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13.12.94 Letter to Points of View, Television Centre (not broadcast)

Panorama was excellent in exposing the consequences of rail fragmentation. I wished they had challenged Railtrack's Chairman on his throwaway line: "BR culture", I have yet to meet anyone who knows what he is talking about.  Having worked for the private sector LMS Rly & BR, there is no difference in the devotion to duty of those in the industry who turn out in the worst weathers to resolve problems. If he & Ministers believe that Railtrack will deliver a 100% railway, they are in for a rude awakening - 100% reliable equipment has yet to be seen on this planet. There is an endearing quality in Ministerial presumption that "success of past Privatisations ensures the success of Rail Privatisation". If past success ensured success in perpetuity, the UK would still lead the world in a host of industrial activity, would dominate Sports originated here. Clearly no effective business assessment has been made. Worse, the presumption about the success of past Privatisations is illusory. My experience include failures to keep appointments, a 9.4% pa increase for gas equipment  maintenance, a 4.9% pa increase in an Electricity equipment maintenance, both against an RPI increase of 2% pa. Despite assurances that phone boxes would not disappear, locally, two have been inconveniently "relocated" - not to eliminate losses, but "to increase profits".  Phonecard phones are no more reliable and BT will not replace exposed Jurassic age wiring which has proved vulnerable to criminals seeking to prevent 999 calls.  My book Blueprints for Bankruptcy shows that BR's problems stem almost 100% from Governmental interference & their inept policies, forecast higher fares and an end to integrated rail activity, but not that Railtrack would run a freight train in the middle of the commuter peak!

 

16.10.95 Guardian (not published)

Had BR dreamed up the concept of fragmenting itself into 80 separate companies, Ministers would have been unable to contain criticism in the light of the Timetable cock-up, safety warnings, staggering fare increases & axing trees to combat 'leaves on the line'. As it arises directly from nightmarish Privatisation plans of Ministers & their expensive consultants, there is a deathly hush. It is the thin end of a wedge, yet to be revealed. The ridiculous, patronising assurances of Ministers that this Privatisation will succeed because (they claim) others were successful serves to expose the shallowness of their expertise. If past experience was a guide, UK industry would continue to dominate the world. Consumers will hotly dispute claims in the light of charges for what was hitherto free (directory inquiries), prices eclipsing the RPI & breakdown of equipment. Pious hopes & unquantified generalisations have been used instead of costed business assessments.

 

18.10.95  BBC – Radio 4 Letters (Not broadcast)

Why is Railtrack trying to reinvent the wheel? Over 20 years ago, BR introduced the concept of Mishap Controller to take complete charge of all on site activities in an accident - Operations, Engineering, Resumption of Service, Cause. A senior Operating Manager was always appointed to the task. The Civil Emergency Services - Fire, Ambulance, Police - were informed & knew with whom to liaise. BR used Contractors on Modernisation over 30 years ago, on a much greater scale than anything facing Railtrack today. None was allowed to sign back any track into service. Experienced & qualified Inspectors did that after personally verifying all was safe for traffic to resume. No crane was allowed to operate without the protection of hand-signalmen & then only under control of an Inspector.  It cost money, but it was safe.

 

17.10.95 fax The Times (not published)

A Minister recently stated BR passengers were at their lowest level for 50 years. Ministers will sharply round on anyone who does not compare like with like, who quotes increased Govt expenditure, without adjusting for inflation. Why, then, do they compare chalk with cheese so far as BR is concerned? Is it another clumsy attempt to justify the unjustifiable - viz fragmented rail privatisation? Using basic logic, one discovers that in 1994/5, passenger miles per route mile of track is 61% greater than in 1948. Expressed another way, although passenger miles fell 15%, route miles were 47% less! Quite clearly, if a bus, ferry or airline abandoned 47% of its routes, one would not be too surprised to find a fall in actual business. There is no doubt that Ministers would use a similar approach in any statistical analysis which presented their policies in a favourable light.

 

20.12.95 Guardian (not published)

Bus companies entering railway business will find conditions tougher than they imagine. A typical bus company's Terms & Conditions reserve "the right to alter, cancel or withdraw services without notice, & not liable for loss, as a result of delay to services. Running times are approximate & the company does not undertake that services will start or arrive at the time specified in the timetable". They seem to be unaware that trains are delayed & cancelled by external influences, such as buses & lorries smashing into bridges & crossing barriers, bomb hoaxers, vandals, fires or emission of poisonous fumes from lineside industrial premises, passengers boarding moving trains or looking for mislaid personal property nor of a multiplicity of other problems. Besides having to refund passengers whose services are delayed, they will also be penalised by the Regulator for delays. Their only hope is that they will be allowed to plead "human error", or "circumstances beyond our control" - excuses only acceptable from the private sector. Under BR all delays were attributed to incompetence.

