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What if nationalisation had happened earlier?




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#51 Fenman

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 13:21

Allow me to clarify that Paul.

I was referring to the GWR in the big four era. There is little doubt that the LMS suffered very poor morale before the later management took over. The evidence of western pride can be found after nationalisation when the individualism of the Western Region asserted itself on many occasions.

You are entirely correct - up to a point - to allude to the "esprit de corps" in the pre grouping companies, it was an undeniable fact.


I also need to clarify -- I was also referring to the Big Four era. The M&GN remained an independent company after 1923 because it was jointly owned by companies that were merged into two of the Big Four groups (LMS and LNER). The archive footage I was referring to was of men who worked through the 1920s and into the 1930s (the LMS and LNER did a deal in, off the top of my head, 1936, where the LMS effectively gave its half of the M&GN to the LNER, at which point the old joint lost most of what remained of its independence).

Paul
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#52 GC Jack

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 14:13

Thanks Paul I didn't know that.

One of the problems on the big four was the loyalty to the old companies. The GWR largely escaped this and that is why many books I have read point to this high degree of pride.

When I worked for BR many years ago now in the South Western section control office at Woking that former loyalty to the three main constiuent companies still survived and there were several "ownership" arguments between the other control offices about stock movements and other matters.

Oh dear how we have wandered from the thread. I'd better stop.

Jack

Edited by GC Jack, 09 March 2012 - 14:13 .


#53 Old Gringo

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 19:23

What the last series of posts from, Jack, Paul and Mike highlight is that the pre-Group "company attitudes" lasted throughout the "Big Four" period and even into British Railways days. To rubber stamp this from my own experiences, I can remember some of the railwaymen of the early Sixties still referring to themselves as "North Western" men and having little to do with "these bl**dy Midland engines"!

So, back to topic, "What if nationalization had happened earlier?"

Well, my early railway acquantainces wouldn't have had to put up with so many under-powered, inside-cylindered, Midland standard fours and the enlarged Great Western might have become part of the unified "British Railways" much earlier, thus saving a lot of ink underlining all those long names in our Ian Allan abc spotters-booklets!

And although the "Square Deal" campaign of the late 1930s almost certainly highlighted the railways' unfair competitive position and promoted vigorously some solutions, I've read that it came too late to have any significant impact (and then, of course, WW2 changed everything). However, as I suggested in a previous post, perhaps had the railways been nationalized in 1921, then I think a rationalisation of the 20,000 mile network might well have taken place, as the Depression bit deeper into the British economy. But, any reductions in branchlines and routes would then have been planned by experienced career railwaymen, rather than by the quasi-accountants and "corporate raiders" of the 1960s, like the infamous Doctor.

Thus, the earlier nationalization of the railway network might conversely have given us a larger system nowadays - a network better suited to the transport requirements of the 21st Century.

Edited by Old Gringo, 09 March 2012 - 19:27 .

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#54 GC Jack

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 11:29

A good response John.

There have been many "what if" scenarios published. However I have just returned from a holiday in France which prompted my response earlier.

We tend to hold up SNCF in this country as an example of how nationalisation is right for the railways.

At the risk of slightly altering the thread could I air an opinion on that?

The railways in France have a flagship in the TGV network of course. But elsewhere its patchy. The inter city trains from Cherburg to Paris are poor specimens. Dirty and not very comfortable. Local trains on the route very good though. Quality of local stations poor to very bad.

Complete absence of any freight on parts of the network. Private freight companies work on the railways, nationalised freight is a recipe for decline.

Jack

#55 The Stationmaster

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 17:52

We tend to hold up SNCF in this country as an example of how nationalisation is right for the railways.
At the risk of slightly altering the thread could I air an opinion on that?
The railways in France have a flagship in the TGV network of course. But elsewhere its patchy. The inter city trains from Cherburg to Paris are poor specimens. Dirty and not very comfortable. Local trains on the route very good though. Quality of local stations poor to very bad.
Complete absence of any freight on parts of the network. Private freight companies work on the railways, nationalised freight is a recipe for decline.
Jack

I spent 6 years working very closely with SNCF and they have some admirable practices (retour d'experience being one which impressed me - if run properly) but as far as French industry is concerned, and particularly French management consultancy, they are regarded as a joke, in poor taste. SNCF is appallingly overmanned, over bureaucracised, riven with outdated practices, often in thrall to and certainly hampered by trade union action and activism, over-resourced to an appalling level for the services it operates, very bad at resource management, and apart from all that offers some abysmal timetables in many places.

