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GWRSwindon

UK Railways Without the Great War?

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An interesting question posed by the OP.

 

My view would be as follows.

 

The traditional approach that maintained competition and encouraged end on mergers would still apply leading to:

 

       LNWR merges with Caledonian

 

       Midland merges with GSWR

 

       NER merges with NBR and either GNR or GCR

 

 

Other mergers ( as suggested by other posts) would happen but  would be more about protecting territory, keeping weaker companies going etc. 

 

It’s all supposition and guess work....but good fun from time to time:rolleyes:

 

Jon

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The LSWR and the GWR were conscious that they were bleeding one another dry in the West, and had already had exploratory discussions about some sort of ‘arrangement’ before WW1, so that would probably have played-out, but how is hard to understand - there was no MMC then, but the BoT did get involved in things, and might have sought to ensure that any arrangement wasn’t proto-monopolistic.

 

There was also daft competition on the eastern side of LSWR territory, famously so at Midhurst, and there were areas that the LSWR wanted to serve, but were painful pre-motorbus, so they would have developed a bus arm, just as SR did. And, it would have pushed suburban electrification ........ then got stuck for a bit, trying to decide which system to use to Pompey etc.

 

LBSCR was a very solid railway, so I imagine it  electrifying to Brighton at 6.6kV as soon as it could, then pushing along the coast in both directions, as well as furthering suburban electrification. I think it could have become a mini-Southern, but at 6.6kV.

 

The troublesome one was the SECR, which desperately needed to electrify in the suburbs, but couldn’t raise capital. It was busy trying to put together an exotic financial deal at Grouping, and I reckon it might have crashed and the SER and LCDR (which both still existed - the SECR was a management committee, not a company) might have gone bankrupt and been bought-up at a sixpence in the pound by another company ....... who had the capital or ability to raise it though? LBSCR maybe, but my bet would be the LNWR, Midland or GWR.

 

The GCR was ripe for a buy-out, because it cost far more to build the London Extension than was justifiable by RORI, so I think that could have fallen the same way as the SECR.

Edited by Nearholmer
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I think with the speculation it would be easier to assume WW1 didn't occur at all had wiser heads prevailed.  As is was just about everybody lost... 

 

So no boom in war time traffic,  but no boost to car and lorry transport and certainly a lot less money put into aircraft development.   Neither would the railways have been so run down as they were after the war. Unfortunately politicians would have still found ways of interfering with the railways. 

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In the event of no conflict, I wonder what might have happened regarding the development of electric traction, where the engineers instead of devoting energy to war effort might have devoted their time elsewhere.

 

It is of course a double edged sword.  The LBSCR or NER (and others) might well have further developed their electric network, but at the same time the tram companies could equally have optimised their offering in competition for at least the local/commuter traffic.

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Q

 

Railways have always been the subject of legitimate political interest because: they need to impose themselves on places and people in order to exist, compulsory purchase powers at the least; they transport huge numbers of people, so are under scrutiny from a safety viewpoint; and at the time in question, because they were so integral to the economic well-being of the country that their actions were bound to attract economic regulation (in fact, they were already well-loaded with economic regulation, largely in exchange for imposing themselves in the first place).

 

Once public money began to flow into railways, the legitimate span of political interest became even greater, but that was to come later, so no need to go into it here.

 

In short, the old cry of 'political interference' is nothing but special pleading by an interest group.

 

K

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AH

 

There is a good case to say that, at a technical level, the electrification question was sorted c1912, by which date there were several viable models in use (600V dc conductor rail with central generation and distribution at HV ac to rotary-convertor substations;  ditto at higher dc voltages; single-phase c6.6kV (or similar) low-frequency, supplied from central generation; three-phase had already died-out due to the cost of the OHLE).

 

The residual issue was capital, in that you needed a lot of it to invest in the technology which would then save you vast amounts and bring customers flocking.

 

The SECR I've mentioned, and the GER is another case - both wanted to electrify their suburban areas, and neither could raise the capital.

 

That problem was eased, if not completely solved, by the establishment of of the CEA/CEGB, because then the railway then didn't have to wholly fund the generating capacity, but that was 15 years ahead.