 

12.3.96 BBC - R4 letters (Not broadcast)

I cannot imagine upon what John Gummer based his comment that there are now more people on railways who want to get freight onto rail. Public Record Office files show that railway management wanted to keep freight on rail, but Government deliberately pursued a policy from 1920 to 1962 which, not only caused freight to transfer from rail to road. (see Square Deal Denied & Britain’s Railways – the Reality) bankrupting BR in the process

 

29.3.96 Guardian (not published)

A Labour Govt does not need to use limited resources to re-nationalise railways. It needs only to adapt & modify part of the 1947 Act. That Act nationalised railways without spending a penny. Instead it issued Transport Stock, for which redemption payments & interest were to be provided from revenue. Unfortunately, the Act ensured that railways were not put in a position to do so. Firstly, they were prevented from replacing war-worn assets for up to 10 years, & were then denied materials at allocated levels - hence the quality of services suffered. This was in sharp contrast to hauliers who were allowed to purchase new vehicles in excess of Govt allocated levels. Secondly, rail charges, which uniquely were frozen for six years of war, were put at the mercy of a Court of Law for the next 20 years. Fares trailed the RPI for 42 consecutive years from 1940. Thirdly, the Act imposed an objective, which Butterworth's Legislative Service could not define: "To pay their way taking one year with another". The Court of Law, & objectors who were making uninhibited increases in their charges, thought that this meant in the next century! Fourthly, whilst BR's legal submission to replace their legally imposed 19th Century freight charges was dragging its interminable way through the Court, competitors had been allowed total selective freedom, enabling them to pick & choose & leave empty crates & the like to go by rail. 19th Century anti-rail pro-road legislation was not finally repealed until 1980. Fifthly, they burdened BR with 550,000 19th century wagons owned by non railway companies, which should have been replaced 28 years earlier. As usual, UK companies had taken the short term view, which explains why we became a net importer.

 

3.5.96 BBC R4 pm letters (Not broadcast)

Yesterday evening, a listener’s letter was broadcast which alleged that railways had been run by rail unions. This was totally wrong. If unions had run the railways, there would have been no closures & no replacement of manpower with technology. BR's critics should emerge from their glass houses & consider researched facts. BR's problems are externally driven. The Financial Times said in 1956: “No one can run an industry subject to such interference”. The Railway Gazette: “If Govt had not interfered, much trouble would have been avoided”. The Guardian: “Railways were pushed into deficit for political convenience. No activity - wages, rationalisation., fares was free from political interference by both parties”. Rail franchisees from bus, sea & air industries will find they cannot absolve themselves from payments for delay as they do now. They are warned that politicians may find it hard to break habits which predate nationalisation. If some Private Sector businesses were run by unions, they couldn't do worse. Broken promises, no refunds, but plenty of sincere apologies are the cornerstone of the private sector.

 

24.5.96 BBC Chairman

It is my opinion that the listening public are being given an unbalanced view of BR by BBC Radio. On several occasions, I have phoned the Letters-line to record a letter based on researched facts which contradict views of BBC presenters, politicians, & listeners. The BBC does not find time to broadcast my letters which would have contradicted unsubstantiated popular beliefs. The latest was a response to a listener who alleged that BR was run by the unions. Nothing is further removed from the facts. My letter of 3 May explained why. But was not broadcast. I wrote to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, who advised me to write to you. I said that I had written to the BBC on previous occasions, without achieving any change in policy. However, I do so again. (The result was the same – no broadcast)

 

24.2.97 Alan Whitehouse, BBC Nth,

When reporting on takeover of West Coast rail services, you said: "Until now, everyone expected railways must run at a loss". BR managers had long believed BR could be run profitably, but was prevented from doing so by Govt policies, inequitable legislation & unending interference. It is significant that, as privatised era is allowed to progress towards commercial freedom, they have been given subsidies which are no less than those paid to BR. It is of greater significance Govt is considering additional payments for attracting commuters from road - something they expected BR to do without support whilst interfering to hold down commuters fares - many of whom work for Govt. It is of even greater significance that Chairman of freight company which has taken over BR freight services addressing Inst Transport "criticised the lack of a level playing field" - an issue covered, among many revelations from hitherto undisclosed Public & Govt files, in my book “Blueprints for Bankruptcy”. 

 

12.5.98 BBC

You reported that train performance is worse than under BR.  It is worse than statistics suggest. Train Operating companies now exclude delays & cancellations which they can attribute to Railtrack & other Operating companies. I predicted that they would do so in my book Blueprints for Bankruptcy, published on the eve of privatisation. It is, after all, analogous with bus practice. When I was with BR, we did not exclude external delays, lest we be accused of creative statistics. Evidence of exclusions may be seen on station notice boards.       

