UK Transport

As its title suggests UK Transport covers all aspects of transport in the UK. It is written from a libertarian perspective, in other words, that the less the State involves itself in the running, regulation or funding of roads, railways or anything else - the better.
links open windows
This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by
Saturday, June 01, 2002

June news stories

30 June
Bid to derail Flying Scotsman - one of these days someone is going to get killed
Sixsmith in Whitehall TV show row - the dying embers
Stoking up the great Railtrack engine to the tune of £21 billion - points out that the solution is worse than the problem
Now Cook is set to quit RMT
RMT boss wants to force Prescott out of his home
Government vetoes railway pay offer
PPP plan for Tube 'would risk repeat of Railtrack'
Crash overshadows gains in rail safety
29 June
Rum and Ribena woman jailed for jet uproar
Jail for railway pickpocket who stole £30,000
Confusion reigns on status of Network Rail
State bodies go to war over funding for Network Rail plus Graphic
28 June
Will rail passengers benefit?
Fiasco over Railtrack costs £21bn
Most drivers break speed limits
Rail debt is not stopping here - Patience Wheatcroft
On old sleepers - Times Editorial
27 June
Railtrack reinvents itself
Q&A: What future for New Railtrack?
How do you relaunch the railways?
Prescott quits rail union
26 June
'Spads' not the only railway danger
The true cost of railway safety - actually these are both rather old stories which I encountered while surfing the net.25 June
Amtrak faces Wednesday shutdown
Politicians hold key to Amtrak rescue
Removing signals 'would make roads safer'
UK transport plan has '£15bn hole'
'Crisis over' for Virgin train services
Rail union 'to cut cash to Labour'
Outrage as drink driver's sentence cut
Tube drivers pass red signals
24 June
Delays after closure on District line
Teenager loses limbs in train accident
Rail crisis turned into BBC drama
Railtrack deal delayed
Network Rail to get access to billions
Shareholders face further delay in Railtrack payout
New bid to police trains
23 June
The Comet still provides good service
Muggers jailed for rail raids 'orgy'
Railways may need extra £10bn
The reluctant middle-class militant - a Railtrack shareholder sues
21 June
Vandals' bid to kill train driver
Rail worker killed by train
Eurostar's symbol of a distant dream suggests railways are on the wrong track
Airport staff strike threat 'receding' after union talks
Europe's troubled skies
Jets miss by seconds as air traffic system fails
Livingstone waits for results of Tube hearing
19 June
Air travel hit by strike chaos
Speed camera rules 'will cause deaths'
Air controller's safety row with budget airlines
Ryanair accused of putting pressure on pilots
Complaint on safety is loony, says Ryanair
Irish aviation authority satisfied with record of airline
How Ryanair puts its passengers in their place
BA slashes fares in low-cost battle
Travellers' tales
Cheap fare tips
Cheapest tickets are a rare find
MPs call for 20mph speed limit
Rail services face disruption
Women 'save the Tube'
17 June
Budget airlines pilots 'cut corners'
Disruption as freight train derails
'Excessive' heat brings rail chaos
M25 'needs tolls to stop jams'
Railtrack tax deal to cost a further £150m
16 June
Rail industry raps 10-year transport plan
Drivers face new onslaught of road bumps and speed cameras
Serious flying incidents over Britain have doubled
15 June
Potters Bar police hunt rail workers
Rural lane limit should be 40mph, say MPs
'No Heathrow in Essex'
Driver forgets half his train
14 June
Railtrack set for takeover deal
Air control safety complaints soar
Congestion charges in the South East - letters in the Times
Another air traffic alarm
13 June
Jambusters eye cellphones
Darling to meet Paddington survivors
Air traffic workload 'threatening safety'
Rail regulation plan scrapped
Power to the car poolers
Whips attempt to 'silence' key critic Dunwoody
Summer strikes spell chaos for airline passengers
Rail safety trainer is suspended
Stansted 'to get new runway'
Mayor seeks Tube funding review
