Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Railways, David Hare and SWTrains

At the time of railway denationalisationand for some years afterwards, support for the idea of privatising the railways was shouted down - political correctness comes to mind.
The type of political correctness on this topicwas imho at its nadir a few years back when SirDavid Hare produced his play "The Permanent Way",claiming that private rail companies and politicians not only presided over declining safety standards but maltreated the victims of the resulting crashes. A most misleading point imho;
the suffering from railway disasters, of the injured the bereaved and their families, is always dreadful irrespective of who owns the trains at the time. Just like the suffering caused by a motorway crash is as bad whether Tesco's or The Royal Mail'slorries are involved.

"The Permanent Way" was the worst play I have ever seen. Politcally biased too. The play includedRailway bulletin boards showing the casualty lists from the Paddington, Potters Bar and Ladbroke Grovecrashes but singularly failed to balance this withBritish Railways crashes at Clapham Junction, Hither Green, Invergowrie, etc.
In the interestsof fairness I should add that David Hare's otherplays criticising, the Church, the Law and the Media were all great.

The way in which the Railways were denationalisedof course left much room for improvement. However the comparative brightness of today'sRailway terminii and their cafes and shops, are peferable to the grey drabness prevailing in British Railways' era. Having several railway companies to use today and swap between when one is down, is far more convenient for the actual passengersthan the one monolithic Board we used to be stuck with.

SWTrains had its first full strike in 10 years today. Pre-privatisation commuters, including yours truely, would have had no option but to get on their bikes to work. All the trains would have been stopped more or less over the whole country.
Today however other companie's trains, like those on District Line, Thames Link, Southern and/or South Eastern still ran.
Strikes apart, there are other benefits eg annual season ticket prices are reduced if the train company is slow. These benefits are for the actual users of the railways rather than the politicians, or playrights or for that matter unions. British Rail fare discounts for slowness
would have bankrupted the railways in pre-pivatisation days or resulted in tax increases
yet again.
The reason for today's strike is unclear. What reason that can be gleaned has the ring of pre-Maggie Thatcher union power about it:
The unions object to qualified train driver managers driving the trains so are apparently striking until management promise not to use managers again.
Today's skeleton SWTrain Service was run by manager drivers, so this strike is set to run and run
The given reason for the strike raises a question of principle however. Whose trains are they? The proponents of Railway Nationalisation argue that they are for the community and thereforethe community should have them. If the railway unions can veto who drives and who doesn't, rather than say the matter being referred to theHealth and Safety Executive if SWTrains say that their managers are fine drivers, then the "community" ownership argument was and is a sham.

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