 

9.12.98 Christopher Wayne, News Centre

Having heard reports by you on railways in the present environment, may I draw your attention to my book Blueprints for Bankruptcy, which shows very clearly the different & totally restrictive ground rules under which BR worked. May I point out that in making comparisons of performance, current statistics cannot be compared with those produced by BR. The new boys exclude "circumstances beyond our control" on a fairly liberal basis as their own posters on stations reveal. Under BR there were no such exclusions, & yet precisely the same causes of delays & cancellations occurred. They claim that the increased number of complaints is attributable to "invited feedback", & that BR "never replied to complaints". "Invited feedback" was invented by Transport Users Consultative Committees in 1951, & made effective by their fixed notices on stations & brochures which BR staff were obliged to hand out. I have found  that the new boys reply to letters of unambiguous complaint by thanking the writer for their "observations" & "comments".  I claim to have carried out more basic research into BR complaints than anyone else has done, as my book reveals, & from that can say that there is no evidence that BR "never replied to complaints".  Indeed, had there been any such failure, the Users Committees (statutory watchdogs) wd have focused on them in their Annual Reports, & MP's wd have been active also.  There is no record in Annual Reports of such an allegation. 

 

26.2.99 Simon Montague, Transport Correspondent, BBC Radio

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, you said that "the improved complaints procedure has resulted in more complaints". You have been misinformed. The new boys would like the public to accept that excuse rather than admit that running real railways is more difficult than model railways.  One line they have been pushing is that they have taken steps which create more "feedback". This is a euphemism for complaints  - a word which they shun in replying to unambiguous complaints, preferring to translate complaints to "comments", "views" or "observations". They claim that they get more "feedback" (alias complaints) because they have notices on trains drawing attention to addresses for complaints, when in fact, those notices invite "comments". The TUCC's, established under the 1947 Transport Act invented feedback. They had notices placed on every station & brochure dispensers, both of which set out the procedure & addresses for complaints. A notice on a train is valueless to passengers left on stations when a train was cancelled. They claim that complaints are about 1% of journeys. In my book Blueprints for Bankruptcy, I show that complaints made to BR were 0.01%. They will not reply fully. Recently, I had to repeat a letter three times before getting a partial & very selective reply - my letters were sent recorded delivery. They did not deny receipt of earlier copies. They claim to be carrying more passengers but will not supply data so that one can ensure that they are not multiple counting, by, for instance, counting one passenger from the Isle of Wight to Aberdeen as four or five journeys (which was one under BR) , depending on the number of companies with which the passenger travels. They will not supply data on fares to enable one to see the basis for their claim that fares are lower. Their method of calculating performance allows them to leave out trains delayed or cancelled due to "circumstances beyond our control" - which was not allowed under BR. Trains miss out scheduled stops to recover lost time. In 40 years with the LMS & BR, I never heard of such a practice. 

 

29.6.01 Fax Financial Times.  (not published)

Ref report that “rail companies employ people to argue between themselves”, I prophesied this in "Blueprints for Bankruptcy", the first edition of which was published before privatisation & said it would "ensure a rewarding future for railway accountants & lawyers". It prophesied fragmentation would cause the very problems now being experienced, so discounting claims of ex-ministers that problems can "only be seen with the benefit of hindsight". Arguments as to causes of delays under BR were rare, since delays did not precipitate cash transfers, as now applies.  The original objective of privatisation was to end the "subsidy" paid for unremunerative services.  It is now apparent, that new boys want to have their cake & eat it - having subsidy but getting rid of unavoidably uneconomic. Worse, they were paid subsidies for services which under BR were profitable. Ministers claimed that, whilst subsidy paid in first yr or two would be higher than to BR, over 7-15 year franchise, average would be less. This naive forecast overlooked several factors:  decline in value of money (£1 paid now is worth more than in 15 yrs time); a coy may go bankrupt;  it may be unable to fulfil its contract without being bailed out; or may find ingenious (or ingenuous) reasons for being given more cash. It is now claimed there was no investment for 40 yrs. BR's audited accounts prove otherwise. GNER, whose route & trains were modernised only a short time before privatisation, is but one example. Railtrack seems to including maintenance expenditure as investment, which invalidates comparisons with BR investment, which accounted for maintenance separately. Moreover, for a fair comparison, it is necessary to deduct profit margins of contractors carrying out work previously done in-house. Claims RS was decrepit & hence causing all problems only serve to ask why the buyer did not "beware" & warn before take-over that delays wd occur instead of boasting that punctuality wd improve - some said "by getting drivers to drive faster". A claim that carrying more passengers warrants a higher rather a lower subsidy is straight from "Alice in Wonderland".  Last Oct, Railtrack claimed "1998 was first year since 1902 when there was not a single passenger fatality".  Annual Report of BRB for 1977 states: "For second year running ..... not a single passenger was killed in train accident".  That was never challenged nor repudiated. There may have been other yrs in nationalised era with no passenger fatalities, but I have not yet been able to check Reports for other yrs. Railtrack boasted of having implemented the most comprehensive check of track - BR engineers did that on a continual basis, & had to acct to BRB regularly thereon. (Received card: The editor thanks you for your recent letter, & is sorry that on this occasion it has not been possible to find space for publication)

 

27.7.01 BBC Radio 4 Today

Transport Correspondent Roger Harrabin said this morning that “the SRA had recalculated punctuality figures for current rail operating companies on the same basis as used by BR". I wonder if you could clarify for me the methodology used. I would also be grateful for a sight of the figures - indicating the periods concerned - which shows that performance was 3% higher than BR before Hatfield, but is now 3% lower than BR figures. (Mr Harrabin phoned to say that they had made a comparison based on the Passengers Charter).