Some examples - its commercial people judge the 'profitability' of long distance services on load factor and don't hesitate to take a service off if it fails to meet the magic number no matter if so doing reduces set utilisation or unbalances train crew working and increases the cost of services left running.
Traincrew diagrammers regard lodging as a very efficient way of using crew in order to get long turns and maximum time driving out of them but the cost of lodging is carried by another department totally divorced from those planning traincrew use.
A side effect of this is that Drivers (in particular) can finish up lodging - and receiving expenses for so doing - within a short drive of home, e.g Lille men lodging in Bruxelles can afford to have their wife pick them up by car, go home for the night, wife take them back in the morning and still be in profit.
Senior management expenses make the average BR employee of equivalent ranking/organisational position open eyes with wonder.
Senior management above a certain grade in Paris (and elsewhere) live free of charge in SNCF apartments in 'good' areas.
Most major stations with TGV services have a set on 'hot standby' (i.e. manned and ready to cover a failure) for most of the day.

SNCF do have some good railwaymen and women, they have some people at Regional Director level who are excellent and for whom I have immense respect - and some of them want change - but the inertia against improvement and greater real efficiency will, unless things have changed since my regular contact with them, still carry a mass of weight against such things.

But at least Drivers no longer receive free wine on duty :jester:

Edited by The Stationmaster, 10 March 2012 - 17:53 .

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#56 GC Jack

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 08:38

An excellent reply Mike, very informative. Do you think that privatisation might work in France?

Just a thought, though how does this inefficency match up with the findings that European Railways are a third cheaper to run than ours?

Jack

#57 The Stationmaster

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 10:09

An excellent reply Mike, very informative. Do you think that privatisation might work in France?

There would be very rich pickings indeed for private operators in France - provided they could get past hurdles imposed by the French Govt, SNCF Infrastructure, and the unions, this is no doubt why the EU are now on the case (at long last). The most amazing one I've heard of is the Rolling Stock Tax (not sure of its exact name) which the French Govt announced last year would have to be paid by any (non French) open access passenger train operator; when asked why no one had ever heard of it in the past it was explained that the Govt simply included it in SNCF's total costs as there was no need to identify it separately. Probably something - if it really exists - which predates nationalisation and maybe still exists as a term in bureaucracy but not in financial reality.

Just a thought, though how does this inefficency match up with the findings that European Railways are a third cheaper to run than ours?
Jack

I think it all depends on how 'someone' counts beans. BR was producing figures - year after year - back in the 1980s showing how much more efficient they were, in many spheres, that many of the continental railways although there was no doubt a touch of 'selectivity' in what was compared with who. I think the biggest difference back then was that BR was probably more expensive in civil engineering terms but in other respects it was good and that was certainly the impression I got when in close working relationships with a number of continental Railways back in the 1990s. Most of them seem to have far more bureaucracy than BR had come down to by then and some of their labour practices were positively byzantine (the 'best' one of the lot is the factors SNCB consider when appointing clerical and management staff) while in some cases stock utilisation was abysmal although quite a few made huge strides in the 1990s in that area. And of course in some cases on the mainland a lot of the administrative cost was in a Govt department and not counted as a railway running cost.

In contrast here costs have risen from what was in most areas a low comparative base. Part of this is due to the privatisation structure, some is due to the use of short term franchises (which push up rolling stock hire charges), some is probably due to sheer lack of joined-up management process or, oddly, the cost of imposing it where it does happen, and a goodly part is driven by vested interests of all sorts. Add to that a huge backlog of infrastructure work hanging over from BR days let alone the damage wrought by Railtrack taking huge sums out of that area as 'profit' and finally some ludicrously expensive so called 'safety' items and you can begin to trace where the money is being wasted.

