Best Government For Railways (in the last fifty years)

Discussion in 'Railway History & Nostalgia' started by tbtc, 13 Feb 2018.

Which Government Period Was Best?

  1. 1964-1970 (Labour) Wilson

    1 vote(s)
    3.7%
  2. 1970-1974 (Conservative) Heath

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. 1974-1979 (Labour) Wilson/ Callaghan

    2 vote(s)
    7.4%
  4. 1979-1997 (Conservative) Thatcher/ Major

    4 vote(s)
    14.8%
  5. 1997-2010 (Labour) Blair/Brown

    5 vote(s)
    18.5%
  6. 2010-2015 (Coalition) Cameron

    15 vote(s)
    55.6%
  7. 2015-???? (Conservative) May

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  1. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    Since I don't want to take the "Why are foreign nationalised railways seen in a better light than British Rail?"
    thread (https://www.railforums.co.uk/thread...n-in-a-better-light-than-british-rail.160593/) off topic, I thought I'd start a new one for this.

    Which Government period was best for the railways overall?

    Each period saw some highs and some lows - e.g. you can cherry-pick to make the 1980s Tories looks bad (closed Woodhead, threatened to close the S&C) or make them look good (ECML electrification, opening to Mansfield/ Bathgate, massive investment in Provincial DMUs) - and you could argue that some things happened *despite* politicians, rather than because of them.

    But which Government was best for the railway? Would you rather have a Government that did little (like Labour under Blair/Brown) to one that did lots of different things (many good, many bad) like the previous Conservative administration?

    For me, as a (nominal) Labour voter, I'd probably argue in favour of the Cameron/Clegg coalition as being the best time for rail - lots of proposals, lots of investment, some of the worst excesses of privatisation were curbed... but there's something good and bad about every Government.

    (probably goes without saying, but this is just about railways, rather than a chance to debate other things that those Government or individual politicians did)
     
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  3. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    None of those listed. I would vote for Attlee (Labour), 1945 - 1951.

    (Stretching the timescale by a few years)
     
  4. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

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    I'm with the OP on the Coalition government. A decent period of stable investment and though coalitions are a rare thing in this country if it had continued I doubt we would have had any of the nonsense that's happened in the last couple of years. The LibDems got a thorough kicking in 2015 over student financing (mostly) but while in power they did a half-decent job of keeping the loony-right of the Tory party at bay.

    And having lived through the Wilson/Callaghan period of government I'm struggling to think of anything that happened at government behest during that time that did the country any good in any area of activity.
     
  5. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    It's funny, I'm getting quite nostalgic for a period that finished just a couple of years ago.

    I think that, once the taps were turned on and railway investment became undeniably A Good Thing, before the cuts started.

    And now, whilst we are undeniably better off than five years ago (in terms of what has been built), it feels like we are a lot worse off (in terms of what was promised and then delayed/ cut/ goalposts moved etc).

    I'm not used to defending Cameron but at least we had some relatively decent years of railway announcements.

    Then things moved on and the political focus is more about "who should own/operate the trains/lines" rather than how we practically improve those trains/lines.
     
  6. Failed Unit

    Failed Unit Established Member

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    Interesting you have thatcher / Major in the same vote. Major with his run up to privatisation was bad. The 80s were relatively good.
     
  7. backontrack

    backontrack Established Member

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    I opted for the Labour period between 1997 and 2010. There were some awful accidents and incidents, but at least RailTrack was put in the bin, preventing another Hatfield from occurring.

    After that, we entered a pretty stable period. I think that having franchises like GNER in its heyday helps this period in retrospect.

    Maybe I should have gone with the Coalition era instead, because we did see more in terms of reopenings and a smidge more investment.
     
  8. Wirewiper

    Wirewiper Member

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    I have voted for the Labour Government of 1974-1979, as it was under that Government that the Public Service Obligation (PSO) Grant was established. This recognised the social value of the railway network, ended the programme of wholesale railway closures and put what was left on a more secure financial footing.

    It was interesting that in the following Thatcher government (1979-1991), the railways were the one nationalised industry she did not want to touch. It was during that era that the railway was able to show just what it could do even under state ownership, with the Inter-City sector moving into profit and Network Southeast and Regional Railways transforming themselves and their image, their services having been seen previously as largely basket cases. I don't think this could have happened with the uncertainly of privatisation looming and certainly not without the PSOG underpinning it all.

    I contend that the railways were only privatised under the Major Government of 1992-1997, as his election victory of 1992 caught most people by surprise - not least John Major himself. He needed to deliver a privatisation to please the ideologists on the right wing of his party and the railways were about the only thing left.
     
  9. Lucan

    Lucan Member

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    Mrs T absolutely loathed railways. Pehaps because she remembered them from childhood during the war when trains would sometimes be delayed for hours and the equipment was falling to pieces for lack of proper maintenance. To her it was one of the old, dirty, smoky, strongly unionised industries. She boarded a train only once during her premiership - for the Channel Tunnel opening ceremony, a tunnel she wanted to be a road one.

    She was opposed to privatising the railways; and I can only think that was because, as a true Tory, she believed (rightly or wrongly) that businesses could only thrive if they were run privately, and that is exactly what she did not want to happen for the railways.
     
