RECENT correspondence (Letters, 5 March) about the railways seems to overlook the fact that nationalisation was a disaster for the British Rail network.
Handed over to the civil service to control, interfered with by politicians of every hue, there was one massive waste of money year after year.
Building a new fleet of steam locomotives as late as 1955 – many went for scrap after about six or seven years’ service – we then went into the dieselisation programme, with a new fleet of locomotives of a fantastic variety of designs, many of which had not been tested before mass production!
Not surprisingly, many proved to be extremely unreliable.
Then there was the Beeching programme – a mass cull of railway lines. Initiated by the Tories, it continued under Labour.
Some parts of the network were underused and probably did have to be closed, but such was the rush and poor decision-making that there are now a good number of these lines under review for re-opening, such as the Borders Railway.
In 1975, the APT was introduced. It was a development of an Italian design which was already running in Italy; unfortunately, the British version never made it into regular public service, due to political interference.
Meanwhile, the freight side of the business was faring no better, with traffic bleeding away year on year. Britain was on course to be the first developed country with virtually no rail freight service.
Remember too the Serpell Report? No railway east coast line north of Newcastle, no railways north of Glasgow …
There were quite a number of things that British Railways did do well, but it was always constrained by political interference and lack of investment capital.
Privatisation is by no means perfect, but it has delivered a massive increase in traffic – the greatest number of passengers per year since the 1950s.
Freight traffic has also seen a reversal of its ill-fortune – there are at least six rail freight hauliers operating across the UK now. The private companies have invested many millions in new rolling stock fleets, freight terminals, etc, money which the state would have struggled to find.
Railways probably will always require some sort of partnership between owner/operator and the state, but please, let the railwaymen and women do the job they know best – free from political interference and constant reorganisation. And let’s start by ruling out nationalisation.