Overall I reckon, safety add-ons apart, there has been a considerable reduction in a lot of direct civil engineering costs with technical overhead costs sharply reduce (which might not be as good as it sounds) and some far more efficient and cheaper methods in use although they often mean real money being paid out of teh industry instead of cost being contained within.

But on the other hand there has - in most operators - been a step change for the better in Driver (in particular) productivity which would possibly not have happened without privytisation; it's far easier to work 'twig by twig' than deal with the trunk is an interesting analogy. But even then some of those gains have been thrown away by inept 'managers' looking for short term career advantage and having got a reputation for 'good management' moving on before the cuts they made turn round and bite.
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#58 Old Gringo

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 10:35

So, had nationalisation taken place earlier and Britain's railways followed a "French style" of operation, might privatisation have been avoided?

#59 The Stationmaster

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 10:42

So, had nationalisation taken place earlier and Britain's railways followed a "French style" of operation, might privatisation have been avoided?

All depends on what the politicos want, or wanted - and not much to do with anything else in my view.
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#60 Pacific231G

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 11:32

Some very interesting stuff there Mike. I knew quite a lot of this but not some of the insider stuff.

The saddest part is that when TGVs and the dedicated high speed lines for them first appeared we all thought it was part of a new dawn for railways in general, not that all the investment would go into them while the rest of the network starved. Once they got their teeth into high speed lines, SNCF seemed to lose interest in regional and local services (apart from around Paris) and in any case had always been pretty keen on replacing local trains with buses whenever possible- but never using them to provide more services. The idea of regular interval services that would be there when you wanted to travel seemed completely beyond their grasp and even quite simple journeys on fairly well served lines require very close examination of the timetable. In France that was always true and the idea that the railway might be there to serve its customers never quite took hold. The transfer of authority for local public transport to the regional councils did help in regions that saw the value of rail and a number of lines that hadn't seen a passenger train since the war or even before have re-opened. While there's no doubt that TGVs do attract a lot of passengers (including me sometimes instead of Easyjet) Britain, with a similar population to France, actually generates significantly more passenger rail journeys per year.

The real tragedy though has been the collapse of SNCF's freight business, especially given that transferring heavy freight from road to rail cuts CO2 emissions roughly in half - probably even more in France where most main lines are electrified. Even after the French equivalent of Beeching, the "co-ordination" scheme that summarily closed about a third of the passenger network between 1938-1940, most of those lines continued to carry freight and did so well into the 1980s. Today though the country is as littered with abandoned or dismantled lines and stations as Britain was soon after Beeching. In many cases SNCF seems to have told its customers to go away if they couldn't guarantee a certain number of wagons per week, a tonnage that any profitable American short line would regard as riches beyond the dreams of avarice.
There is now quite a lot of private freight traffic in France and it seems to be growing but that growth has come nowhere near compensating for the catastrophic decline in SNCF's market share. Rail's overall share of the freight market dropped from 21% to 14% between 1996 and 2011 and, despite its much larger size and with a total rail network almost twice as long as ours, France's railways now only carry about as much freight as Great Britain's (in 2010 22.8 billion tonne-kilometers against Britain's 21.2 ) This is about a fifth of that for Germany.

I'm not sure about privatisation for passenger services. If British experience is anything to go by it seems to lead to a more expensive and less well integrated network though BR was, despite being starved of investment, actually a remarkably efficient passenger railway. It does seem to have worked for freight in Britain though in its later years BR seemed to have completely lost interest.
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#61 GC Jack

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 13:22

Thank you Mike, John and David for this fascinating debate and all the information on SNCF.

I don't think that any nationalised freight railway has a chance of really competing effectively in the logistics business as it is structured now, particularly in inter modal traffic.

I would welcome Mike's observation on this, but I think BR management realised that quite early on. It is my opinion that even if the the British Rail network had not been privatised the freight business would be largely a private operation now. The Foster Yeoman precedent I am sure would have set the trend.

BR would be mostly a passenger only railway, which would offer the same access to the network to private freight operators as Railtrack does today.

