Monday, 21 February 2011

It Can Now be Revealed.

This fascinating booklet, written just after the second world war, has recently come my way. It was "issued" (rather than "published") by the British Railways Press Office, although that would have been on behalf of the four privately-owned railway groups rather than the "British Railways Board" (later "British Rail") that ran the system between 1948 and 1994.
Most of the work is about the wartime effort, kept secret at the time and here revealed for all to read. But of more interest is the final chapter entitled The Way Ahead. It was going to take some time for the railways to get back on their feet and the re-introduction of the  "High Speed Trains" of the 1930s was going to have to wait a while. However, a major programme of electrification was proposed, mainly around London but also including the Manchester to Sheffield line via Woodhead (which closed in 1981). Stations were to be rebuilt on modern lines with every convenience for the passenger, including news theatres, newsagents, fruiterers, chemists, confectionery shops and even post offices, whilst special attention would be given to the quality of refreshments.
Cheap fares would be reintroduced and the fares system simplified (now where have I heard that before!)
Nationalisation was still being debated, but a government white paper was proposing the setting up of a single company to run the railways, docks, ferries and domestic and international air services! This would have full commercial freedom to operate, although it would, of course, only buy British-built aircraft. (Presumably it was seen as inconceivable that foreign-built trains and ships would even be considered). In this brave new world the whole transport system would be operated on a fully-commercial basis, without government subsidy - although to achieve this it would have to be protected from any competition!
Of course, what really happened was the development of the motorway network, the Beeching Report, and a truncated but still heavily subsidised railway system - a situation which continues today with payments to the private contractors that run the network far exceeding anything paid to British Rail.

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