RAIL CHRONOLOGY: Obligatory station stops

Page first uploaded: 24 December 2006

Every so often the story circulates about examples where the conveyance of land for a railway's construction was made in exchange for some obligation upon the railway company - such as that a station should be constructed or of an obligation to stop trains at XYZ station. Alas for urban myths (which can be a long time a-dying), these obligations were expunged years ago.

The Transport Act 1962 dissolved the British Transport Commission and replaced it by inter alia the British Railways Board [BRB]. That same Act also provided, by Section 43 (5), that "No local enactment [that] imposes ... (c) a duty (otherwise than to a named person, or to the successors of a named person) to provide or maintain any ... railway services or facilities (including the provision of stations ... ) shall apply to any of the [successor] Boards [i.e. including the British Railways Board]."

As this was a public Act, the remaining obligations "to a named person" had to be expunged by a separate private Act to avoid the legislation falling foul of complications which arise if a Bill is deemed to be a "hybrid" (public/private) one. Hence, the following year, the British Railways Bill 1963, Section 34, sought to free the BRB from such remaining obligations. The bill’s second reading in the Commons on 26 February proved lively - see Hansard page 1177 onwards and reports in the press the following day - at least in part because there was some misconception that the clause was seeking to absolve the BRB from a much wider range of agreements and obligations; John Hay, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, allayed those fears - to the extent the Bob Mellish agreed that "He has made it very clear that the wording is concerned only with the relief from contractual obligations to provide railway services where in fact land was sold in the first place."

The bill went on to receive the Royal Assent on 10 July 1963, although Section 34 of the original bill had by then become Section 36 of the final Act (it may be helpful to remember this re-numbering when reading contemporary reports of that February second reading debate).

This effectively delivered the coup de grâce to such commitments, as well as to the Duke of Beaufort's right to have trains call at Badminton which was mentioned in the Parliamentary debate (of course, closure as a public passenger station had to go through a different process - then under Section 56 of the Transport Act, 1962 - as is still the case but under later legislation). Similar examples - proven and alleged (it would be interesting to have a full listing if someone would trawl through all the railways' Acts ...) - included Hinton Admiral, Black Dog Halt, Stoke Edith, Clifton & Lowther, Crathes, Maltby, Savernake, Tallington, a station between Bangor and Caernarfon (?Treborth), Settle Junction, Knowle & Dorridge, Easton Court, Wilmslow, Westmoor, Glan Llyn (Flag) and Lord Darnley’s private station between Sole Street and Rochester Bridge Junction.

Prior to the 1963 Act, the British Transport Commission (and, presumably before it, the various railway companies) obtained powers to repeal many such individual obligations in their (usually annual) private Acts.

Sub-clause (3) was explained in these terms by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, in the House of Commons debate on 26 February 1963 (Hansard page 1194): "The reason why the clause does not extend to Scotland is simply that the Railways Board came into existence and was vested with its assets only on 1st January last, and the time between then and now has not been sufficient for the various legal and technical formalities under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936 to be complied with." Nor, apparently, was it subsequently extended to Scotland, so presumably any remaining Scottish examples still have to be dealt with case-by-case. What may be the current position at, say, Dunrobin?

The famous (or infamous!) case of the Bluebell line (East Grinstead - Lewes), which often gets mentioned when this topic arises, was not based on the rights of landowners. The line had been closed (prematurely because of a strike) from 30 May 1955. Its reopening on 7 August 1956 was prompted a legal challenge led by Miss Bessemer based on the provisions of the LB&SCR (Croydon, Oxted & East Grinstead Railways) Act 1878 which had enacted an agreement of 1877 between the Brighton company and the Lewes & East Grinstead Railway which had obliged the Brighton company to continue to run trains between Lewes and East Grinstead. This would not, therefore, have been covered by the 1963 Act - even had the situation not pre-dated that Act. The repeal that enabled that line’s final closure was specifically provided for in the BTC’s 1957 Act. So the line closed again from 17 March 1958 - to rise once more, in part, phœnix like, in the shape of today’s Bluebell Railway.

Richard Maund

This article also appeared in Branch Line News no.1033, 6 January 2007.

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