 

The best model at the time was the LBSCR one, because they had their generating capacity provided for them by a an outside specialist generating company, who could get economies of scale by siting it with the rest of their plant, rather than building stand-alone. The NER Tyneside did similar, possibly before the LBSCR, I'd need to check.

 

Tram technology is interesting, because it effectively stagnated/stabilised before Britain really got on board with electrifying street tramways, and remained stuck until the 1930s ......... the problem would, again have been money, and there public money was already in the game.

 

What we ought to have seen, but never really did in Britain to any extent until the MSW, was electrification of heavy coal-hauling routes, notably the Midland, who were well-up for it, and the NER/GNR, and electrification of rural railways on the 'interurban' model, simultaneous with downgrading them to Light Railway status. 

 

K

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There were already significant working agreements in place from 1908 between the LNWR and Midland and slightly later between the Great Eastern, Great Northern, and Great Central - so the germ of both the LMSR and LNER was already there. The decline of British railways from profitability had already set in at the beginning of the century so some sort of consolidation was going to happen in due course. 

 

The Midland / GSWR amalgamation had been floated on several occasions in the 19th century, notably when Matthew Thompson was chair of both companies in the 1880s, but had fallen at the parliamentary objection of their being no physical connection. On the fantasy that that had come off, a Greater Midland might eventually have incorporated various of its covert operations - the M&SWJR, Hull & Barnsley, maybe even Furness, along with the LT&SR and B&NCR that were actually absorbed. Who knows, maybe even the North British, if the North Eastern didn't make a good offer? The North Eastern would have been best off keeping to itself, as any amalgamation would be with a weaker company (as indeed happened with the LNER group). Or the North Eastern could have looked to its George Hudson roots and gone in with the Midland! Another natural ally of the Midland that could have joined the fold would be the LSWR...

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All of this begins to point in the direction of amalgamations between companies whose routes complemented, rather than competed with, one another.

 

I'm going to go for a bizarre one: GWR-GCR-NER, perhaps with the GCR becoming the GW&NE Joint.

 

As I said above, the GCR was a poor investment, so its share price would probably have fallen further, and it probably had the capacity to schlepp NE coal at a lower rate than the GNR. and, what about a Paddington to Edinburgh service with corridor tender Kings?

 

Ideally electrified, but probably never, because the slump cut revenues too far. 

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Whatever difference Britain staying out of the war made to it's railways, the trend anyway was for small companies to merge into bigger ones because the cost of capitalising new plant and expansion projects was increasing and economies of scale were highly desirable; larger companies had access to larger amounts of capital.  The general run of things on the railways would probably have reflected the situation in the iron/steel and chemical industries where mergers or takeovers absorbed smaller companies.  GKN and ICI are classic examples.  When the post 1929 Wall Street collapse developed into a global depression, this process was accelerated, and continued throughout the 20th Century; arguably, it is still in progress.

 

Investment capital, or rather the scarcity/cost of it, has been one of the main hinderances to economic development, which has nonetheless taken place on the back of technological progress.  An international agreement in 1936 to abandon the 'Gold Standard', which meant that currencies no longer had to be backed entirely by bullion reserves, was intended to release money for investment and end the depression, increasing prosperity all round, but the move had little effect; it was only the next war that rescued the world's economies, at a cost of 60 million dead, a third of whom were Russians.  

 

Coming off the gold standard let the credit genie out of the bottle, and he can't easily be put back; most of the last half of the generally disastrous 20th century was spent in controlling inflation fuelled by credit.  WW1 can be viewed as a continuation of the Hapsburg-Bourbon conflict, and WW2 as a contest of ideals in the world that the toppled kingdoms left behind it, but macro-economic considerations were to a large extent both the cause of and solution to both wars.

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23 hours ago, JohnR said:

 

Strangely enough, I think both of those mergers would likely still go ahead. There were good business reasons for them, allowing the reduction in duplication of facilities, as well as expanding coverage of service.

 

South of the Thames, there had already been one "merger" - the formation of the SECR joint committee. I could see that the Brighton might eventually join that. The South Western always considered itself more of a proper railway than the other 2/3, so would probably have remained separate.

Agree, certainly the LYR/LNWR merger would have happened, as it did some 18 months in advance of the Grouping anyway. It's interesting to speculate where a merged LY/LNW group would have extended electrification?

