Modernisation of railways


Back to letters


Back to Home Page


22.7.04 fax Guardian (not published)

The marked preference given to railway projects in London over Manchester (Pam Sexton’s letter 22 July) are not new. A recent book “Britain’s Railways - The Reality” mentions, in 1976, Govt “approved a scheme to electrify Bedford to St Pancras line at a cost of £80m for which no rate of return was specified, whilst they had not approved the Picc-Vic underground scheme which had a 12% return - well above the minimum return required by Govt”


12.9.07 Transport Times

Christian Wolmar (September 2007) said that railways “were granted investment funds, much wasted”. They were not granted any funds. In the ten years after the war, they were directed not to restore to pre-war standards, despite having funds in hand. Work was to be limited to that essential for safety. They were directed not to exceed government limits on use of steel and other materials. Road transport was free to modernise, and ignored government limits. When railways were told in 1955 that they may – over 15 years – modernise, the Chancellor stated that there would be no government cash, despite government having skimmed over £1bn out of railways during its unique and inequitable wartime sequestration. They were told to use their own funds and borrow the rest in the City. Government then realised that there were further profits to skim from railways and said that they must borrow, instead, from government. Interest was to come out of profits. Politicians prevented profitability by requiring railways to hold charges well below industry-fuelled inflation, and compelled them to justify changes in a court of law, which took up to 17 months to consider proposals as lawyers representing users and road competitors opposed and delayed changes! Interference continued after modernisation. Privatised railways charge higher fares before embarking on modernisation – which then prove to have major faults! The “huge goods yards quickly became redundant” because the UK heavy industry that they were built to serve, went into terminal decline. Diesel locos could only be tested under load on railways – there was no test track as for lorries. Railways were pressured to buy British, but manufacturers could not produce in the numbers required, nor to schedule. Despite manufacturers’ assurances, many locos failed to live up to the task. That is why some had to be scrapped.


25.7.08 Saga

Your readers who belittle electric & diesel speeds in the 1960s & thereafter, overlook that Mallard achieved 126mph for a short distance on a falling gradient. Electric and diesels sustained 100-125 mph over long distances and on rising gradients. May I also take issue with Pete Waterman on his claim that some drivers could not read or write. That would have been true of the early years of railways 1830 et seq, but in the era of the Big Four (post 1923) and even in the earlier part of the 20th century, that would not be the case. In those eras, drivers were required to read “Notices” which gave details of temporary speed restrictions and engineering works, and to familiarise themselves with the contents of several publications relating to routes and emergency working. They had to submit written reports regarding defects on their engines, etc. Finally, may I take issue with Robert Hardy on his knowledge of railways & railway employees. Their devotion to the job was not matched in UK industry, whose employees seemed hell bent on self-destruction, and their managements who were noticeably complacent in the face of foreign industrial & technological advances, so that UK outdated products continued to be produced long after other countries’ products eclipsed them. Little wonder we have no industry worthy of the name, and what remains is largely foreign owned. UK industry was long protected by the cosy security of “Empire Preference”, which meant that colonies represented a fenced-in market. If railway managers had been as indifferent as he appears to believe, they would not risen from warm beds in response to being called-out (unpaid) to resolve problems and deal with derailments. I well recall the surprise of one passenger who poked his head out of train window in the early hours, to find a manager, engineers from three disciplines, a breakdown crane and sundry staff busily working. “Where did you all come from so quickly”? The bedside phone had its uses. Robert Hardy would also be unaware that when sudden illness or death left a turn of duty uncovered in a signalbox, a Station Master or similar person – whose skills included a sound signalling knowledge – would cover the gap, until a relief signalman could be located and redeployed. It is a task that I had to perform on the East Coast main line in 1954. A similar action in industry of a manager or supervisor replacing a blue collar worker would result in a mass walkout.

29.7.08 Saga

On 25 July, I sent an e-mail which addressed inaccuracies and misconceptions about railways in the Mallard article. Your acknowledgement stating that you cannot publish all letters was no surprise. Could I ask that you try to find space for my e-mail because it corrects inaccuracies, so that readers are not left ignorant of the facts.

For your convenience – in case the original has been spiked – the original e-mail is attached. (Still not published) 


6.2.09: e-mail Daily Telegraph (Not published)

Railway owned cartage horses were not all replaced in the 1930s by mechanical horses – which were designed to a railway specification to give tight manoeuvrability in goods sheds and firms’ Victorian premises. At nationalisation, British Railways inherited 8,793 horses from privately owned railways, of which 97% were on town deliveries. A minority – 238 - were used to move wagons in small goods depots, where shunt engines were uneconomic. They did not work in shunting yards, where whole trains were propelled from arrival sidings into sorting sidings. Horses were limited to one or two loaded wagons. Final replacement of horses was delayed by Government Economic Policies which, for many years, restricted railway investment to that needed on safety grounds, even excluding investment that could cut costs.


To top of page