Department for Transport 2017-18 Series

HISTORY LAB - The Beeching cuts and the future of the railways

Professor Colin Divall, University of York (Emeritus) and Dr Charles Loft

In this workshop, participants were introduced to the transport planning landscape of the 1950s and 1960s with a focus on changes to the railways which culminated in the (in)famous Beeching cuts, a reduction of the route network and restructuring of the railways in Britain. The facilitators used contemporary documents in two case studies, focussing on the Varsity line from Oxford to Cambridge and the regional transport links in the Bournemouth area (both of which were closed as part of the cuts). Participants were divided into groups to review the policy process and decisions underpinning the closures, to decide on their own recommendation on the route's future as if they were in their predecessors' shoes, and to approach a critique to current policy formulation, given the developments that have followed those original closure decisions.


The Highway of Tomorrow is Only Twenty Years Away: Looking back at 80 years of automated vehicles in the United States

Dr Jameson Wetmore, Arizona State University

28 July 2017

Although discussions about self-driving cars seem to have arisen only in the last few years, a significant amount of work was done on autonomous vehicles long before Uber or Google were founded. At least as early as the 1939 New York World’s Fair, engineers and visionaries were developing designs of how personal automated transport could work. This talk will explore some of the significant designs developed in the United States over the last 80 years. While these designs were visions of possible futures, they were often more than simple flights of fancy.  Many envisioned not simply what the vehicle would look like, but how technologies, corporations, governments, and drivers/passengers could be reconfigured to create autonomous transport.  


Integrating town and traffic planning in 1960s Britain

Professor Simon Gunn, University of Leicester

21 November 2017

One of the great problems faced by town planners in 1960s Britain was the rising volume of motor traffic. Between 1950 and 1970 the numbers of vehicles on Britain’s roads increased five-fold and once motorway construction was underway after 1958, the most serious sites of traffic congestion were towns and cities. This paper considered the ways town planners, engineers and policy-makers tried to deal with the avalanche of cars, from the ‘traffic architecture’ of the Buchanan Report (1963) to the introduction of cybernetics to regulate flow. By the early 1970s a new accommodation had been reached between the car and the city with the move to pedestrianize Britain’s city centres.


Mobility change in Britain since c1800: the travellers’ view

Professor Colin Pooley, Lancaster University (Emeritus)

30 November 2017

The seminar examined long-run changes in everyday travel from circa 1800 to the present, focusing on the ways in which travellers viewed and interacted with the different modes of transport available to them. Data were drawn from diaries, oral histories and other personal accounts to examine how people travelled in the past and the extent to which they encountered and embraced new transport technologies. It was argued that many traditional forms of travel persisted alongside newer transport technologies, and that key factors in structuring changes in travel behaviour relate not only to the availability and accessibility of transport modes, but also to perceptions of normality, busyness and risk. It was suggested that many of the changes that have occurred in the twentieth century, driven in part at least by transport policies, have marginalised both walking and cycling in urban areas leading to less sustainable travel. In conclusion it was argued that a better understanding of past travel behaviour can be useful in formulating more socially and environmentally sustainable present-day transport policies.


British motorways and motorway traffic: learning from the past

Professor Peter Merriman, Aberystwyth University

29 January 2018

This talk outlined the early history of Britain’s motorways, stressing some of the important lessons this history may hold for a wide range of professions and policy-fields, including highway design and engineering, understanding driver behaviour, and the challenges of preserving the built heritage of pioneering transport infrastructures.


Planning affordability: railways, travel, and metropolitan growth in London, 1840-2040

Dr Carlos López Galviz, Lancaster University

23 February 2018

Centred on 19th-century London, this talk explored the relationship between politics, transport infrastructure (railways in particular), and metropolitan growth.


Regulation in the Face of Changing Technology: Government Intervention in the Transition from Rail to Road, 1919 – c1928

Dr Roy Edwards, University of Southampton Business School

12 March 2018

This session explored the circumstances surrounding the creation of the new Ministry of Transport (and electricity) in 1919 and its role in shaping the end of government control and the establishing of the Big 4 railway companies. In particular it focused on the attempts of the railways to get throughout road powers, and the role of “the Ministry” in preventing them. The paper argued that this was a missed opportunity for better integrating road and rail technology and ensuring the most economic route was chosen for any commodity. More importantly this sheds light on how decisions were made by the legislature and executive, and questions what do we mean by state intervention? Who is doing the intervening? In this case the civil servants had a much better grasp on technical and economic context than did their political masters and suggests we need to understand better how such decisions were (are) made.


Planning a rail network: the nineteenth century and today

Professor Mark Casson, University of Reading

20 June 2018

The UK rail system of today is essentially the Victorian system, promoted in two major booms, 1844-6 and 1860-3, and later rationalised by the Beeching cuts 1963-6. This talk examined the costs and benefits of private railway promotion and operation, using original evidence on 3,000 Victorian railway schemes (both built and unbuilt). It suggested that weak government regulation led to over-building and relatively poor quality of service.


HISTORY LAB - Maplin: the battle over London’s third airport in the 1970s

Dr Duncan Needham, University of Cambridge

28 June 2018

In 1970, with Heathrow approaching capacity, the independent Roskill Commission recommended that London’s third international airport should be built in rural Buckinghamshire.  The government of the day overturned this recommendation and instead began work on a new airport on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary.  This project was abandoned in 1974, amidst rising costs.  There are striking similarities between the debate over London’s third airport in the 1960s and 70s, and today’s airport capacity issues. In particular, on both occasions a politically contentious issue was devolved to a body of outside experts.  In 1968 this was the Roskill Commission; in 2012 it was the Davies Commission. The workshop used primary source material from the 1970s to draw out the parallels and policy implications for the present debate about airport capacity in the South East. Workshop participants put themselves in the shoes of their 1970s predecessors, using contemporary material from the Roskill Commission, the Prime Minister’s office, other government departments and the newspapers to think about what they might have recommended then, and what they might recommend now.


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