It seems to have escaped Barry M Jones that our ‘once great’ private railways did not spontaneously and philanthropically merge into four regional (monopoly) companies in 1923 but were forced to by Act of Parliament as the waste, stupidity and inefficiency of multiple companies competing over natural monopolies became obvious to the government which wished to maintain the clear improvements a coordinated system had delivered when it was forced to take control of the railways in the Great War.
Full nationalisation was not politically acceptable at the time but even then it was telling that, as ever, in times of crisis the government has to act to bail out private companies that cannot cope and are only interested in exploiting the good times.
These four companies then controlled both the infrastructure and the train services in their regions.
They may have allowed tightly regulated ‘running rights’ to other companies but they did not senselessly relinquish control of train services as happens now.
The government had to take control again in the second world war as private enterprise again proved inadequate to serve the nation in times of trouble and subsequently would not invest to repair the war damage. Nationalisation was inevitable but provided the later opportunity for privatisation to steal from the taxpayer again. It is odd how private enterprise is lauded when a profit can be made but when there are problems to be sorted only government intervention and taxpayers money will do.
Mr Jones seems to accept that the government monopoly Network Rail is a valid and sensible way to run the railway infrastructure.
Why then does he think it better for diverse private companies to run fragmented train services rather than a single government body run an integrated service?
Especially as many of the private franchised train operators are at least part owned by foreign governments. It seems that it is alright for public utilities to be state owned as long as it is not our state that owns them.
He says that Network Rail should be run on commercial lines. Would he therefore similarly support the national road network being funded entirely by charges on the users rather than out of national taxation as now?
Finally, Mr Jones repeats his question of what difference would nationalisation actually make. In the letter following his last week Stuart Harland says ‘passenger welfare should not depend on the livery of the train’. This is just one of the important things that would not depend on the livery of the train if the railways were nationalised.
At the risk of aping Mr Jones, I will repeat some of the others - common operating procedures, fare structures and working conditions, timetable coordination, properly prioritised investment according to national need, not company profitability.
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