Yesterday I watched a trainspotting documentary TV show fronted by trainspotting fanatic Pete Waterman, in the house of a friend who owned the DVD. Waterman made his money producing pop songs but he apparently likes to spend it, some of it, buying up and restoring classic steam locomotives.
Anyway, in part two of this four part series, which covered the pre-WW2 pre-nationalisation period, Waterman said something interesting, which I did not know. He said that Britain’s four great pre-nationalisation railway companies, LMS, LNER, the Great Western and the Southern, were obliged to become “common carriers” of freight. Whoever wanted to use trains to send freight could do it, at a price determined by the government, however inconvenient and hence unprofitable it might be for the train company. Nor were the train companies allowed to charge less than the government-ordained and publicly announced price for freight. No wonder freight on the roads took off, if you will pardon the use of a transport metaphor to describe transport. All they had to do was (a) undercut the railways by a few quid for convenient jobs that they wanted, and (b) just refuse to do all the inconvenient stuff, which the railways then had to do. No wonder the railways went into decline, and were unable, after the war, to resist nationalisation.
“They were forbidden”, said Waterman, “to be entrepreneurial.”
Is that true. Or is Pete Waterman just a rich and rabid trainspotter, who believes what he wants to believe?