History of Railways, The by Erwin Berghaus Dust Jacket English Translation 1964
The History of Railways by Erwin Berghaus Dust Jacket English Translation 1964 215 pages Indexed
It was not surprising that Dr Beeching's plan to prune British Railways should have been viewed with apprehension by a country who could proudly claim to have fathered the railways of the world. This most drastic plan was a challenge-for its initiators claimed that it would reintegrate the railway as a leading factor in modern transport. Britain's problem was not unique. In many parts of the older world the railway systems laid out in the nineteenth century had proved irrelevant to the needs of the twentieth. Dr Beeching's plan sets the course for Britain to lead the world again into a second railway age.
This book reminds us of the tremendous debt civilisation owes to the railways, and it is refreshing to read again of the days when they were the undisputed leaders of inland transport, regarded by governments the world over as essential national assets.
Much is said of the changing conditions and needs of national transport. Clearly not all lines built to serve some local purpose a century ago can be expected to fulfil the same purpose now, but there is an obvious danger in seeking to make short branch lines self-supporting financial units. Although unremunerative in themselves, branches often provide essential feeder services to the main lines. In many areas the alternative road services that have been provided on the closure of the branch lines are thought by the local residents to be quite inadequate, and if the present programme of widespread closures is allowed to proceed, there will be some communities a hundred miles away from the nearest railway!
One of the first tasks of the Labour Government after coming into power in 1945 was to nationalise the railways-a decision which was approved in principle by both sides of the House-indeed, Winston Churchill himself had been in favour of taking the step thirty years before. Soon after nationalisation, a programme of modernisation was under way, including large-scale extension of electrification and the introduction of diesel motive power in place of steam.
The original conception was to co-ordinate the various means of transport, each carrying the traffic most suited to it. Unfortunately, some of the more dubious characteristics of prenationalisation days persisted. In the early years, when railways began to show themselves as a serious threat to the prosperity of the canals, a railway company would often buy out the rival canal, only to allow it to decay, and to this day British Waterways are burdened with a legacy of former railway-owned canals no longer fit for service. To rehabilitate them would cut vast sums, and not many of them, once reopened, would contribute usefully to the present-day pattern of transport.
A significant change was the denationalisation in 1953 of road transport. Under nationalisation, this had been making a profit, but in the post-war period the trend of our whole economy altered. Industry is now much more closely linked to the manufacture of road vehicles, and the number of these on the roads has increased in the last fifteen years from three to tcn millions.
The official view is that the railway should play the part most suited to it under modern conditions. But modern conditions often appear to be artificially prejudiced against it. The railways have to pay for the maintenance of their extensive installations, their tracks are not maintained at public expense, as are the roads, and until 1963 they were "common carriers" forced to accept whatever traffic was offered to them, economic or otherwise. Recent proposals have sought to rectify this long-felt injustice, however, and we may now hope to see the railways emerging as the main avenues of transport for heavy, long-distance freight transit and for rapid suburban passenger-train services.
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