(Taunton 6.8.2011 copyright Steve Sainsbury)
One of the biggest mistakes of the Beeching era was to close branch lines. Many so-called branch lines were in reality secondary main lines. Take the Taunton to Barnstaple route for example. Whilst technically a branch, certainly when it ran to the GW station in Barnstaple Victoria Road, it was in reality a very useful cross country route, much shortening the trip to Barnstaple from the north. It was double track in places. Remind you of another line?
Taunton has lost four of its routes - to Barnstaple, Minehead, Yeovil and Chard Junction. Minehead is now almost fully restored and is one of those heritage lines that is gradually morphing into a genuine community railway. I've touched on the Barnstaple route - this whole area (Barnstaple westwards) will see a huge revival of rail in the next few decades, Bideford and Ilfracombe for example can't seriously be rail-less for much longer, so reopening of this important route is inevitable. The other two lines were more in the nature of branches, but again would both be useful when reopened, bringing Chard and Ilminster for example back into the 21st century.
(Hatch on the Chard line, 1960s. Copyright Rail Thing).
So Taunton today is an odd place, clearly waiting patiently to regain its old importance. Most of the infrastructure is still in place so restoring the lines, at least in Taunton itself, shouldn't be too hard a task.
The whole principle of closing branches was horribly flawed. Beeching and his idiot crew seriously believed that people would drive or take the bus to the railhead and take the train from there. Of course in reality most of them were forced to switch to cars, the substitute bus services - as if a bus could ever replace a train! - were quickly abandoned. Result - a fall in the railways' incomes.
Branch lines that survived are experienced an incredible boom, some lines having doubled their ridership in the last few years (Severn Beach and Falmouth for example).
Beeching - you were WRONG. We need to forget the past and plan for the future, a future that should see all the Beeching cuts reversed and on top of that new lines (both heavy and light) filling in the gaps. That will release rail capacity, will take more lorries off the road and, most importantly, give many towns and villages currently struggling with 20th century dinosaur transport a FUTURE.