Parking law makes criminals of us all - Simon Jenkins in the Evening Standard
8-12 June
Jarvis defends work record as profit soars
Why a return to state ownership would not deliver a golden age of rail - Telegraph editorial
Labour's jammed-up thinking - another Telegraph editorial
Nuclear fuel train hits lorry on level crossing
Chain of contracting out on railways
Tolls to tackle M25 jams - report
Potters Bar victim demands full inquiry
Big profits rise for Jarvis
Ryanair 'will be biggest in Europe'
Drivers without passengers may face M-way delays
DVT campaigner urges airline action
Record profits for Ryanair
Capital's motorists suspect a red plot
Exclusive: railway workers scandal
How to get a job on our railways
Are you listening, Mr Darling?
Paddington survivor: I want my files
Revealed: tricks of the traffic wardens
EU will enforce late-train refunds
Brussels to rule on £9bn Railtrack bid - EU to rule out Network Rail? I think not.
Gray paves way for airport and Borders rail links - new services in Scotland
Ryanair profits to hit record after passenger numbers soar by 45%
Still no apology from Blair over dirty tricks email
7 June
'Smear' row adviser apologises
Outrage over Labour dirty tricks email
Labour is forced to apologise over new e-mail controversy
Passengers face 13th rail strike
BAA in talks about £65m backing for air traffic control
Formerly canny Danny Corry
Airports Authority stuck on the runway
Regulators leave BAA in the air
BAA offers £65m rescue plan for Nats
Trains worse than before Hatfield
Trains late but fares still rise above inflation
America's Amtrak railway hits the buffers
The smearing of victims
Survivors group demands Blair apology
6 June
Byers apologises to crash survivors - yet more stories of dirty tricks. Unbelievable. Is it pathological I wonder to myself?
Byers apologises for 'smear' e-mail
Dirty tricks
Rail network 'still unreliable'
Still room for train improvements
Rail punctuality still poses problems
Prescott in a jam over failure to meet promise on car journeys
Prescott fails his own test
Don't shoot the messenger, says defiant Dunwoody - goodness, this story has introduced me to an entirely new experience - agreeing with Gwynneth Dunwoody
Record £12.5m fine for SWT
Women make the Tube run on time
London shows what can be done - Ken Livingstone
5 June
Several injured as train derails
A transport policy that leaves me at the wheel - Simon Jenkins
Tube rises to the occasion
4 June
Train evacuated in fire alert
Darling has at least set off on the right track - Libby Purves in the Times
Blair urged to clarify who runs transport
Rail fare discounts - whingeing
Traffic congestion - I hope I get round to posting about this. This is truly awful.
3 June
No 10 corrects Darling over Birt criticism
Darling had to move over before the disaster - he's got previous form
Darling to swap toll motorways for city charges
Darling rules out toll motorways - because there is no room. Now, I seem to remember (way back in my parliamentary researcher days) Chris Chope, then a Transport minister answering a written question about this. If I recall correctly roads cover about 1% of Britain's land mass. Room is not the problem.
Darling ditches Birt's motorway plan
'I'm ready for slings and arrows' - interview with Alistair Darling
Darling’s past as a car hater - yes, but what does he think now?
Travelling hopefully: can Darling's solutions work?
Focus: And for his next trick... - Times analyses Darling's prospects of success.
Rail fares under fire as discount is withdrawn - see High fares are good for you
The blossoming of Theresa May - ugh.
Airlines battle for control of German skies - Lufthansa first-class passengers get a complimentary chocky bar. So, that's why they're losing money.
Prestwick could get Ryanair base - it'll be interesting to see what Freedom and Whisky have to say about this.
Rail firm crippled by strike
'Ton-up' court puts brakes on by-pass speedsters
Moving forward on transport - some special pleading from Beardie.
Rail firms criticised for big fare rises
The awful truth about Mr Byers - Peter Oborne in the Spectator

