Penistone's Railway - Dr Beeching's Axe

Beeching's Axe
1969 timetableA DC electrification system was introduced to the Woodhead line in 1954, using a 1,500 Volts DC catenary system which was unique in this country. The locomotives used regenerative braking, which made them energy-efficient but the system required more sub-stations than the 25kV AC system developed in France. There were some significant inclines on the Woodhead route, where the descending trains could in effect use engine braking (using the engine as a generator) and put energy back into the system for those climbing the inclines.

The AC system was seen as better and was gradually adopted through most of Europe, with the notable exception of Holland. Dutch railways used a similar DC system to the Woodhead Line and our locomotives were eventually sold to them.

Dr. Beeching was a famous (or infamous) transport minister of the nineteen-sixties. In 1963 he recommended the closure of the Woodhead Line to Manchester. The process was that he did not actual close lines but gave an opportunity for local communities and authorities to keep the lines open. Many did not respond and the closures proceeded.

The passenger trains ended in 1969. This was a bitter blow to the Penistone area but the Manchester - Sheffield passengers had been dwindling for a long time. The last freight train to run on the line was 16th July, 1981. Most of the later trains were hauled by 'Deltic' locomotives.

It was deemed too expensive to modify the Woodhead Line's 1.5kV catenary system and locomotives to the much higher voltage AC system, which was to be introduced to other parts of the UK. A competing Sheffield to Manchester line through the Hope Valley was able to take freight that might otherwise have travelled on the Woodhead Line and it also carried (and still carries) passenger trains.

The line to Sheffield Victoria station continued in use for quite a long time and the scan below shows two sides of a ticket stub from 1970. In those days, it was possible to buy train tickets from High Street travel agents as well as the Railway ticket office.

The timetable shown right (click it) was the last one designated for the Woodhead Line. Some times are also shown for the other trans-pennine route which started from Sheffield Midland, through the scenic Hope Valley (about 20 miles south of Penistone) to terminate at Manchester Victoria. That route is still in use.

Railway ticketSheffield Victoria station had a long steep approach road from near the River Don close to where the Hilton Hotel is now. Here are both sides of a half ticket which I purchased for a 'cheap day return'. The guard on the train would either tear it in two or punch a 'V' - shaped notch in it.

After the demise of the Manchester end of the line, the Sheffield end was routed to Midland station, after passing through the rather depressing sight of the old dilapidated Victoria station. The train would stop for a few minutes and change direction at a points, to reverse into the Midland Station. It later changed to its current route, via Elsecar and Barnsley to Sheffield Midland. An extra station was added in the nineties for Meadowhall shopping centre.


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