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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Greater British Railways

John Woodman

A neat politics driven rebranding of the national railway network gives cause for celebration of a sort - with public craving for government control over the way in which Britain's trains are operated, and importantly the fares charged for journeys long or short.

The UK has the highest train fares of any European country - all resulting from the sharp suited privatisation sanctioned by the Tory government under John Major (in its dying days in office). Ever since the demise of British Rail and its predecessor nationally run network - British Railways - the general public (all ages) have been subjected to endless increases in fares and elimination of what once were bargain incentives - remember 'Day Excursion Tickets' ? Blackpool's heyday in numbers of visitors, saw millions arriving by train taking benefit of the reduced fare structures designed to encourage travel (on the railways) off peak and in bank holiday weekends. Commuter fares were levied in line with working class affordability as opposed to optimising revenue for private train operating companies - many owned by overseas companies and investors which is the norm imposed by John Major.

Tasteful styling and once familiar logo of Britain's national railway network - introduced it should be said by a Labour Government under Clement Atlee in the immediate postwar years. Along with another national institution - the National Health Service.

Rolling stock, ie carriages, were in ownership of the national railway as opposed to siphoned off to a third party contracting business adding their fees and charges to lease of individual carriages to train operators - as is now the case. Naturally the actual trains themselves thus were trimmed of capacity reducing the numbers of coaches leased - with consequent overcrowding on peak hour commuter trains and popular long distance schedules. Annual fare increases across the board were another feature of this new order; usually above published levels of inflation, with knee-jerk declarations by the operator's mouthpiece that increased funding allowed for more investment in trains and associated infrastructure.

Railway stations, like their airport terminal cousins, were transformed into retail and hospitality hubs giving up social space to increase revenue from rented coffee shops, fast food outlets, and all manner of impulse purchase venues in front of platform gates. Platform tickets - allowing families and friends to wave goodbyes at departing relations became a thing of the past. Porters disappeared in favour of rented trolleys, whilst train information and ticketing became more and more of an IT systems delivery or automated setup.

The interior layout of new carriages became the object of computer design geeks vying to see how many people could be fitted into a fixed tubular space devoid of actual passenger comfort and with minimal leg room. The pleasure of selecting an individual compartment, complete with armrests and ample space freed of transiting passengers and external noise - ended up with the scrapped rolling stock deemed unsuited to new cost efficient mantra of train operating companies and their bean counting management and advisors.

What was not spurned or trimmed was the engagement of smart graphics design firms kept busy with generating ever more garish and ill-suited paint schemes needed by the whims of train operator branding. Whereas British Railways/Rail managed to get by with conservatively styled locomotives and carriages lasting for a decade or two - the new private sector era have had to restyle its rolling stock seemingly every few years. Happy paintshops and suppliers. Blackpool Transport itself got a taste for rebranding its bus services (and a few trams) when it inadvertantly signed off on the 'Metro Coastlines' colourful chapter with different bus services being operated by individual branded vehicles and services changing to 'Lines'. Buses came in a profusion of colours and at least transformed the town centre with a kaleidescope of liveries for a decade.

We are told that the 'Great British Railways' branding will mean an updated version of the 1960s British Rail logo but nothing definitive on the paint job planned for passenger rolling stock and motive power ie engines. No doubt some fortunate graphic company is rubbing its hands somewhere in the metropolitan area. A return to the chocolate and cream of the GWR, the malachite green of Southern Region, and the custard and strawberry of long distance coaches would be very welcome - but unlikely. So much has been lost in the rush to privatise Britain's national railways.


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