Would there have been a case for the Midland and GC merging?

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36 minutes ago, rodent279 said:

Would there have been a case for the Midland and GC merging?

 

That would have made sense in the 1880s, when they were hand-in-glove snookering the LNWR in Lancashire, by means of the CLC. The Midland used the MS&L main line over Woodhead for south Yorkshire - Manchester goods trains until the latter's southerly aggression drove the building of the Dore & Chinley line. 

 

Another fantasy would be a Midland - L&Y amalgamation - enabling the Midland to reach the West Riding hinterland it never quite penetrated itself. The Midland made extensive use of running powers over L&Y lines in Lancashire for its Scottish services to Manchester and Liverpool - passenger and goods - and they seem to have rubbed along well in Yorkshire.

Edited by Compound2632

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I'm told that the North Eastern got into a bit of a dispute with the Midland when the former took over the Hull & Barnsley in 1922 and the Midland asked for immediate repayment of its loans to the H&B...

 

Something similar may have happened when the M&SWJR passed into the Great Western group, since it had been largely propped up with Midland money.

 

As a result of arrangements such as that, I believe it's the case that all of the grouping companies owned shares in each other.

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Midland-GCR?

 

The GCR really was "the opportunity" in the southern half of the country, which is why I "gave" it to the GW & NE in my previous, and the Midland definitely needed to make the "coal conduit" more efficient, so might have seen the GC as a way of doing that, but:

 

- the Midland was seriously into c6.6kV single-phase low-frequency, electrification, which could have transformed its coal schlepping and its operation of steep routes through Derbyshire, so that would certainly have been on the table as an alternative; and,

 

- the GC route sort of peters out north of Aylesbury, entering onto the Met and GW-GC joint lines to get through the hills and into London, and neither of those routes is actually all that marvellous for a procession of heavy coal trains, with gradients against the load and quite tight curves, and the Met line even then got crowded.

 

My feeling is that the GC would have had to get very cheap for anyone to actually find it a worthwhile proposition.

 

The real 'knife moment' would have come during the slump (assuming that bit of history hasn't also changed, which it might if the war didn't happen!), when all of the Midlands/North-London railways found it hard to make a living from falling volumes of goods traffic. What they all needed was huge "spend to save" investment, but where would the capital have come from?

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

 

The real 'knife moment' would have come during the slump (assuming that bit of history hasn't also changed, which it might if the war didn't happen!), when all of the Midlands/North-London railways found it hard to make a living from falling volumes of goods traffic. What they all needed was huge "spend to save" investment, but where would the capital have come from?

 

 

But the rot had really set in with the 8-hour day and conciliation boards - rising labour costs making the way things were done when the railways were at their 1890s peak increasingly untenable. Just look at what Granet, Paget, and Follows were doing on the Midland from 1905.

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Would there have been a Great Depression? Well that depends on the outcome of whatever form WW1 took. If it was just a small, regional affair, contained to the Balkans, leading to some sort of split on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the Treaty of Versailles wouldn't have happened. The subsequent crashing of Germany's economy, coupled with skyrocketing inflation, arguably wouldn't have happened, at least not to the same extent.

Whether the other global factors that lead to the Wall Street Crash would have occurred, leading to the events of 1929 as we know it, is speculation. Maybe, but on a smaller scale? Maybe it would have been just a European recession?

Without WW1 being fought to stalemate, there would have been no asking for terms by the German government, and no perceived "stabbing in the back", as it was put by Hitler. Arguably the Nazis would not have risen to power, and the whole course of 20th century history would have been different.

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20 hours ago, GWRSwindon said:

I hadn't planned on focusing overly much on the war itself, but I'd like to expand on this to decrease confusion.

 

We'll assume Germany goes on the offensive against Russia, waiting until France declares war on them rather than vice versa, and fights a defensive war against the latter. In this scenario, it is the Germans choosing an alternate course, not the British. 

The German plan since 1906, in the inevitable event of a war on two fronts, was to deliver a quick knock-out blow to France and then to switch forces and deal with the Russians, who would mobilise more slowly. It's also worth pointing out that French military policy had been based on a conflict in the Balkans would inevitably trigger a Europe-wide conflict. The french and the russians had undertaken to support each other should either be attacked by Germany. The only government really with free will after mid-July 1914 was that of Britain.

