The economic historian Robert Millward points out that the popular notion of nationalisation in Europe as a 1940s phenomenon, driven by the perceived failures of capitalism in the 1930s and the successes of the planned economy in wartime, ignores the earlier history of state direction of the universal networks. Gladstone wanted to nationalise the railways in 1844. Even earlier, at their genesis, the railways were dependent on the state to force private landowners to yield right of way to the iron road. The problem of the publicly owned British railways after 1948 wasn’t that they were publicly owned, but that they were expected to do so many things for so many people, often for less than they actually cost, that it was no longer possible to be sure exactly what they were doing with their share of the nation’s resources, or why. What was clear was that they kept failing to meet one of their key targets, which was to break even.
This is intereting. We know that the Conservatives have been ridiculing the idea to re-nationalising the national railways, but when the elections come calling and leadership ambitions to be fulfilled, free market/privatisation will have to take back seat. The Tansport for London is in the process of taking over the running of most if not all of London’s rail network routes. Continue reading