SURELY the railways were better in the good old days. Weren’t they? All the talk about rail renationalisation under new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn somehow implies it was better in the past when British Rail was in charge. I’ve certainly argued in my new book The Trains Now Departed that there are many things wrong with the modern railway – plasticky trains, lack of catering, endless irritating announcements and so on.
Yet none of these would necessarily be improved by nationalisation. Memories are short. British Rail days were no golden era – trains were often dirty and stations dismal and unkempt. On many lines there was a less frequent service. Above all there was no great culture of service. In the 1950s and 1960s most of us were forced to put up with trains like the one above – at Manchester Exchange.
Whatever the shortcomings of the private railway, it is mostly far better than anything under British Rail. And don’t forget we still have two remnants of the nationalised industry. One is Transport for London – plagued by industrial action. The other is Network Rail – plagued by delays and cost overruns.