21.8.01 to Mr. Harrabin, BBC

Thank you for phoning in response to my letter of 27th July to tell me comparison of punctuality with BR's standards was based on the Passenger's Charter. It is an invalid comparison, as they have no means of adjusting for changes of practice which facilitates a higher level of punctuality.

·                Firstly, Railtrack severely cut back on track renewals, leaving spare time in the schedules, enabling Operators to recover from delays. Railway World, (April 1996, page 22): "Track renewal in the current Railtrack ten year plan is reduced to 0.8% of the network each year, suggesting that the rails have a life of 125 yrs - clearly a nonsense. In the BR period, the comparable figure was 2.1%, the European figure was 2.7%".

·                Secondly, TOCs ceased to hold trains for connections or make special stops in lieu of cancelled trains. BR did not hold all trains to make connections, contrary to the belief expressed by a Minister, but many trains were held after booked departure time for 5, or in some cases 10, minutes - if an incoming train would arrive within that time. Except for some last trains of the day, none are held for connection by a different company today - exactly as I forecast as one of many consequences of fragmentation in a book first published in 1993. This book also demolishes the pathetic plea by another politician that the consequences of fragmentation can "only be seen with the benefit of hindsight".  Incidentally, libraries of both Houses have copies of this book, & its second edition.

·                Thirdly, some late running trains miss out scheduled stops in order to recover time. In 40 yrs with pre-1948 & post-1948 rlys, I never encountered such a practice. As a manager with wide responsibilities for operations, I wd have taken disciplinary action against anyone who adopted or condoned this malpractice.

He replied on 7th September: "Thank you for your letter about my item on the 'Today' programme on trains. I accept that all comparisons are odious - but people ask the questions, so we did what we could!"

 

28.8.03 Independent (not published)

Re your report regarding stations. I have been trawling public records to find fact & figure to compare public & private sectors railways. The reality is that BR had been continually modernising, assets were not decrepit, business was expanding - until the recession - & fares had trailed inflation since 1948. With rare skill & timing, Govt privatised railways just as the recession was ending. The reality is that BR was safer, more reliable, replaced track more frequently & had a better complaints record than their private sector successors. The reality is that - as is now reluctantly admitted by newcomers - BR was not inefficient. The reality is that no meaningful comparison was ever made with the rump of UK's decimated industry to determine its relative efficiency as a benchmark. The reality is that BR received less subsidy than privatised railways. BR was subsidised to run rural & secondary routes. InterCity had been profitable for years, & Network SouthEast achieved viability just before privatisation. Now it is advocated that subsidies for rural routes be diverted to InterCity routes. If BR managers could run InterCity profitably, the private sector should have been capable of paying a premium from Day One, but were given large subsidies.

 

5.2.04 fax Guardian (not published)

It is again being erroneously claimed that EC Directive 91/440 required UK rail infrastructure to be physically split from operations. It merely required accounts to be split - not ownership. Splitting accounts without fragmentation, is no different to the structure of conglomerates that publish group & subsidiary company accounts. The Directive was not blamed in the Debates on privatisation. John MacGregor said on 2.2.93: "Full vertical integration was neither practical nor desirable across the bulk of the network. In a limited number of cases, particular features may suggest it is right to allow a degree of vertical integration. I have decided the Isle of Wight can be offered as a vertically integrated franchise". Robt Adley, Tory chairman of the Transport Select Committee said: "Vertical franchising is the demand of the private sector & of almost all companies which came before the Select Committee. Proposals are a recipe for muddle, indecision & conflict". On 12.2.93 Roger Freeman said: "I confirm we do not rule out the possibility of vertical franchising". On 25.5.93, John MacGregor, referring to recommendations in the Select Committee report, stated: "We disagree with some of them: the crucial one relates to vertical integration. I cannot go into it now, but there are good arguments on both sides". (I cannot find if he did “go into it”). On 2.11.93, Tory MP Tim Rathbone said: "I remain concerned that the franchising director must submit to the Secretary of State for approval, any proposal to offer vertically integrated franchises wherever those seem appropriate even though any such proposal can be made only with Railtrack's agreement". Clearly disintegration was not required by Brussels. Sweden's rail infrastructure is still controlled by state owned railways, as are 97% of franchises. The Directive did not require infrastructure maintenance & renewals to be contracted out among sundry firms lacking experience of 125 mph railways. Neither did it require rolling stock to be handed over at a fraction of its value, then leased back to operators, only to see demands for Govt to fund new rolling stock, & operators being given more subsidy to fund new coaches   

