Railways were invented in Britain around 1830, and quickly spread across this country and the world. High Wycombe’s first railway was opened in 1854, thereby adding to the town’s attractions with important improved access, by linking it to the Great Western Main Line at Maidenhead. That link was broken in 1970, when the 5-mile section to Bourne End was closed (as below). Today’s rail service to London Marylebone opened in 1905. The population of High Wycombe has much increased since 1830 and especially since 1970, but there has been no significant expansion of the transport infrastructure since 1970, other than improving the east/west rail services to London and Birmingham (1992 onwards). Also, in the last twenty years there has been a loss of several thousand jobs, giving rise to much extra daily travel for work, but High Wycombe has fewer rail connections now than it did in 1905.
Motorised transport was invented around 1880, apparently in a few different countries, but development remained slow for decades. In the World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45), the railways were very busy carrying soldiers, civilians and supplies, and the limited car manufacturing facilities were mobilised for war production. After the Second World War the motor industry developed somewhat faster, so that by the 1960s traffic congestion was becoming a serious problem. High Wycombe was an early such victim, because a busy trunk road, the A40, ran through the town for many years. The M40 was built in 1965 relieving High Wycombe of much of the through traffic, whilst the Abbey Way flyover enabled the Town Centre pedestrianisation.
By 1965 the rail industry was struggling against the competition from motors, but it is now experiencing a remarkable revival, which must not be ignored. The Beeching Report of 1963 led to the closure of thousands of miles of rail track. Later closures removed the link to Bourne End, which had provided High Wycombe with valuable north/south transport to the Thames Valley, Maidenhead, and beyond. This closure made vital journeys between High Wycombe and the Thames Valley very difficult without a car, and very congested with one, and may have contributed to the loss of jobs. another Twenty-six years after Beeching before the nationally increased congestion forced the government to tackle the problem, thus choosing to launch the huge road building programme in 1989.
The road building approach had to be smartly abandoned after only 5 years, because congestion was getting worse instead of becoming less, as intended, and it appeared this was because the new, bigger roads were encouraging more and longer road journeys. Such consequences could adversely affect the economy and environment and thus prompted this review of transport history. In 1994, Planning Policy Guidance PPG 13 recommended there be measures to reduce the number and length of motorised journeys. Few such measures were suggested, but the latest figures for rail passenger numbers seem to offer a part of the way forward.
Rail passenger figures have gradually increased since PPG13, slowly gaining momentum, so that in 2012/13 passenger journeys were double those for1995/6, reaching a record high of 1.27bn. The varied nature of rail journeys (e.g. short/long, direct/with changes) makes detailed statistics complicated, but there is no doubting the serious overcrowding on many lines, suggesting many of the journeys could have transferred to rail from road, in spite of the high fares and lack of government encouragement. By 2013 overcrowding on many services had become so serious that the Government has been forced to launch a big investment in rail expansion, amounting to £B38 over five years starting January 2014.