Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Beeching axe vs. Swedish station closures / Follow-up: German department stores (and COVID-19)

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In an older text ([1]),* I discuss a side-topic of optimizations that might seem plausible, especially in the short term, but which might have unforeseen or ignored negative effects, especially in the long term—as with the closing of railway stations in rural Sweden during the 1980s.

*I apologize for the quality of language in that text. While I make no claim of perfection in other texts, I found myself sorely tempted to let a rewrite follow the revisit.

Today, I encountered the British Beeching cuts ([2])* of some twenty years earlier—and I find that the Swedish cutters of the 1980s had failed to learn from history.

*The exact version read and quoted is 129913.

For instance, I wrote that:

[…] Possibly, in any given case, [a station closure] was a rational decision, but it had the effect that overall passenger load was reduced and that fewer passengers used the other stations, making the next cut that more tempting.*** […]

***I note that this was deep in the country-side, where almost everyone had a car, and that it was rarely worth the trouble to take the car to the next station: unless the intended train travel was very long, one might just as well go the entire distance by car as go to a further-away station by car and then taking the train from there.

(Footnote present in the original.)

This while [2] says e.g.:*

*Internal remark removed. Some change to formatting might have occurred.

The assumption at the time was that car owners would drive to the nearest railhead (which was usually the junction where the closed branch line would otherwise have taken them) and continue their journey onwards by train. In practice, having left home in their cars, people used them for the whole journey. Similarly for freight: without branch lines, the railways’ ability to transport goods “door to door” was dramatically reduced. As in the passenger model, it was assumed that lorries would pick up goods and transport them to the nearest railhead, where they would be taken across the country by train, unloaded onto another lorry and taken to their destination. The development of the motorway network, the advent of containerisation, improvements in lorries and the economic costs of having two break-bulk points combined to make long-distance road transport a more viable alternative.

This assumption seems naive to me even for the 1960s, as the objection that I raise in the footnote is obvious as a possibility (but not necessarily as a certainty); however, that the same assumption was (implicitly or explicitly) made twenty years later is remarkable: How could railway experts be unaware of the British experiences? If originally unaware, how could they have failed to research prior experiences before engaging in similar cuts?

(Off topic, it is also a possible example of a recurring issue of various service providers, producers, whatnot being, for want of a better word, self-centered, in that they see their specific service, product, whatnot as the natural default, as unusually important, as having an exceptional position in the eyes of the customers, or similar.)

Among other interesting statements in [2], I was gratified to find claims of failed “bustitution”. While likely not something that I have ever discussed, I have always found bus travel to be cumbersome relative train travel, including in terms of (dis-)comfort and travel times. Similarly, cost and environmental* effects aside, a comparison between travel by bus and by car leaves the car well ahead. Whether my own experiences are relevant to a train–bus comparison in the British 1960s is uncertain; however, looking at the world that I know and have known, a relative failure of bus lines is not surprising. To be blunt, buses suck—even by the standards of public transport.

*And note that the environmental effects were prioritized far lower in the 1960s than today.

(However, note that I make no statement on whether the overall effect of the Beeching cuts was positive or negative—or, for that matter, the effect of the Swedish cuts.)

Excursion on other aspects of [1]:
The main/surface topics of [1] are department stores (including long-term trends and the potential effects of the, then new, COVID-countermeasures) and the ability of customers to buy this-and-that in a reasonable manner. To this, I note that I have likely not set foot in a department store in the almost three years since [1]—in part, due to the relatively low benefit; in part, due to the COVID-countermeasures, which saw a long stretch of forced downtime and made me lose any habit of department store visits. Further, that German Wikipedia points to severe and continued problems for the sole major player left (Galeria / Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof), including repeated Schutzschirmverfahren, which, in my understanding, are comparable to the U.S. “Chapter 11”.

More locally, I noted that “Sadly, I had [a Walmart-style market] just a few kilometers away, when I first came to Barmen, but it has since closed—incidentally, leaving the (otherwise very small) mall that it anchored almost dead.”. Since then, a new anchor has been found, but one with a smaller scope both in size (one floor instead of two) and product range (very little not found in a regular, food-centric, supermarket).


Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2023 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] of the COVID-lockdowns, I wrote a text on German department stores ([1]). In an excursion to a text from last month, I […]

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