 

24.2.04 fax The Times (not published)

I am pleased to note that railways are re-introducing joined-up Control organisations as called for in my book "Britain's Railways - The Reality". If they act on a few other recommendations, the industry might begin to cut subsidies below those given to BR, whilst offering a standard of punctuality and safety that approaches the higher standards which, my research proved, was experienced under BR. I wrote: "The keystone of BR operations was its Control Office organisation. A Control received a constant stream of reports from yards, collieries, signalboxes, stations, depots, traincrew supervisors, engineers, etc., together with automatic computer data from various sources. Within a defined area, it controlled locos, crews and trains and was required to disseminate to all concerned, instructions and reports affecting accidents, safety, train running, connections, diversions, to organise short notice special trains for passenger or freight, and road transport in place of delayed or cancelled trains. It would be informed immediately of all unusual incidents which may affect services or safety and of an accident blocking a line. It would then initiate an established "call-out" procedure which would bring experienced operating managers, engineers, breakdown trains and men, quickly to an accident site, and set up diversions to maintain a service. Over the years, the Control organisation was streamlined in consequence of the development of modern signalling,, real time computers, new technology and communications and economy measures. Train reports from modern power signalboxes were automatically input to Controls, and also to others for general use. After 1994, Control was fragmented for the worse. There must be changes. Fragmented Control organisations for signalling, maintenance, train operations, etc., must be re-integrated to avoid cock-ups with accidents and expedite the introduction of alternative services when lines are blocked by accident or other causes".

 

13.6.04 fax Guardian (not published)

The punctuality comparison between the current train companies and British Rail is, in fact, worse than twice as bad. Current operators do not hold a train for connection with another company’s train, and worse, instruct drivers of many late running trains not to stop at certain stations in order to recover lost time. The arrogance of operators to do as they please to avoid penalty payments was clearly exposed when, in January 2002, North West Trains failed to stop at Gatley and overcarried a student to Stockport station, “claiming that they had the right to do so to make up time”. The student missed an examination.

 

26.7.04 fax The Times (not published)

I refer to your report on the increase of rail subsidies (22 July). The philosophy of privatisation was investment would be from the private sector. There was no intention to increase subsidies to introduce new trains. The fact is the new boys came in believing that BR managers had been sitting on their hands, only to find - in the words of GNER chief executive, Chris Garnett - "it was bloody efficient". Likewise Railtrack should not have had handouts to modernise. Dr. Mawhinney told the Select Committee on Transport in 1994 that only train operating companies would get subsidies. In BR's last year, Govt arbitrarily doubled the subsidy because the successful Business Sector organisation was being fragmented to enable operations to be sold or franchised. Hence, in reality, the subsidy has quadrupled. Without doubt, if BR managers had argued that they needed the subsidy - which had been progressively falling - to double, as they planned to fragment the industry "to improve it" - they would have received a very caustic answer. Had such a proposal been accepted and funded, one can only speculate on the language that would have followed the avoidable accidents, increased complaints, worse performance and pleas for yet more money! Some companies boast now of paying a premium to Govt. All - except Gatwick Express, which was profitable under BR - received a subsidy for the first few years. When they have repaid those subsidies - plus interest - will be the time to boast of paying a premium. BR received a subsidy to operate rural and secondary lines. InterCity received no subsidy since 1988, & NetworkSouthEast had reached equilibrium in the year before privatisation.

 

3.9.04 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

The vilification of BR by politicians did not focus on Clapham (Gerald Corbett, 3 September) because Chairman Sir Robert Reid publicly admitted culpability immediately. Moreover, that accident was not due to failure to replace track, which should have been replaced months earlier, as occurred at Hatfield, due to the hands-off control of maintenance Railtrack had unwisely introduced. BR did all its track maintenance in house, as had its predecessors in the private sector. Some minor railways used outside contractors in early 19th century & soon discovered it was a case of penny wise, £ foolish, & brought work in house. Deferment to avoid delays was never contemplated by BR, but was applied in period up to Hatfield. In the BR era, if track maintenance staff had discovered such a situation, at worst, a TSR (temporary speed restriction) would have been imposed immediately & renewal arranged for next weekend. It is a matter of record Railtrack inherited track in a safe condition, with very few TSRs due to track needing replacement, & these were planned for action within 2 weeks. Under Railtrack, track renewal dates were extended, those in Severn Tunnel by 50% - leading to the first cracked rails for 20 years - & elsewhere for much longer. Ultrasonic testing equipment had been in use by BR for decades, Hatfield did not lead to its invention. The regime under Railtrack was not safer. Records published in a recent book "Britain’s Railways –  the Reality" comparing Railtrack & BR track faults & fatalities clearly show the former was worse. The book disproves claims, made in 2000, by Mr. Corbett "that 1998 was the first year since 1902 when there was not a single passenger fatality". Moreover, there were passenger fatalities in 1998. BR management realised you do not tell passengers how safe railway was two years ago, when you have just had a major accident, which went on to cause unprecedented shutdown. On one occasion, Corbett said "punctuality & safety were their No 1 priority". These are two priorities which, invariably, are mutually incompatible. On the subject of denial of investment funds from Government, Railtrack was not supposed to get any from Government, as Dr. Mawhinney clearly explained, in March 1995, to the Select Committee!

