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02 December 2021

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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Railways – one of our greatest resources to become even greater?
Adrian Leopard 232

Railways – one of our greatest resources to become even greater?

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The new days of Great British Railways announced. The great nationalisation of the twenties – what an anachronism!

Michael Portillo is just one of many television presenters who have brought the railways of the world, let alone this country, into focus over the years with their amusing and sometimes startling documentaries on travel, railway architecture and engineering, and using books like Bradshaw’s guides!

We have seen people like Portillo checking out railways on every continent from trains of massive luxury to run down old trucks with people clinging on to every part, including the roof! The railway can probably be heralded as bringing the dawn of modern day society to the world over and in some cases creating those railways has been a monumental task in itself. Look at the wild west and what the arrival of the railways achieved there.

But today we see quite the most extraordinary thing happening in the UK – the railways are being re-nationalised and that by a conservative government. Who would have thought it?

“Nationalisation” can be a dirty word, depending on which political colour you are but the truth is that there is an extraordinarily good argument that monopoly industries should not be in private hands but in the hands of well organised democratic governments capable of operating for the benefit of the tax payers who, after all, make considerable sums available for their upkeep. The railways were originally nationalised in 1948 and effectively remained so until the early nineties. It became a “political” issue because when privatisation was “big business” years ago, everyone assumed that the fat cats would get richer at the cost of the public. The counter argument was that it would be good for the public because it would introduce competition which would have a tendency to provide good value for money. It was not just the railways which were privatised.

As altruistic an argument as that may appear, it is pretty clear that it cannot apply to monopoly industries because, by definition, there is no real competition and you can look a lot further than railways to see that. The problem with monopoly industries is that they are often handled by stick in the mud civil servants and politically motivated ministers, thus stifling true ingenuity and growth. Perhaps a suitable model would be that on which the BBC is based – it has a certain autonomy but is nevertheless beholden to the government.

However, today’s news is much more about creating a more efficient railway system which will serve the country. In times when global warming is a real issue, surely the more we can get traffic off the road and on to the railways, the better. Indeed a good train service can also help keep aeroplanes out of the sky! It is just a pity that this approach has not been followed sooner and in this instance, the proof of the pudding will indeed be in the eating – let’s see how the new plans roll out to the benefit of the country.

Adrian Leopard 20-05-21

Photo Andy Holmes

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