Square Deal Denied 

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It has been the popular conception for 60 years, that the pre-war railways call for a ‘Square Deal’ – equality of freedom to other transport – began in 1938, and was about to be conceded by government when war broke out.

In fact, their search for equality began in 1921, and was not ended by the war – as government had no intention of granting freedom. The onset of war was used as an excuse by government – the legal changes requested needed one sheet of paper, less than that used for an air transport Act hurriedly passed in 1939.



Ø          Had government conceded to privately owned railways the same equality of commercial freedom as road transport, UK heavy industry - which was effectively subsidised through the complex freight charges system forced onto railways in 1921 – would have had to be subsidised by government to enable it to continue to ‘compete’ with foreign industry.


Ø Railways were among the biggest contributors to the funding of local authorities who were responsible for road maintenance, but they were not allowed to use long distance motor vehicles


Ø Road transport was not paying sufficient to cover the costs of repair & maintenance of existing roads, much less pay for the building of new roads. Legislation prevented the construction of buildings on privately owned land that government began to earmark for new wider roads.


Ø Contrary to popular current public opinion, pre-war privately owned railways were not subsidised by the government or any other body. They were unique in Europe in this respect.


Ø Industry made false claims that empty crates & boxes sent by rail had arrived full by rail, in order to claim low charges for returned empties as laid down by a court of law, on the premise that railways had benefited from a loaded journey.


Ø Money was screwed out of railways during both wars by the government which sent all of its war traffic, and much more, either free of charge or at very much reduced charges. In both wars, it froze railway charges virtually for the duration of the war in order further to help the war effort, whilst road transport, shipping, the crucial coal industry & all other industry was allowed to make hay.


Ø Government loans to railways in the 1920s & 1930s were aimed solely at reducing chronic unemployment. No grants or subsidies were given by Government to pre-war railways at any time.


Ø Railway passengers were subject to a unique tax not shared by other forms of passenger transport - Railway Passenger Duty. For many decades, there were calls, by users & MPs to repeal it. When it was finally repealed in 1929, a condition was imposed that railways must spend the capitalised equivalent on works they did not plan to carry out, specifically to help to cut chronic unemployment.


Author – E.A. Gibbins, joined the LMS Railway in 1946 as a junior & retired from BR as a Chief Officer after 40 years.


The book was reviewed by Railway World June 1998: ‘A myriad of convincing data’; Chartered Institute of Transport 1998: ‘An excellent piece of factual research’; Back Track, October 1998: ‘A must, rated Excellent’.


ISBN 0-9521039-3-1; Paperback: pages vi, 202.

This book is now out of print – but available through most libraries.