Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Readers' Letters Of The Day

From The Metro:

It's a bit rich Bob Crow complaining about the cost of rail tickets for passengers (Metro, Mon). Where does he think the money comes from to pay for the disproportionately high wages and conditions his members keep going on strike for?

Stephen Ware, Nottinghamshire.

Speak of the Devil…

Labour MP John Denham (Metro, Mon) has forgotten the basic premise of a national railway - that the revenue from more busy routes is used to support less-profitable routes to maintain a national railway network.

The logic of Denham's thinking is massive Beeching-style cuts where railway revenues fall below a certain level.

In any event, the figures he quotes are misleading as no private railway company could operate without public subsidy to the rail industry.

That is precisely why the railways should be nationalised, saving passengers more than £1 billion a year according to independent reports, which will lead to fairer fares and better services.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary.

I'm with Bob on this one.

Yes, his members are probably overpaid slightly, so what? The extra pay they get is a lot less in total than the subsidies being creamed off by the corporates, and surely it is better for each of thousands of staff to get a couple of grand extra (liable to income tax and NIC) than for a few multinationals to scoop the lot and shuffle it offshore tax free?


DBC Reed said...

Right!And so much easier with a nationalised service to funnel LVT from the land served by, and increased in value by, to a state entity than to some private firm which has to make a profit over and above covering its operating costs.
God knows what majority proportion of the public believes in renationalising the railways and all.
It is a sickening sign of the political paralysis of a homeowerist one-party state that the Labour party is too scared to support the public ownership of a natural monopoly which Henry George ,Winston Churchill etc once recognised as necessary.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, you can collect the LVT whether the railways are privately run or state owned, that's a separate issue.

But as Bob points out, if it's got to be subsidised (and in the case of public transport, I see no reason not to), then why give the subsidies to private companies? That seems a bit stupid.

Graeme said...

I think it is well-known that in its last decade as a nationalised industry, British Rail was managed in a quite ruthless way - with managers expected to achieve severe cost-reductions year-on-year - much as a capitalist company would try to do. however, that is not to say that the corporate structure - nationalised or privatised - is the key to the matter. The key is the qulaity of management. BR in its last decade did it well. I do not really think that BR in the 1960s and 70s had a very good record in this respect. Does anyone have a source to indicate whether any of the current franchises is making massive profits?

Antisthenes said...

A nationalised business is for all intents and purposes a monopoly and as such nurtures waste and inefficiency and is operated more for the benefits of those it employs and not those that it serves. The rail network is structurally a monopoly and so it is costly and inefficiently run so nationalisation is not the answer as that will only entrench all that is negative and make things worse. The answer is to find a way to make it more competitive I sure it can be done but no not how. We have seen past and present failures of nationalisation and I can not think of any that could be deemed a success.

I do not believe that the rail network however it is structured will ever not need to be subsidised by the taxpayer many of whom do not use it. As with most loss making enterprises it is doomed to die. As the canals were replaced by the railways so the railways will be replaced. It offers bright entrepreneurs, innovators and technological advances to come up with a viable alternative in which to make a lot of money out of. My prediction is that within one or two decades the railways will be more for fun and enthusiasts than for transportation. In the pipeline already are driver-less cars which will increase road transport capacity considerably and will revolutionise use and ownership of motor vehicles. Also there are ideas of shooting people through tubes between destinations (sounds horrible but apparently it is not and is a much cheaper alternative). No nationalisation is not the answer encouraging free market capitalism is and will in time solve the problem.

Leg-iron said...

Beeching wrecked the railways. His idea was to shut down all the unprofitable branch lines - but those fed into the main lines.

If you now have to get a bus to the main line to get to your destination, why not just get a bus that goes all the way? Saves bothering with changing - and in those days, the bus stations were not necessarily near the rail stations.

The same was true of goods traffic. If you'll have to unload it onto a truck for the last 50 miles, why not just load it straight onto the truck at source? Beeching was an idiot.

For me, the big difference was that trains were faster and you could smoke on them. Now you can't even smoke on the platforms, better roads mean trains aren't all that much faster and buses are far cheaper.

