Letter: Private railways did not work

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The Independent Online
THE four letters on the effects of privatised railways (20 November) reflect many received by the Times a century ago.

Governments, particularly those led by Gladstone, increasingly took control of the railway companies because of their cavalier attitudes. The nation was fed up with independent timetables, non-connecting trains and practices of no help to passengers. By 1890, ''competition'' was a dirty word, and the first National Railways Board was formed. Waterloo was then a terminus for five companies, each with its own ticket office and timetables; and one company, the LSWR, was in minute-by-minute conflict with the GWR operating from Paddington. Similar rivalry between the LNWR and the GNR led to dangerous races from Euston and King's Cross to Scotland, and rolling stock designed more for speed than comfort.

Those seeking the next turmoil need look no further than how the inter-war governments regulated to relieve the bus chaos. Then at why London's citizens created the Metropolitan Board of Works, forerunner of the London County Council and Greater London Council. It was because too many uncontrolled contractors were digging up the streets. Also worth considering is why all the original gas, light and coke companies were municipalised in the 1890s.

We are reliving the frustrations of the past through a government eschewing research because the results would interfere with its dogma. Most of what it pursues has failed before, and we will have to revert to all the previous alleviations, and pay for them again.

In the meantime, will someone tell us what will happen should one of these choice bits of private property go bankrupt? Particularly the one owning the Forth bridge.

Ralph Gee