 

15.10.04 Financial Times (not published)

The claim by Party leaders that union motion to re-nationalise railways would cost £220bn is complete nonsense. When Labour government nationalised railways in 1948 they did not lay out one penny of taxpayers’ money. Assets were acquired at an arbitrary price by issue of IOUs, viz: British Transport Loan Stock. Interest on the Loan, and redemption of Capital were to be paid from income: fares and freight revenue. For first few yrs these payments were made, as published accts reveal. However, Labour Party imposed a court of law to determine level of fares & freight charges & succeeded in holding them well below inflation, contrary to current popular opinion. Fares trailed inflation by up to 41 points, whilst industry - reacting to labour problems by higher wages, instead of productivity, stoked up inflation. The Tory Party claimed to give BR commercial freedom in 1953, then 1962 - but it was an illusion. Public Records reveal they had no intention of doing so, despite media pressure to do so. Despite belated - judiciously restrained - “freedom” to decide prices, by the time of privatisation, this policy had cost BR an aggregate £11.6bn in fares alone by fares held below inflation. Given freedom from Day One, there would have been no problem in repaying entire cost of nationalised assets - & modernising into bargain. Facts are there for all who want to see, but not, of course, for those with biased minds: “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up”, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”. Aside from fact that railways could be re-nationalised without using taxpayers’ cash, there would be reductions in subsidy. It is an unarguable fact that subsidy had been falling under BR, that it was doubled specifically to cater for fragmentation & has continued to rise ever since. There would be no dividends; wage costs would be better controlled as a unified system would reintroduce common wage rates, thereby ending wage leap-frogging. Training costs would fall as there would be no leakage from one company to another to secure higher wages. Claims that passengers have increased as a direct consequence of privatisation need to be treated with a very large dose of salt. Firstly, privatisation was nicely timed to benefit from an end of recession, which has always restored volume. Secondly, there is now an element of multiple counting of journeys.  A unified system would avoid costly waste of new rolling stock which is confined to sidings because lack of liaison overlooked need to improve power supplies or modify platforms. Connections would be improved. BR would surely be allowed to lease rolling stock where advantageous - as they did in 1970s until Treasury stepped in. Safety will once again become No 1 Priority - not as Gerald Corbett stated Joint No 1 with punctuality. In fact these two objectives are invariably mutually incompatible. These & many more facts which reveal BR achievements, including productivity economies - despite all handicaps placed in their way by both political parties - together with some interesting comparisons with industry & private sector railways are set out in my recent book “Britain’s Railways - The Reality”.

 

17.1.06 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

Re railway timetables: The laid back attitude displayed by the Dept for Transport (Jan 17) that railway problems are not insurmountable & can be rectified quickly would not have been expressed in State owned days even for lesser problems

 

19.4.06 fax The Times (not published)

The report (Times, April 18) on controlling tracks, is a reversion to BR practice. The BR Operating Dept ensured that possessions of the line by engineers were confined to pre-arranged periods, which excluded bank holidays, whose travellers are now routinely disrupted. Neither was it necessary to disrupt commuters. The photo in the report depicts a well known scene of a training session on the use of new track maintenance machinery. BR purchased its first labour-saving track machine in 1948 - its first year of existence, followed by 1000s more over following years. Neither these nor the introduction of labour-saving work study techniques in 1956, were opposed by industrial action, which was the common consequence of half-hearted attempts in UK industry. The claimed punctuality figures - poor though they are in comparison with BR’s - are improved on the reality, by excluding 1000s of trains replaced by buses. All this, and much more of what BR achieved, is revealed in Britain’s Railways - The Reality.