Friday, May 31, 2002

In the news

Byers 'knifed in back' says Prescott - sour grapes.
Darling warned of Railtrack rough ride - is this the shortest honeymoon period in history? The Railtrack scandal has not gone away.
Sixsmith tries to sell story that will 'finish' Byers
Fewer flights lift punctuality
'Our roads are Third World standard' - no they aren't.But John Dawson, AA's director of policy, said: "There's a serious underlying problem here. Can the local authorities, elected on a short-term basis at a political level, actually be trusted to understand the long-term infrastructure problems?"
PPP 'will cost more than estimated' - just for comparative purposes. The government will be spending £1bn a year. LU's average annual loss is between £150m and £200m.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

It's all the EU's fault (again)

This morning Natalie Solent picked up on a letter in the Telegraph on the separation of track and train and suggesting that it is all the fault of the EU. She suggested that I hadn't got an opinion on the matter. Oh, but I do Natalie. Oh, but I do.

[She also pointed out that it was posted at 6.43am suggesting an excess of keeness on my point. The truth is rather more mundane - I just happened to wake up early this morning and, realising that I wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep, decided that I might as well do some blogging.]

This has caused some consternation over at Emmanuel Goldstein's usually good, always profound Airstrip One.

Emmanuel thinks that it is all the fault of the EU and the infamous 91/440 Directive. I disagree and this is why:

The Directive calls for, amongst other things, accounting separation between operations and infrastructure.

The British Regulation derived from the Directive calls also calls for accounting separation.

The British legislation, the Railway Act 1993 also calls for accounting separation. Fair enough. But it also demands organisational separation and the franchising of passenger rail services. Well, actually it doesn't specifically rule out vertical integration but when I asked a top rail lawyer about this he explained that the barriers in the way of vertical integration were considerable. For instance, Railtrack has a safety role that could be compromised. Not only that (and this is my interpretation) but if you did happen to buy the track on which your trains ran you could still end up losing the franchise at the end of its term.

No other country has done it this way. France, for instance, did split SNCF which runs the trains and RFF which owns the infrastructure. But RFF then buys infrastructure maintenance exclusively from SNCF. As I understand it there is a little bit of franchising in the Netherlands and Germany. I don't know about Germany but it certainly didn't work in the Netherlands.

Having said that it is a stupid Directive. Vertical fragmentation doesn't work. The Directive certainly hasn't done any good but then again, away from Britain it hasn't done much harm either.

There is sort of an argument (put to me by Brian Micklethwait) about gold-plating: the British practice of taking typically vague and wooly EU Directives and interpreting them in the harshest and clearest way possible. Maybe, but I still can't see how that would demand franchising.

I would dearly like to say something like "What's more important: membership of the EU or getting to work?" I just don't feel I can.

One of this morning's reports included the line "They [the Transport Select Committee] said the government's failure to face up to the falling cost of motoring was "incomprehensible", if ministers were serious about persuading people to switch to trains and buses."

It occurs to me that in many cases not only does mass (I don't call it public) transport not compete with the car but that it can't. Many journeys, for instance, are tangental (outskirts to outskirts) rather than radial (outskirts to centre). Here there is no viable mass transport alternative. In fact, the alternative is no journey at all. Much the same applies to the school run, local errands and the sorts of journeys made by builders, deliverymen and other traders.

The reverse also applies. For the vast majority of commuters the only viable alternatives to the train are to move house or move job.

A Libertarian Transport Manifesto

For some time I have felt the need to write down in one place what my ideas are, how I justify them and what I think the consequences would be. Hence the need for a manifesto. This is very much a work in progress. What I intend to do is to write bits of this when I get the time (and inclination) in the hope that eventually it will take a more or less complete form.


  • Abolish the Department of Transport or whatever it's called this week
  • Massively reduce general taxation and specifically the classification of commuter travel as a benefit

  • Complete privatisation of the road system - probably by handing it over to those who have own bordering property.
  • Complete abolition of all laws connected with roads, including drink-drive laws, insurance laws and vehicle regulations

  • End all subsidy
  • Abolish all legislation with the exception of the Acts that created the railways
  • Abolish the HSE
  • Abolish all safety legislation

  • Privatise (properly this time) NATS
  • Abolish the Civil Aviation Authority

Planning (because it is related)
  • Abolish all planning regulation
  • Make it possible for victims of new developments to receive compensation through the courts


Initially, there would be widespread closures as heavily-subsidised but sparsely-patronised services got what has been coming to them for many a long year. Many fares on more profitable routes would increase. My guess is by about 50%.

There would be a massive re-organisation of the railways. The wheel/rail split would end more or less instantly. Commuter lines would be bought up by Japanese operations. Adopting Japanese practices, systems and technology and over a period of 20 years of so, punctuality, capacity and cleanliness would massively improve. We would see the introduction of smart card ticketing at a stroke abolishing queues at ticket offices and rows over who's services passengers used.

With planning restrictions lifted railway companies would buy up tracts of land and develop them around a core station. Using the projected profits from development they would be able to invest in state of the art train, track, power and control systems.

With commuter travel no longer classed as a benefit landowners would have every incentive to pursue voucher schemes like the one I have proposed. This would make all sorts of schemes, such as CrossRail, Chelsea-Hackney and Thameslink 2000 viable. It might well make overhead line electrification economic for the first time.

