changes in the railway network, popularly known as the Beeching Axe. As a result of the report, just over 4,000 route miles were cut on cost and efficiency grounds, leaving Britain with 13,721 miles (22,082 km) of railway lines in 1966. A further 2,000 miles (3,200 km) were lost by the end of the 1960s.

Often vilified by railway workers and enthusiasts alike, Beeching is blamed for being the butcher of our railways. At the risk of being thrown out of the bloggersphere, fbb has a different view.

The Good Doctor was the salvation of our railways! O.K. he may have gone too far in some places, and his accountancy principles for branch lines was undoubtedly flawed.

He worked almost entirely on station receipts which meant that seaside branches were poor money-earners in themselves. His report ignored the contribution made from passengers arriving at the branch terminus; their fare having been entirely allocated to their departure station. In the days before computer modelling and ORCATS revenue allocation, here was no way to include even a proportion in the accounts of the seaside destination.
But, had he not chopped (he was only following the instructions of the Government of the day), our railways would have decayed to a point from which they might never have been rescued. We only need look to the USA for an example of the near-terminal decline of the network.

Agreed, many of Beeching's closures are now re-opened and more may follow. But this is now, and that was then! Things have moved on.

We might well look at the railway from Bristol via Pill to Portishead.

The line opened on 12 April 1867 and was extended to the docks on 5 July 1879. In 1876 Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway (GWR) took over the Bristol and Exeter Railway and operated the Bristol & Portishead Pier & Railway for 40 percent of the receipts.

On 1 July 1885 the GWR bought the Portishead Railway and it became a branch line of the GWR to serve the pier and dock at Portishead, from which Brunel's steamships sailed to North America.

In 1880 it was converted from the GWR's broad gauge to standard gauge.

The station was rebuilt in 1956; but a bit too late to rejuvenate the branch.

Passenger services were discontinued in 1964 as part of the Beeching Axe, and freight was discontinued in 1981, but the railway was not dismantled.

Part of the banch was rebuilt and re-opened in 2002 to provide a freight link to Portbuy dock.

The original line had 7 stations ...

... although Nightingale Valley Halt was only open from 1928 to 1932! It was to take Bristolians to the "pretties" of Leigh Woods.
The station was to the right of the bridge. Pill had a small but pleasant station ...
... and it, Portishead and Ashton Gate are proposed for re-opening.
Will it ever happen? The Government is reported to be in favour; the local authorities are all keen; even First Great Western thinks it's a spiffing idea although it is not part of their franchise contract (yet?). The only significant problem is ...

The Money.

In the meantime, we return to First Bus's improvements in their bus service to Pill and Portishead tomorrow.

P.S. Re "The Slow Train"; the fool forgot Goole! It's still open.

 Next Bus Blog : Thursday 28th March 
I said to them, “If you are willing, give me my wages. But if not, keep them.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver as my wages. The Lord said to me, “Put them in the Temple treasury.” So I took the thirty pieces of silver, the magnificent sum they thought I was worth, and put them in the Temple treasury.

The people around during Holy Week would know these words from the prophet Zechariah; they came to be associated with idea of a derisory value. 
So when Judas accepted the same amount to betray his Lord and Teacher, everyone would  know what an insult that amount was. So why did Judas need to "betray"? Practically, the authorities wanted to grab Jesus out of public view for fear of a violent response from His followers.

But, more importantly, this is yet another theological "visual aid". It makes it very clear that it was the sins of mankind, the transgressions of the "man in the street" (and woman, of course!) that led to the Crucifixion. The Christian concept that Jesus died, not as a result of a fake and illegal "trial", but in response to our sins is, here, focussed on just one grim example.

And Judas had a poor track record as recorded in John's Gospel. Mary had just anointed Jesus feet with expensive oil ...

The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. Judas Iscariot said, “Why wasn't this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.

Although the word is often treated as a joke, we are thus reminded that sin is a deep-rooted problem that spoils utterly. Something needs to be done!


  1. On the goggle box last evening, Giles Brandreth said that Portishead is either the fastest growing town in Europe, or is set to become the largest town on the UK without a railway station. He might well have said both. Although we don't believe everything we hear on the telly (a bit like computer generated bus info!), it sounded fantastic.

    Can this be verified by anybody?

  2. Gosport (no station) had an estimated population of 80,000 at the 2011 census; whereas Portishead could only manage 22,000! Those who enjoy this sort of thing often exclude Gosport because it has a foot ferry link to Portsmouth Harbour station. So it depends on what you mean by "having no station".

  3. Also in slow train - Arram in North Yorkshire is still open as is Formby in Lancashire.