Springingtiger's Blog

Full Steam Ahead


Today I watched the last part of the excellent BBC series about the history of Britain’s railways. I don’t think I had ever understood how integral were the railways to the development of modern Britain. There is not an area of our lives that doesn’t owe something to the railways and the network that was laid down in the days of steam. It’s not for me to go into it here, the series is available on DVD and I shall get it as it’s one of the best history series I have seen and I’ve been watching television since steam locomotives were not an uncommon sight.

When I was a child trains were pulled by steam or diesel locos for the most part. From india94-069where we lived we could if we chose travel to London, or anywhere else in Britain by train. We lived in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, but we could take a local train from Grassington to Skipton. We could take another from Skipton to Leeds and thence on the mainline to Euston. Back then we thought nothing of making journeys with several changes of train. On British Rail for all its faults I don’t remember ever being stranded because a train had been arbitrarily cancelled. I suppose the real rot began when the Conservatives decided to close the branch lines, but as all their voters could afford cars I don’t they felt a need for local lines.

Recently I went away for a long weekend and made the mistake of travelling on Virgin East Coast. I can not remember such a miserable journey in the last sixty years except once travelling to Bournemouth and nor such a delay since the IRA held up my journey by bombing Warrington. I accept that the catering on modern trains is infinitely better than on BR and the facilities may be better, but they do not compensate for the inconveniences of modern rail travel. Again I admit the decline began before the privatisation of the railways.

india94-070I suppose my first awareness of the decline was my grandmother calling in vain for a porter on Skipton Station only to learn that there was no longer a porter service. The decline in our railways has arisen entirely from a desire firstly to cut costs and secondly to make a profit at the expense of passengers. In the days of British Railways the decline came from what would appear to be an understandable desire of government to subsidise public transport. As a consequence we have an inferior and limited rail service and poorly maintained and over burdened public roads. Whereas on the continent governments recognise the value of an efficient rail network. Where once our railways built a tourist industry now I find myself apologising to foreign tourists for the state of them.

There is a limit to how far any country can allow its infrastructure to decline before the economy is damaged. The UK government has for decades taken a limited and short term view of transport eschewing ideas like integrated transport planning as unacceptably socialist and as a consequence leaving us with a system where getting anywhere outside London is a game of chance. I am pleased that should he be elected Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn will privatise the railways. I hope that he will go further and promote an integrated transport system that optimises our resources, particularly under used ones like the waterways. It was the railways that made Britain great, it is properly managed transport and communications infrastructure that can restore greatness to a country crippled by greed.20140503_114407_hdr


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