The End of the Line

After the end of the Second World War the Northampton-Bedford line returned to normal services. The line to St John’s station and the Engine Shed continued to be utilised as sidings for the storage of rolling stock, but was in a general state of decay.

After the victory of the Labour Party in the 1945 General Election, the government began a massive programme of nationalising industries and public services, including the railways.  However the services began to decline because of the expense of renewing ageing infrastructure coupled with the rising labour costs and increased competition from road haulage firms. By 1955 the income of the railway no longer met operating costs, by 1961 British Rail was losing £104 million a year and many unprofitable lines began to close. The government’s solution to this problem was the commissioning of a report entitled The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways, published in 1963. Written by physicist and engineer, Dr Richard Beeching, the report recommended the closure of 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line. Despite vocal public protests, ‘Beechings Axe’ as it became known fell on approximately 55% of the nation’s stations and 30% of its rail lines.

Dr Richard Beeching announcing his restructuring of Britain’s Railways, 1963

The Northampton to Bedford line had always struggled with low passenger numbers because it did not serve many large towns. Most of its income came from school children and market day shoppers. Consequently the passenger service between Northampton and Bedford was withdrawn on the 5th March 1962, followed by the Northampton to Peterborough service in 1964. Goods traffic on the Bedford line continued until 6th January 1964, but the line remained in place until 1981 because it serviced a Ministry of Defence depot at Piddington. After that date only a small section of the line remained from Northampton Castle station to the Brackmills industrial estate. This two mile section of track had served Giesmar a rail plant manufacturer, who constructed track panels for the rail network. Production ceased in 1994, and in 2005 Railtrack officially designated the track as ‘Out of use.’

A Diesel Locomotive hauling freight through Hardingstone Junction, 21 August 1968. (photograph: Robin Leleux)

Although there have been several campaigns to re-open the line to offer an alternative cross country route, and proposals to convert the line into a leisure path for walkers and cyclists, the line is currently abandoned, and most of its infrastructure has been removed.