 

17.4.07 Scotsman (not published)

It is a delightful experience for a prophet to be proved right, as I have been now that Railways in Scotland are to be returned to public ownership. It is, however, unfortunate that so much taxpayers' money has been wasted in the 14 years since I warned of the impending catastrophe that would mark privatisation. My book published on the eve of the privatisation Act set out to tabulate the problems faced by nationalised Railways by government policies & legislation, & identified the adverse consequences that wd follow privatisation. Regrettably, government seemed to be relying too much on gut instinct & Hornby-Dublo experience, when addressing "the Railway problem".  They laboured under an illusion that there was one UK industry that ought to be 100% reliable, & have no complaints, with prices below inflation. Because they did not study the facts, they believed that Railway fares were high - by inference, in comparison with other UK prices. They believed that BR was overmanned, an illusion rapidly shattered when the new boys came in & made cuts which led to cancellations on an unprecedented scale. The chief executive of GNER stated that "BR was bloody efficient & had cost control down to a fine art".  Comparative statistics in my recent book demonstrate the degree of efficiency achieved. Had ministers instituted research, they would have found that Railway fares had underperformed industry-fuelled inflation for 40 years. At privatisation, BR would have been better off by £11 billions plus interest, had fares been pegged only 1% below inflation - the margin originally promised under privatisation, but long abandoned. When Railways were about to be privatised, & the five business sectors split into 100 companies, the annual subsidy  was doubled by government to fund them as separate companies & to provide an "administrative profit". The current level of subsidy is, therefore, six times - not three times that paid to an integrated BR. It is not the only distortion in comparisons that have been made.

 

21.6.07 fax Independent (not published)

I refer to your excellent editorial opinion (29 May) in which you mention the ‘pivotal question’. There was another unasked - and, therefore, unanswered question: ‘How it will be determined if privatisation is a success.’ What the Tory government failed to do was to set down its criteria for successful privatisation. This required the establishment of a series of measurable benchmarks. There was anecdote a-plenty, and much vague wishful thinking, but of measurable benchmarks - nothing at all. In my book: Blueprints for Bankruptcy, published on the eve of privatisation, I set out a list. It was the comparative data on all the main criteria which government should have examined. It is a sorry picture - revealing all too clearly that British Railways achieved far more than they were credited, and that privatised railways falls far short of British Railways’ standards. Can we have more attention to facts and less to anecdote?

 

7.1.08 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

I read, with great interest, Jeff Randall’s leader in the Daily Telegraph. The Tory Government privatised Railways without researching what could realistically be changed or achieved. It was an ideologically driven change. They had no real statistical data to compare UK Railway standards with those of UK industry, which BR was supposed to emulate. Unlike BR, UK industry prudently disclosed no self-incriminating data to compare with BR’s published data. No other comparison has any validity, and the Reality is that political beliefs were based on anecdote. After their botched scheme went predictably pear shaped, ex-ministers grudgingly admitted that the basis was wrong, but sought to blame the EU, or attribute it to hindsight. During years of parliamentary debate on privatisation, the EU Directive was not mentioned once. Moreover, anyone who looks at that Directive will see that it merely called for the finances of the infrastructure to be separated from train operations, which could easily be done without physical separation. It need be no different from the structure of hundreds of holding companies. As to hindsight, there was plenty of foresight, based on many decades of practical experience. You may be interested in my response to that lame excuse, in my article published in Focus – the journal of the Chartered Institute of Transport, entitled: With the benefit of foresight. Those with the foresight either took redundancy pay-offs or left under other circumstances. Many were later re-hired as costly consultants when the newcomers discovered that big Railways are totally unlike Hornby-Dublo. The obsession that one UK industry should be capable of being 100% reliable, when the rest of UK industry in its centrally heated or roofed over premises cannot achieve 100%, defies rational belief. But it is the underlying belief of many politicians & journalists. I set out to research real documented facts about BR, what it achieved & what its shortcomings were. I had to draw from sources untapped by politicians or other authors. The results are set out in my book: Britain’s Railways – the Reality, which also compares – for the first time – BR standards with those of UK private sector industry, & with privatised UK Railways. It also lays some old – & new - myths to rest.

 

29.1.08 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

Government involvement in new carriages (Letters, February 29) was not supposed to happen. Under privatisation, responsibility & ownership of carriages was transferred to Rolling Stock Companies which made huge profits from their under-valued purchase. Train companies were to decide their requirements, & lease carriages as required. They realised immediately that by reducing the number leased, pushing up fares & tolerating standing – which was forecast to disappear under private ownership – that bigger profits could be made. They also realised that new carriages would be more costly, & opted to carry on using old stock. Some companies had subsidies increased to cover the cost of leasing new carriages. Their profits were further enhanced when Government –desperate to privatise quickly – doled out large subsidies to hitherto profitable InterCity routes & to zero-subsidy Network SouthEast. John McGregor told MPs that subsidies would continue to preserve socially necessary services & that Railtrack would get no subsidy. It proved unable to manage without subsidy.

