Ride with me on “The Early Bird” by the Railway Companies Association

An interesting little booklet, dating from the immediate post-WW2 years when the railways were facing increasing competition from road transport. An account of a night freight train from London to South Wales is used as a setting device for a piece on the regulation of freight charges. The “Square Deal” campaign was run by the four railway companies to bring political pressure to bear to streamline regulation on the railways, mainly from the point of view of removing outdated legislation over the carriage of freight, especially the regulation of freight charges. The new road haulage competitors were seen as having an unfair advantage in being able to set economic freight charges without also having to bear the burden of paying the full cost of infrastructure; a problem that the railways have been faced with ever since the 1940s – and don’t forget, at the time this booklet was produced, there were no motorways.

Interestingly, the line that the companies were taking was to pose the question – does the public want a railway system that was regulated, nationalised and subsidised from taxation, or did they want a railway where free enterprise would allow equal competition with road transport which they saw as allowing the railways to pay their way and generate profits for re-investment in a modern rail system. The present-day rail system in the UK, where private sector providers are subsidised with the intention of lining shareholders’ pockets, whilst the state still has to carry the burden of the infrastructure, and the self-supporting, vertically integrated railway is a fantasy, would never have occurred to the companies of 75 years ago.

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