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Compound

 

What you say probably goes to the heart of 'the railway problem', in fact the 'established British industry problem' for almost the entire C20th.

 

As unit labour costs rose, against a background of progressively stagnating sales, the logical thing to do was to reduce the number of labour-units needed to achieve any given output, by investing in better technology, while going all out to flog more services by having a super-good marketing strategy.

 

All of the more 'switched-on' railways, especially when under the brightest of leaders, had a jolly good go at these things, but were to a greater or lesser degree hampered in their efforts by restricted access to capital, and for the coal-haulers especially by the coal-mining industry's conservatism and/or restricted access to capital.

 

I suppose that here the question is whether, in the alternative universe of "No Grouping", it would have been easier or more difficult to improve efficiency and marketing ......... my gut feel is that the answer is "about the same" because the no magic capital tree would have sprung-up to help, but that the consolidations between companies that resulted would have been different ones. That might have included inter-modal transport consolidations too - look at who owned shares in the big 'bus companies by WW2.

 

The heavy electrical equipment industry might provide some parallels: it was never grouped by legislation, but it did progressively consolidate in order to realise efficiency savings and to match itself to available capital, and it did that even though it had a fast-growing, rather than stagnating and then shrinking, market. The result through the period in question was two really big consolidated suppliers (AEI and the reborn version of GEC in Britain), plus a number of somewhat smaller more-niche suppliers, who were gradually swept into the fold.

 

The motor industry is another example of progressive consolidation. The locomotive building industry is a brilliant example of failing to consolidate until far too late!

 

Don't all industries in a capitalist system tend towards monopoly, if not regulated to prevent that? So, maybe we would have got to British Railways at some point, even without legislation to create it!

 

Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

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Meanwhile, in an Alternative Universe, they're having a discussion on RMweb about "What if there had been a World War 100 years ago; would Britain have ever had a Nationalised Railway?".... :mosking:

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13 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

 

 

The troublesome one was the SECR, which desperately needed to electrify in the suburbs, but couldn’t raise capital. It was busy trying to put together an exotic financial deal at Grouping, and I reckon it might have crashed and the SER and LCDR (which both still existed - the SECR was a management committee, not a company) might have gone bankrupt 

 

That has always been my understanding of the SECR. Yet that 1912 report quoted earlier had the SECR as one of the better railways financially. I am puzzled.

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17 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

Compound

 

What you say probably goes to the heart of 'the railway problem', in fact the 'established British industry problem' for almost the entire C20th.

 

As unit labour costs rose, against a background of progressively stagnating sales, the logical thing to do was to reduce the number of labour-units needed to achieve any given output, by investing in better technology, while going all out to flog more services by having a super-good marketing strategy.

 

All of the more 'switched-on' railways, especially when under the brightest of leaders, had a jolly good go at these things, but were to a greater or lesser degree hampered in their efforts by restricted access to capital, and for the coal-haulers especially by the coal-mining industry's conservatism and/or restricted access to capital.

 

I suppose that here the question is whether, in the alternative universe of "No Grouping", it would have been easier or more difficult to improve efficiency and marketing ......... my gut feel is that the answer is "about the same" because the no magic capital tree would have sprung-up to help, but that the consolidations between companies that resulted would have been different ones. That might have included inter-modal transport consolidations too - look at who owned shares in the big 'bus companies by WW2.

 

The heavy electrical equipment industry might provide some parallels: it was never grouped by legislation, but it did progressively consolidate in order to realise efficiency savings and to match itself to available capital, and it did that even though it had a fast-growing, rather than stagnating and then shrinking, market. The result through the period in question was two really big consolidated suppliers (AEI and the reborn version of GEC in Britain), plus a number of somewhat smaller more-niche suppliers, who were gradually swept into the fold.

 

The motor industry is another example of progressive consolidation. The locomotive building industry is a brilliant example of failing to consolidate until far too late!

 

Don't all industries in a capitalist system tend towards monopoly, if not regulated to prevent that? So, maybe we would have got to British Railways at some point, even without legislation to create it!