I am unsure as to what would happen on long distance routes. The fact that InterCity was the only profitable branch of British Rail would tend to indicate that it may well have a future. However, I am cautious about this because with a more competitive situation on the roads there is every chance that high-speed, high-capacity routes could wipe the floor with rail. There's only one way to find out.


Freed from the dead hand of the state, toll booths would spring up just about everywhere. As likely as not they would charge at a rate that would maximise capacity. There would be a race to find the most effective electronic charging technology. This would be a fiercely competitve multi-cornered fight until one technology won out and became the standard. Buses, coaches and jitneys would get an enormous shot in the arm and dominate the market in cities. Having said that, compensation payments made by users of diesel engines might just make trams and trolley buses feasible again.


Yesterday, I stated that I was not entirely convinced about the claim that Eurostar trains were about to join East Coast Main Line. Wrong. Tim Hall e-mailed me to say:
'tis true. There were six Eurostar sets built for the though services from Paris to the north and Scotland. This was abandoned when they realised the services would never be economically viable. (Which they might have been if customs and immigration hadn't insisted they couldn't carry domestic passengers en-route like international trains on mainline Europe do, but that's another story).

GNER has been leasing three of the six sets for some time - looks like they're now hiring the remaining three, which had been sitting around for several years doing nothing.

Better than the fate of the coaches built for the overnight trains - these spent several years wrapped in plastic on an army base in Worcestershire, before being sold at a knock-down price to Canada.
I was rather smug last week when I had a go at the Institute of Directors. Now I know what it's like to have the boot on the other foot.

In the news

What are the challenges facing the new transport secretary?
Transport challenge 'will take time' - you bet it will.
Darling faces daunting in-tray
Byers 'still a key witness' in potential Railtrack trial
What Darling must do to get the railways working again - written by Phillip Beck, former Chairman of Railtrack, known as the Invisible Man. Some useful insights and quite a lot of special pleading for engineering.
A word in your ear about the road ahead, minister
Now can Blair make Mandy chancellor? - BoBo stirs it."Byers incarnated all the vacuity, the spin-driven vanilla-flavoured candyfloss nothingness of this Government."
Victims of the worst post in Whitehall - history of the Ministry of Transport. By the way, Barbara Castle did not introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts. That was done under Margaret Thatcher.
Replacement takes time and money - no direct link, it's a pop-up. Author makes much the same points that I usually make about vertical integration. Not sure about the role of the EU though.
Forget Byers, Brown should take the blame - Anatole Kaletsky
'Timeshare' private jets take off - meanwhile the private sector just gets on with it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

A brief history of UK railways

1825 Opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway
1829 Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Usually regarded as the first "proper" railway. On opening day William Huskisson MP run over and killed by a train. Early evidence that politicians and railways don't mix.
1840s The Railway Boom. Hundreds of bills laid before parliament. Hundreds of lines started. Thousands left penniless.
c.1863 Opening of the world's first underground railway in London. Steam powered would you believe. Forerunner of todays Metropolitan and Circle lines.
1890 Opening of the City and South London Railway. World's first all-electric tube railway.
late 1890s Underground Railways Boom. Tens of bill laid before parliament etc. etc.
c.1900 Invention of the electrified tram. Wrecks both finances of both the overground and underground railways.
c.1904 Several London underground lines taken over by Charles Tyson Yerkes - dodgy yank financier. Still, they get built and the network (narrowly) avoids going bust.
1906 Electrification of the Circle Line.
c.1911 Beginnings of main line electrification south of the Thames
c.1911 Main bus company and underground merge. Yes, integrated transport was invented in the private sector.
1911-1948 Age of Ashfield and Pick. These two men shaped and dominated London's Transport.
1914 Outbreak of the First World War. Railway manages to get 250,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force to France without a hitch. Government takes over the railway.
1919 Appointment of Eric Geddes as first Minister of Transport.
1923 Grouping. Forcible amalgamation of Britain's railways into 4 main companies. Not a conspicuous success. Pre-War timings not attained until the late 1920s. Government also capped profits, set charges and prevented competition with road. Decline starts.
1933 London Underground nationalised (sort of)
1939 Outbreak of World War Two. Government takes over the railway once again. Caps fares but promises to reimburse the companies. Doesn't.
1948 Nationalisation of the railway
early 1950s Nationalised railway starts to lose money
1955 Modernisation Plan. Railway given gazillions to build marshalling yards and switch from steam to diesel and electric. In one great leap forward railway to start making money again.
1962 Losses continue. Beeching Report. Start of closure of a third of the railway
1966 Electrification of the West Coast Main Line
1968 Minister for Transport, Barbara Castle stops closures.
1976 Introduction of the High Speed Train. At 125mph still the fastest diesel in the world
1983 Abandonment of the Advanced Passenger Train. 155mph and tilting.
c.1990 Electrification of the East Coast Main Line. Trains meant to tilt and have a top speed of 140mph. Still only do 125mph.
1993-7 "Privatisation". In reality fragmentation and franchising.
1995 Channel Tunnel opens
c.1997 Start of West Coast Route Modernisation. Tilting trains and 140mph top speed. Italian technology.
2001 Railtrack goes bust. WCRM trains limited to 125mph.