Much as it galls me to say it, Bob Crow is right, but he should mention the Beeching cuts (if he remembers them).

Bayard said...

"The key is the quality of management. BR in its last decade did it well."

but it was still a top-heavy, overmanaged organisation compared to the private companies it replaced. However that is not to say that it wouldn't have gone that way if the railways had remained in private hands. No the main problem that a nationalised BR faced was political control of its funding and, to a lesser extent, of its management. There was, and still is, a powerful "roads lobby" who can and have used their political influence against attempts by the railways to be more competitive in carrying freight. (This is hardly surprising: the railways themselves in their private days acted in exactly the same manner towards the road haulage industry.) The problem with subsidies is exactly the same problem as with nationalisation: political control.

Ralph Musgrave said...


If cutting branch lines has had such a disastrous effect on rail traffic, whence the never ending increased demand for rail travel, and whence the possible need for HS2 or alternative rail improvements?

As to loudmouth Bob Crow, the pay that newly qualified tube drivers get after six months training is the same as newly qualified doctors get after about six year’s training. Being a member of a trade union that can bring a country’s capital city to a grinding halt is undoubtedly very profitable. What makes me puke is that Bob Crow and friends also claim to be socialists.

And in case anyone is interested, the reason Miliband didn’t attend this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala is that he would have had to share a platform with Bob Crow. I won’t be voting for Millipede, but he’s obviously got good tastes.

Bayard said...

"If you'll have to unload it onto a truck for the last 50 miles, why not just load it straight onto the truck at source?"

Because this is not how freight distribution works. To give an example, yesterday I had a stove delivered on a pallet and the driver said that his lorry was the fourth lorry it had been loaded on to and off from. If you are going to use four lorries to move an article of goods, what difference does it make if one or two of them are replaced by a railway wagon?

Lola said...

Roughly what Antisthenes says.

Bayard said...

"The rail network is structurally a monopoly and so it is costly and inefficiently run."

The rail network is not a monopoly: if a single company ran the entire system they would only have a monopoly in rail transport, which is like saying that Ford have a monopoly in making Ford cars. A traveller doesn't need to go by rail any more than he needs to buy a Ford if he wants a car. The problems with BR were not that it had a monopoly, but that it was subsidised and subject to political interference and thus either couldn't or didn't need to do thing in the most efficient manner. De-nationalisation has improved the railways from a user's point of view, the main complaints these days seem to be the cost of fares, the amount of subsidy and the profit being made by the train operating companies, all of which point to a political failure to control subsidy finance rather than any structural failure in the railways themselves.

Antisthenes said...

Bayard. I was contemplating a reply to your ramblings. However they are so devoid of rational objectivity and the kind of nonsense the loony left would spout I leave others to pick through the rubbish you have written and they can decide if they agree with you and therefore more of what is patently not working socialism or me who sees our salvation in free market capitalism and democracy that has been ditched so abruptly in the last many decades hastening our decline.

Bayard said...

Antisthenes, I was contemplating a reply to your outpouring of bigotry, but then I thought why bother, there's nothing logical in there to reply to, just statements of prejudice.

Antisthenes said...

Bayard. The last refuge of a lefty when all else fails and the argument looks lost smear your opponent with a hate label works every time. The left never win an argument but they certainly know how to not have the argument/debate in the first place just throw in an ism or phobia or in my case bigot which I certainly am not biased yes most definitely. However it is a bias for a number of reasons but most of all it is evidence I garnered from past and present knowledge, observation and experience.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I don't know why people get so heated.

You can't just develop theories in a vacuum or apply rules for one type of activity to any other type of activity. Just because "the government" is shit at some things does not mean it is shit at everything. And just because the government is the only body in a position to do some things does not mean it should do everything.

We have the whole of recorded history to draw on and hundreds of different systems which have been tried all around the world.

And the fact is that transport, roads*, railways, airports, electricity pylons etc are by and large state-run, highly regulated (price and quality wise), provision is subsidised and usage is subject to user charges, you can look at whatever country you like, free market capitalist or socialist.

There must be a reason for this, if you ask me, the reason is the monopoly position of land owners.