Jack

Edited by GC Jack, 11 March 2012 - 13:23 .

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#62 The Stationmaster

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 14:14

I'm not sure about privatisation for passenger services. If British experience is anything to go by it seems to lead to a more expensive and less well integrated network though BR was, despite being starved of investment, actually a remarkably efficient passenger railway. It does seem to have worked for freight in Britain though in its later years BR seemed to have completely lost interest.

I don't think BR lost interest David - effectively it was told by Govt to lose interest (not that Govt ever interfere in commercial decisions of course :O ). I was directly involved in some of the 'trimming' of freight services in the early 1990s and a lot of what was cut then was in fact profitable but The Treasury altered the notional rate of return they wanted from BR freight flows and that was that. Thus no surprise that following privytisation traffic which went during the latter years of BR has reappeared on rail - it was profitable then and it is presumably sufficiently profitable now for the private operators. Just that we set to and pulled up a lot of railway after it was 'shed.'

So a lot of it in BR days was down to politicians but I don't doubt that because of what happened in the 1960s BR was fully out of what we nowadays call 'logistics' although happy to take the long distance parts of it if they could be got onto rail at the right rates. And I honestly don't think that the change which was wrought on what became National Carriers could have happened had it stayed in BR hands - not so much a matter of management will & skill but more one of need for investment and the industrial relations implications of trying to make radical change in that area.

The 'Yeoman precedent' is interesting in that very few have followed it. ARC did (when it was still ARC) and National Power tried it too (involving some of the same folk) but the latter packed it in for reasons I don't know but can guess at. Yeoman was a very special case where there was strong internal pressure (and pressure on BR) for more powerful and reliable traction and there were people in Yeoman, or very close to the company, with the vision and capability to work out how best to do what they did. But in the cold light of day what exactly did they do? - they bought their own locos (for power and reliability) but left it to BR to drive and maintain them - and they decided to continue to leave the driving and access/operating to someone else when privytisation came along (which was probably the right decision I think - they recognised the complexities of taking that on and rejected them and the costs it would involve). The only difference privytisation has made in the longer term for them is that they now have a potentially greater choice of 'access/operations' contractors.

In contrast the electricity generating industry has taken greater advantage of not being an own account access/operations concern and 'buys' its haulage from a marketplace of rail operators in just the same way as it buys road haulage and other services. To what extent that 'market' works and is 'free' is beyond my knowledge but it is clear - from what I've seen at first hand - that some electricity generators buy from different operators for different flows and traffics instead of dealing through a single point of contract.
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#63 GC Jack

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 16:38

Thanks for this Mike.

Just to add a little of my own thoughts -well not all mine - I am partly quoting.

I am not surprised that SNCF has lost freight if it has become a joke in French industry. The railway in almost all freight movement is now part of the logistics chain, it cannot deliver the entire product now as it used to do i.e. door to door.

A rail freight company has to form partnerships and deals with commercial shippers and other logistics companies. Partnerships are built on confidence, competence, efficiency, cost and trust. Looks like SCNF is rather deficient in some of this.

A private company, away from Govt. meddling can do it - a nationalised industry will always struggle in these market conditions.

Jack

Edited by GC Jack, 11 March 2012 - 16:40 .

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#64 Allegheny1600

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 11:31

An absolutely fascinating commentary, chaps!
While it may have drifted from the OP, IMHO the subject matter is becoming ever more interesting and I am certainly happy for it to continue (Don't know how the mods feel?).
Perhaps I should change the title somewhat?
Or, even a new subject on the lines of "How our railways evolved?" perhaps!
Cheers,
John E.

#65 GC Jack

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 09:41

An absolutely fascinating commentary, chaps!
While it may have drifted from the OP, IMHO the subject matter is becoming ever more interesting and I am certainly happy for it to continue (Don't know how the mods feel?).
Perhaps I should change the title somewhat?
Or, even a new subject on the lines of "How our railways evolved?" perhaps!
Cheers,
John E.


I have learnt a lot from this thread so thanks John for starting it.

Jack
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