 

11.2.08 e-mail Sunday Telegraph (not published)

The long standing problem of “bridge-bashing” (Sunday Telegraph, 10 February), is caused by drivers of high lorries & double deck buses who do not know the height of their vehicle. Network Rail’s plan to have the location of low bridges built in to Sat-Nav will not solve the problem, because unless the driver is fully aware of the height of the vehicle, the Sat-Nav data will be valueless. Transport Dept Inquiries into such collisions reveal that the driver did not know the height of the vehicle – even when it was displayed within the vehicle as applies on some – but not all vehicles. There will be a problem when a road indicated by Sat-Nav is blocked by accident or road works, as diversion signs do not usually mention low bridges. The plan will not solve the problem of motorists turning onto tracks at level crossings. Moreover, there are low bridges not owned by Railways. Maps were published showing recommended routes for high vehicles many years ago, but with little effect. Lorries & double deck vehicles should be fitted with radar beams that will emit an ear splitting noise when a vehicle approaches a bridge which is too low for their vehicle. Network Rail will incur costs to overcome the incompetence of hauliers, as Railways were required to incur costs to increase bridge strength, because hauliers ignored the weight restrictions of bridges built for the horse & cart.

 

25.4.08 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

Kelvin Mackenzie (Daily Telegraph 24 April) should count himself lucky to be paying £5 for car parking now. The Railway owned car park at Crewe introduced £5 daily parking about eight years ago. Last year, they raised it to £6 per day. It was only £1 in the “bad old (BR) days”.

 

12.8.08 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

Even Tory ex-ministers have admitted that the privatised fragmentation of Railways was a mistake, i.e. ‘half-baked’. It was not, as frequently claimed, due to an EC ruling, which readers will see if they click onto the EC website or check Hansard. Your reader, James Strachan, hasn’t studied the facts. Rail freight increased because Government has made a few cautious steps to correct the inequity they have maintained between rail & road for 90 years. Road transport is being gently prodded to obey the law on drivers’ hours (bringing them down towards levels Government imposed on Railways in 1919), and on vehicle safety, overloading, speeding etc. The long expected oil crisis has brought the long forecast transfer of traffic to rail. The Chunnel is benefiting – as forecast long ago – from transfer from the short air & sea routes. Passenger growth benefits from fragmentation because one journey under BR (e.g. Isle of Wight to Inverness) becomes four. This is further muddied by through trains being broken (bus fashion) into three or four parts, so each is a different journey. City Congestion & parking charges influence cost comparisons. Both freight & passenger have increased because taxpayers’ money has been thrown at the private sector, which should have had nil after 12 years, if one believed the 1990s claims of Ministers. On top of that, the new boys have been given freedom to do what they like, with no political pressures to hold fares below inflation in their constituencies. The mess Railtrack made of the infrastructure – now being redressed at vast cost - almost defies belief

 

16.1.09 e-mail The Times (not published)

The argument that bonuses are essential to get executives to improve their companies is astonishing. When I worked in the public sector, we were told that, in the private sector, executives who did not improve their company were fired! Has it escaped everyone else’s attention that company executives always take credit for higher share prices and expansion, but blame international markets for declining prices and market share? An analogous attitude is noticeable in political circles.

 

15.5.09 Posted on Daily Telegraph web-site

Brussels cannot be blamed for chaos. Their Directive did not require physical fragmentation, merely separation of accounts for infrastructure & train services. Any Holding Company can do this. The Directive was not mentioned in privatisation debates.

 

9.7.09 e-mail Daily Telegraph (not published)

David Pearson (letters 9 July), claims BR’s East Coast service was “unreliable” but quotes no facts. May I help with researched facts? The ever critical Transport Users Committees stated in 1991: “We are pleased with the [East Coast] electric service”. It was praised by foreign manage­ments and technical media. BR’s last full year – 1993/4 - showed InterCity 91% punctuality, compared – on the same basis - to SRA’s 2001/2 Report 77%. Passengers excuse delays caused by infrastructure defects “which are the fault of Railtrack or Network Rail”. Under BR, infrastructure defects were the main cause of delay, but there were no outsiders to blame. In the magazine “Rail” (No. 466), GNER Chief Executive, Chris Garnett said “Railtrack and train companies made the mistake of assuming BR had been inefficient, but found it was bloody efficient and had it down to a fine art”. David Pearson doesn’t mention BR fares which were significantly lower than GNER and probably caused the overcrowding. Transport Minister John McGregor  told the Scottish Transport Committee the East Coast line made £40m profit pa, but a franchisee would require £50m annual subsidy for at least seven years. InterCity had had no subsidy since 1988. Rolling stock should be funded by the private sector, but is funded by government. If BR had had a fraction of the money poured into railways since privatisation, we would have had a system second to none, and on a comparable basis with the modernised east coast line.

PS – Hopefully, you will find space for this letter which is the same as David Pearson’s. (NB – to keep down the length of the letter, I left out references to the fact that connections are routinely broken, whereas they were maintained on a wide – but not total basis. I also left out mentioning that an analysis of those Committee’s annual reports contained no criticism of performance).

 

 

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