On the Wrong Line
Almost every day, the media highlights the gradual collapse of Britain’s railways. The tales of late trains, cancellations for all sorts of ‘wrong’ reasons and soaring costs are never far off the front pages.
Christian’s Wolmar’s acclaimed book, Broken Rails, charted the causes of this collapse, telling the story of the controversial privatisation of the railways pushed through in haste by John Major’s government. From a series of interviews with key players and meticulous research, he unravelled the murky story of rail privatisation and identified why it had gone so badly wrong.
Now, in a rewritten and updated version of the book, entitled On the wrong line, how ideology and incompetence wrecked Britain’s railways, Wolmar highlights the failure of the Labour government to get to grips with the malaise affecting Britain’s railways. Indeed, he documents how, since the accident at Hatfield in October 2000, the situation has got worse. The railway now absorbs more taxpayers’ money - £4bn per year – than ever before, while performance is at an all time low – just eight out of ten trains run on time.
Labour took a great risk by forcing Railtrack into liquidation and creating a new not for profit organisation, Network Rail, out of the ashes. But so far, this gamble does not seem to have worked. On the wrong line looks at the future of the railways and suggests they may be under threat from a round of cuts and closures similar to those introduced by Beeching in the 1960s.
Indeed, the railways could prove a major political headache for Labour should they be returned to power at the next election. Either debts, already at $10bn, will mount up wrecking the economics of the system, or politically damaging cuts will have to be introduced. Wolmar argues, however, that there is a solution to the crisis, a return to a rational railway, bringing back the disparate pieces created by the Tories’ privatisation.
Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specialising in transport and other social policy issues. He has published four previous books and writes regularly for a several national newspapers.
Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He has spent nearly all of his working life as a journalist, and lately was at The Independent where he worked from 1989 to 1997, as transport correspondent and UK Political Correspondent.After graduating from Warwick university in 1971, Christian started his career at Marketing magazine and then the Hampstead and Highgate Express where he was a sports reporter. He later moved to the New Statesman and the London Daily News. He is currently a freelance, working regularly for a variety of publications including the Evenin...
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"Tribune Wolmar's book will warm the hearts of thos - and there are millions of us - who think that rail privatisation was wrong. It provides powerful ammunition to fire at those who cling to the absurdity that it has worked...Wolmar's book is a tour de force."