Britain’s Railways  - the Reality

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This book catalogues the achievements made by nationalised railways & sets out a comparison between them and private sector industry and private sector railways.


Ø Due to wartime policies, nationalised British Rail inherited fares & charges at 1941 levels, suppliers costs at 1948 levels, and a rag-bag of worn out assets.

Ø Unlike road transport, railways were denied materials to modernise for 10 years after the war, not allowed to use their own money to that end & directed not to restore railways to pre-war standards.

Ø The loss of freight to road was precipitated by government’s refusal to concede to railways the same commercial freedom as that enjoyed by road transport.


Ø Fares were held below inflation by a law court created for that purpose, whose legal decisions were, at times, changed by Ministers – but only to hold fares even lower.


Ø Had fares kept pace with inflation, by the time of privatisation, BR would have been £11 billions better off, before allowing for loss of compound interest.


Ø The secret Stedeford committee of businessmen, appointed by the Transport Minister criticised government for deficits, when it was expected that only British Rail would be criticised. Their Report & Papers were kept secret for 30 years – even from MPs. Contrary to popular opinion, their recommendations were not implemented. They said that fares were too low, closures too slow, BR should be free to develop its property & be run by professionals.


Ø To justify its interference in fares, a Tory government said that BR need not cover costs from revenue, but passed Acts requiring the avoidance of loss!


Ø Delays in delivery by suppliers and breakdowns of newly supplied rolling stock that had to be withdrawn from service for modifications led to delays & cancellations for which BR was blamed!


Ø In 1956, the Transport Minister froze rail fares – then 43 points behind industry fuelled inflation – but no other industries’ prices, promising to show how BR could make a profit. He did not identify one business in the private or public sector doing so, which was denied commercial freedom by politicians. Inflation continued to rise.


Ø Politicians had an illusion that one industry – railways - could be 100% perfect : no complaints, no breakdowns, prices constantly below inflation, not allowed to drop unprofitable business, nor free to decide investment.


Ø Privatisation was promoted by pious hopes & the alleged success of other privatisations. If past success was a guide, UK industry would still dominate world trade, instead it lost a world lead in every field. The Reality is that fares have rocketed – along with the subsidy, that complaints are higher, that safety and performance are worse.


Ø The ruinous fragmentation of the railway system as part of privatisation, was not due to any Directive from Brussels, as some politicians now claim. The entire debate in the House of Commons makes no mention of such a Directive. It was done – so it was said – to introduce competition, but competition between different franchisees was of limited scope, and further limited by conditions imposed on franchisees. Railways already had competition – road transport, the private car, airlines, none of which were subject to so much political interference .


Ø Politicians who sneer that those calling for re-nationalisation are looking through rose-tinted glasses should study the facts in this book. Government did not construct measurable benchmarks for comparisons to be made with pre-privatisation. This book has redressed that failure, and shows performance is now worse and costs higher. Politicians always tried to compare BR with the non-existent Perfect Industry, with which, curiously, private sector railways are not compared.


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

ISBN 0-9535225-0-4; Paperback: pages v, 212.  cover price £12.95, offered at £8 + UK postage 85p;

by post from E.A. Gibbins, 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke on Trent   ST7  2SR.



The book was reviewed by The Railway & Canal Historical Society (July 2005), Traction Review (June 2004).