 

Kevin

 

Yes, either that or a cartel, where the various entities in a business compete at the edges, but out-and-out competition, which is damaging to profitability in the end, is frowned upon. The GN and Midland had agreed to something similar for coal traffic from the Midlands to London in the late 19th century. You can still see this sort of thing today in the occasional supermarket motor fuel price wars.

 

 

 

 

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19 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

The motor industry is another example of progressive consolidation. The locomotive building industry is a brilliant example of failing to consolidate until far too late!

 

Don't all industries in a capitalist system tend towards monopoly, if not regulated to prevent that? So, maybe we would have got to British Railways at some point, even without legislation to create it!

 

 

There was an attempt, at least in Glasgow, with the formation of the Combine (NBL) in 1906 - but there had been a long history of top personnel moving between Neilsons and Dubs, and to a lesser extent Sharps. The locomotive industry is perhaps the classic example of an industry that was feather-bedded by empire so that radical change in the face of new technology was neglected.

 

Unfettered capitalism is pseudo-Darwinian* - the fittest survives but the measure of fitness is determined by the proprietors not the customers. Gresham's law applies.

 

*Not truly Darwinian since the players are aware of the rules of the game and it is therefore played purposefully.

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I remember being chastised at school by an austere communist history mistress about trying to argue “what ifs” in history.

But WiFs do still fascinate me.

I worked a fair bit in Tabora, Tanzania in the 1960s, This German railway town had been selected to be the future capital  of Deutsches Ost Afrika - due to be opened by the Kaiser in the autumn of 1914 - for which a beautiful Bavarian Summer Palace had been readied, on axis with the railway station.

tabora.jpg.a11a5ab9ac2bd28e5a539c2037e89074.jpg

 

By the 1960s the whole ambitious town planning project had matured as a gigantic Canberra-like plan of radiating tree lined avenues seen from the air. Down on the ground, in reality, they were double rows of mature mango trees planted at a pfennig or so  a bundle by local Africans, whose descendants still lived in the scattered indigenous compounds in the scorched semi desert in between the lines of trees.

Tabora had a ghostly air because of the appallingly brutal asymmetrical war (still very much remembered) fought successfully by Von Lettow-Vorbeck across East Africa until (still undefeated) 1918-9. A team of 3 from Horwich lived well (enjoying Manx kippers for breakfast) in the Kaiser’s Palace, then a EAR railway hotel - while maintaining the EAR very beautiful shiny red Garretts

 

In terms of the UK, I imagine much more electrification would have taken place (with the continued influence of the German Siemens company).  
Perhaps also less of today's imbalance between north and south (that was induced after the rapid growth of arterial roads for WD surplus road transport radiating from London).

We may have had a longer survival of Chamberlain Brum style City (Regional) governance with electric transit development of inter-urban networks (eg South Lancashire & Notts/Derbys). There were turn of the century diagrams by visionaries like Ebeneezer Howard and Patrick Geddes advocating such rail based networks based on German ideas.

Letchworth the first Garden City was a product of such thinking.

dh

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1 hour ago, Compound2632 said:

 

There was an attempt, at least in Glasgow, with the formation of the Combine (NBL) in 1906 - but there had been a long history of top personnel moving between Neilsons and Dubs, and to a lesser extent Sharps. The locomotive industry is perhaps the classic example of an industry that was feather-bedded by empire so that radical change in the face of new technology was neglected.

 

Unfettered capitalism is pseudo-Darwinian* - the fittest survives but the measure of fitness is determined by the proprietors not the customers. Gresham's law applies.

 

*Not truly Darwinian since the players are aware of the rules of the game and it is therefore played purposefully.

 

That is the root cause of so many of Britain's C20th woes.

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Had WW1 been averted, Britain's mining industry would have been in a far better shape in 1919 to modernise itself.  Both coal and iron mining was ultimately controlled by the government in WW1.  The urgent demands for Coal and Iron ore lead to reserves being taken far faster than planned and without the necessary development being undertaken to make further reserves available.  After the war, money that needed to be spent on modernising the plant had to be spent on development work instead. 

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JP

 

Where was that financial information about the SECR that you refer to? I can't find it.

 

I do want to get my story on the money side of the SECR straight; for one thing, I don't know whether it, or the two separate companies, issued any shares after the MC came into being.

 

K

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