August 20, 2003

Adrian Vaughan replies

Guest Writer | British Rail Privatisation

I promised Adrian Vaughan a right to reply to yesterday's post. Here it is:

I am not a 'free-marketeer - well, certainly not where railways are concerned and only a half-hearted free-marketeer in any case.

However, to the problem of railways. You were beginning , I thought, to get the idea that railways and free markets do not co-habit and then you slipped back into your free-marketeering mode of thought. I can see that this is a problem of some subtlety of distinction. I was unaware of these matters when I set out to write "R,P&M". I wrote that starting in 1992 out of a sense of outrage at what was being proposed. I was a peasant signalman- cum- amauter footplateman and all I knew was that the railway ran because it was a well organised team run by horny-handed sons of toil (well it was in my day) and thus it could keep itself running when the shit hit the fan. I spent 5 years in the Army and I found that the railway and army had much in common - the army is run by its sergeants with the officers simply for decoration.

By the time I had finished writing RPM (it took 5.5 years) I had given myself an acedemic knowledge to rival my extensive working knowledge of signalling and how to fire and drive a locomotive.

The railway worked at its very best in two world wars under central control and common user. That is the optimum method of railway working. I called this method Socialist and I think you would agree the system had that flavour BUT you say that this was a time of great damage being done to the railway. NOW THAT was very naughty of you - you were deliberately twisting words because you don't like Socialism. You ought to know that the damage to the railway was done not by the Socialist method of organisation - which was proved to be very effective - but by the LACK OF MONEY INVESTED in the railway by the government of Winston Churchill, whom I believe was a Conservative - having turned his coat from the Liberals. If the railway companies had been allowed their £51million p.a which was the p[rovision of the 1921 Act that would have been something and if the Treasury had not partially confiscated their income above £40million and totally confiscated it above £63 million, the railway would have come out of the war in a better condition and more able to restore itself from wear and tear brought about by its war work.

But there you are, that is water under the bridge.

We have a railway today labouring under impossible conditions and there is nothing that this 'free market' of your can do to help it. NOTHING. The railway is also shafted because the country is now enmeshed in such regulations that - had they been brought about by TRADE UNIONS (shudder) the DAILY MAIL would be screamed effeminately from the roof tops. The subsidies going to keep up the profits of the ToC are vast and please do not say they aren't making much profit. They are making a profit because the taxpayer is funding them AND THAT was the intention of the 1994 Act brought about by your bloody Government.

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You were beginning , I thought, to get the idea that railways and free markets do not co-habit and then you slipped back into your free-marketeering mode of thought.

All, rather depends on what you mean by "free market". But seeing as we are the guys advocating it I think we are allowed to define what it is.

I was a peasant signalman- cum- amauter footplateman and all I knew was that the railway ran because it was a well organised team run by horny-handed sons of toil (well it was in my day) and thus it could keep itself running when the shit hit the fan.

I believe you. And what made it such a good team? Don't we have to at least factor in the fact that many of your traditions and procedures had been handed down to you by previous generations of railwaymen working for a private enterprise operating in a free-ish market?

By the time I had finished writing RPM (it took 5.5 years) I had given myself an acedemic knowledge to rival my extensive working knowledge of signalling and how to fire and drive a locomotive.

And it shows. It is a very good book. I think it backs up what I am saying rather well.

The railway worked at its very best in two world wars under central control and common user. That is the optimum method of railway working. I called this method Socialist and I think you would agree the system had that flavour BUT you say that this was a time of great damage being done to the railway. NOW THAT was very naughty of you - you were deliberately twisting words because you don't like Socialism. You ought to know that the damage to the railway was done not by the Socialist method of organisation - which was proved to be very effective - but by the LACK OF MONEY INVESTED...

You're dead right: I don't like socialism. One of the reasons is that no matter who is in charge there is almost never enough money invested. And when there is it goes down the plughole eg the Modernisation Plan and, well, now.

We have a railway today labouring under impossible conditions and there is nothing that this 'free market' of your can do to help it.

Apart from ending the wheel/rail split, ending franchising and getting rid of the HSE.

They are making a profit because the taxpayer is funding them AND THAT was the intention of the 1994 Act brought about by your bloody Government.

In what sense was the 1994 Government mine? I didn't at the time feel any great sense of control.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on August 20, 2003

Yes, I second the point that one of the things that evolves in a free market is cooperation.

It is a huge mistake to go from noting that many commercial organisations are just that, organised, often highly so, to the belief that therefore the "commercial" bit - the free market -is beside the point.

General Motors is no argument for Nationalised Motors. The Great Western, or (if that two had emerged on the market) Great British Railways, is no argument for the government taking over everything.

It's an easy mistake to make, but still a mistake.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on August 21, 2003

Please read "if that too" for "if that two" had emerged, in the above comment.

A particularly bad slip, because of course, I mean if that ONE (highly organised - national but not nationalised) railway system had had emerged ...

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on August 21, 2003

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