Saturday, January 07, 2017

In defence of British Rail

A letter in today's Guardian is worth attention:
Rafael Behr mentions false memory regarding the old British Rail (Rail chiefs and unions: can passengers trust either, 4 January), a condition he appears to suffer from himself. 
He writes that BR was synonymous with shabbiness. Really? In 1993, InterCity, the flagship, was rated by passengers at 95% in this regard (The InterCity Story, 1994). 
Customer satisfaction at service levels was at 98%, and the company made a profit for the six years to 1994, when it was privatised, despite the huge distractions of that process. Which privatised rail company has since delivered these levels of success? To equate BR with Southern Rail is a calumny. 
Dr John Carlisle
Dr Carlisle is right, but as increasing numbers of journalists have no memory of the 1990s, there is a danger that the myth of British Rail as a basket case will become the accepted truth.

By the 1990s British Rail had finally overcome the rivalries between the Big Four railway companies from which it was formed and organised itself by sector as a national organisation.

The network was short of investment, as money was directed to the building of the Channel Tunnel and the associated high-speed line, but the Beeching era was over and stations were being reopened.

Since privatisation the railways have seen a boom in the number of passengers, but that is largely due to the economy performing better.

We should also note two paradoxes:
  • more public money goes into Britain's railways today than when they were nationalised;
  • the railways are controlled by government far more closely than they were under British Rail,


Frank Little said...

Some of us remember the 1950s, when BR certainly was shabby. It had a lot of steam locomotives, though.

crewegwyn said...

Cars were also pretty shabby back then. As were (heaterless) buses.

Anonymous said...

We really need the best of what BR was delivering in 1990's with the access to finance,& new ideas that are grown in the commercial world. The concession model appears to deliver this, overlaid with the option for commercial risk takers to fill in with open acesss possibly with limited licences that offer the hand-over to the national system by agreed terms if the new service at an appropriate time.