It would never coincidentally happen that hundreds of people who own the required patches of land on a straight-ish line between Town A and Town B spontaneously decide to join forces and build a road. They'd all try and hold each other to ransom and no road longer than a mile or two would ever be built.

Who is most famous for road, bridge and aqueduct building? The Roman Empire. That was the state doing it, not private enterprise.

The Victorian privately-funded railways needed acts of parliament and compulsory purchase orders or else they would never have been built. And those railways all went bankrupt and got nationalised.

Where private enterprise comes into its own is at the smaller scale - so taxis and buses can easily be privately owned and run (see Malta until a couple of years ago for extreme example).

And while you can have competing bus or taxi drivers using the same roads (in turn competing with private cars), you cannot have competing rail operators using the same stretch of railway, that's bollocks.

This is not left or right wing, you just observe what actually happens and then derive principles from that, not the other way round.

Antisthenes said...

MW. You are perfectly right of course but where the right and left come in is that the current transport system will do better introducing as much competition as possible and will do worse if left policies of total state control are followed. The rail network is a millstone around everyone's neck following right wing policies will see that weight gradually being lifted the left a stifler of enterprise and innovation will keep it there indefinitely.

Lola said...

MW. Strictly speaking it was the Roman military building roads, as it was the English military building roads in Scotland. Plus the road to Holyhead engineered by Thomas Telford in the 19th Century was again in essense a project demanded by military expedience to quell Ireland.

The UK railways were outcompeted by road transport and suffered enormous destruction and writing down in WW2. And nationalisation made lots and lots of mistakes - sticking to steam traction being one. And BR ended up suffering huge producer capture and massive quality reduction.

But you are right, in the railway acts there is evidence of individual landowners trying to hold projects to ransom - many not for financial gain but simple nimbyism or irrational objection (Ludditism). And many railways were built by people at point A wanting to get goods and people to point B. - Stockton to Darlington was just that.

Overall, as long as you have functioning LVT I am not convinced that the state is better at organising this stuff than private enterprise. Or it ends up as boondoggles (Humber Bridge. HS2 etc etc). It seems that a lot of it is driven by the warfare welfare state rather than 'investing for growth'.

Basically, once we are in charge and we introduce proper LVT/CI and kill of all the foul subsidies and mad tax breaks we can set about seeing how little the state can actually do. My bet is that private enterprise (not the current crony type) will come up with some really useful ideas. Completely closing the railways and using the track routes for self guiding private vehicles (say) may be one of those.

Bayard said...

A, 1. Definition of "bigoted" in English: "having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others."

Your words: "However they are so devoid of rational objectivity and the kind of nonsense the loony left would spout I leave others to pick through the rubbish you have written"

All I did was make some points that disagreed with your opinions and you hit me with the above. I think that fits the definition of bigotry.

Why not try replying to my points logically instead of attacking me personally?

Bayard said...


Thanks for bringing up the point that the railways basically had the arse kicked out of them during the war, so it was not surprising that all but one company was losing money when they were nationalised. I would also agree that proper private enterprise would come up with some innovative ideas, like the road-rail wagons - rail wagons that could be hitched onto the tractor unit of an articulated lorry and so required no special infrastructure at the point of transfer- a project that was killed off by BR.

Antisthenes said...

Bayard. "Why not try replying to my points logically instead of attacking me personally?"

If they had been logical I would have done.

DBC Reed said...

I have never seen Bayard attacked for being too left-wing before!

Bayard said...

DBC, Yes, I was surprised, too. I suppose everyone but one person is to the left of someone else. I expect there are people who would see A as "loony left", too.

Mark Wadsworth said...

A, B, DBC, As ever, I always find it useful to try and agree the "facts" first, I'm not interested in working backwards from fancy theories.

Establishing, on the evidence, "the government" is shit at some things does not make the observer right wing any more than realising that some things can only be pushed through collectively makes the observer "left wing".

Also, if one is being attacked by both sides, that is usually a clue that one is actually correct.

Another case in point is European style healthcare systems...

Lola said...

MW. I absolutely love 'being attacked by both sides' and if I can so engineer it, especially at the same time. Joy.