  10. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    I agree with other posters that the long period of austere, yet comparatively stable management under the Thatcher Government can be lumped in with privatisation under Major.
     
  11. Philip

    Philip Established Member

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    The '97-10 Labour Government. They had a terrible time of it early on with the mess and failures of Railtrack and more seriously some horrible accidents. But with the creation of Network Rail along with investment in stronger and safer trains, things have improved a hundredfold in the aspect of safety; the facts speak for themselves since Potters Bar. Ufton Nervet was very unfortunate as well as tragic; Grayrigg could have been avoided but it's a testament to this investment in safer rolling stock that the casualty list was so low - if that had happened even 10 years earlier it would have been much higher.

    You could argue too that the last Labour government really 'got things running off the ground' with regards to the improvements to infrastructure we're seeing now; the announcement of electrification of the Manchester to Liverpool line in 2009 was under their premiership.
     
  12. Grumpy

    Grumpy Member

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    On the contrary, the Thatcher years were golden years for railways. Apart from her okaying the Channel Tunnel and associated rail investment (the previous attempt had been halted by Labour), several large electrification schemes were authorised such as ECML and Norwich, lots of new EMU's and sprinterisation.

    And if going back to Attlee is allowed then surely a word for the following Conservative administration that okayed the modernisation plan. The Attlee government wasted time and money building standard steam locos to appease the mining unions
     
  13. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    I should have written "can't" be lumped in with the Major years - typo.

    But yes, BR was able to get on with the job at the time and consequently flourished.
     
  14. daikilo

    daikilo Established Member

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    It is difficult for me to judge what was best since about 1970, but I have to admire the years the passenger death-toll has been zero and 2017 when all inclusive was zero.
     
  15. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Frankly - the mid 80's onwards was a great time to be a relatively young railway manager - we actually understood costs and resource implications , we had an integrated system where you could do things quite quickly and we were really going for new traffics.

    Though we cut costs , it was humanely done in my experience , I took out 30 freight jobs in the Newcastle area one day - a good number were more than happy to take early retirement - the rest were given decent alternative railway work - in the area , - later that day I went to a meeting with a well known industrial customer and put in a new series of block trains which won traffic from road , and safeguarded and enhanced some traincrew jobs elsewhere. No issues about track access rights and so on - we just planned new services with the good , practical skills of train planning teams.

    Of course there were falling outs , but we all knew that if we did not agree , a "no tea and no biscuits" interview with very senior management would have been career threatening to say the least - so there was an incentive to work together , giving up some things for payback later. (Trans Pennine freight - when we had some - was one of these compromises)

    Course we had (by and large) , good local Area Managers , who when properly consulted , were absolute diamonds.
     
  16. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Member

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    ^^^^^^
    Got to agree that the sector era gave many relatively young managers the chance to achieve great things for not a huge amount of money relatively quickly.
    One of the keys was that the government of the day gave BR plenty of room to get on with stuff.
    Not everything was perfect. Safety still had a way to go, e.g. Unprotected single lead junctions and an unnecessarily long delay in getting round to fitting centralised door locking, let alone what Clapham taught us about fatigue. But can't blame the politicians too much for that.

    It was also the case that the earlier Marples/Beeching era actually empowered a lot of managers within the industry to make a lot of progress in harnessing new technology and new management methods without undue interference.
     
  17. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Very fair points - one of the better things at the tail end of BR was the developing safety culture ......obviously after Clapham etc - (+ Bellgrove / Newton) - was that we had put too much reliance on the rulebook and not enough on "safety process" , though I had "never do anything that you don't feel right about" - slammed into my young head by some brilliant, seasoned old hands - more was really needed to formalise it. Governemt support on this , if not much else on development , was pretty clear from 1990 onwards.
     
  18. LNW-GW Joint

    LNW-GW Joint Veteran Member

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    I think you also have to look at the people at the top of BR and at the DfT over the years.
    Everybody seems to think Bob Reid 1 (sectorisation)was very good, and I think Peter Parker was too (crumbling edge of quality).
    But there were some real turkeys, including those who came up through the ranks, and I seem to think Richard Marsh (who had been Labour's Transport Secretary previously) was another.
    Of Railtrack/Network Rail, only the last few (John Armitt, David Higgins, Mark Carne) seem to have gelled in any way, and even they have a mixed record in retrospect.
    Do we remember John Armitt's "Electrification is just another interface to go wrong"?
    John Prescott didn't seem to achieve anything as supremo, though TPWS was rolled out on his insistence after Southall/Ladbroke Grove.
    There was a lot wrong in the Tony Blair years ("rail is not a priority"), including Ruth Kelly and Eddington.
    Things began to turn under Adonis, and into the Coalition years.
    The peak was the 2012 HLOS with all the electrification, but sadly the railway has not delivered.
    So now we have Grayling, and "anything but electrification".
     
  19. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    Spot on - Parker was good with Government - "the social contract" - and brilliant with staff and stakeholders .I had the very great priv of going around with him once or twice ,and it was heartening. Bob Reid 1 came over as austere and a little scary , but if you delivered he was superb. HMG trusted him , and a great , great manager.
     

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