Some observations on Byers's End

The Prime Minister said "Steve has taken the right decisions for the future"

Tosh. The problem with the railway is fragmentation and franchising. He did nothing to change that. His decision to nationalise Railtrack was the transport equivalent of re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The problem with roads is that there aren't enough of them and use is not rationed. We are no closer to turning this around than we were a year ago.

On helmets for cyclists

After the comments ROSPA spokesperson Rodger Vincent said: "To have someone who is supposed to have influence saying this is counter productive."

Rather depends on what you are trying to produce. If you are trying to produce a society of slaves to trendy safety fascist mantras then yes, indeed it is counter productive.

On the other hand if you want to see a society of free individuals, prepared to take responsibility for their own lives then this is just what the doctor ordered.

I've got into Libertarian Samizdata. Yippee! This is what I wrote:

So he's gone. Stephen Byers, formerly Secretary of State for the Department of Local Government, Transport and the Regions has resigned. And just when I thought he'd never go. You just can't tell.

Now, all the speculation is about who should replace him. Should it be invisible Charles Clarke? Or should it be Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon? Neither is about to set the world alight. Of the two, Hoon, would seem to have the best credentials to step into Byers's shoes: not only can't he manage the news, but I understand he's rapidly buggering up the armed forces.

But I have got a much better and simpler idea. One that will almost certainly solve our transport problems.

Abolish the Department.

It only goes back to 1919. Before then we had the best railway in the world. We had already built most of the tube. Electric trams, taximeter cabs and motorised buses plied the streets of the capital looking for trade.

And then Transport got a Ministry and a Minister: Eric Geddes. It got off to a bad start - forcibly re-organising the railways and hamstringing their profits. So started their steady decline. And after the bad start things just got worse. London Transport was nationalised halting development in its tracks. Not satisfied with that they then decided to nationalise the whole railway. The decline just gathered pace. And so on and so forth.

Luckily the Ministry's incompetence was masked by the growth of road transport. But even there motorways were built too late and in insufficient numbers.

Almost every move the Department has ever made has made things worse: expanding the railway, then cutting it; expanding the road network then slamming on the brakes. They couldn't get nationalisation right. They couldn't even get privatisation right.

Politicians are not part of the solution: they are part of the problem.

In the news

This resignation is Blair's Major moment - excellent analysis by Daniel Johnson. Rather overstates the role of the Telegraph and IDS.
Byers had passed too many signals at danger
Critics say problems won't vanish with new minister
The truth about Byers - Telegraph editorial
Commuters will still be waiting no matter who takes charge
Resigned to fate
Wanted: transport minister - must have brains, courage and cast-iron political clout - excellent article from the ever excellent Neil Collins.
Cycling tsar mocks 'martian' helmets - for once Norris is right.
Labour spends less on transport than the Tories - and gets less for it one might add.
Eurostar trains join East Coast line - I am not entirely sure I believe this. There are already some Eurostar sets on the line and have been for some time. They're hardly the sort of thing you keep in storage for a rainy day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Byers resigns!

Flip! I don't believe it. Mind you I've been proved wrong before. I thought they'd just plough on to the reshuffle and bury the news then. So, why now? OK, so he's been caught lying again but that's hardly news. So who are they going to find to replace him? I really don't know. Labour's parliamentary ranks are hardly chock-a-block with talent - or indeed people who can write their own name. This indeed was one theme I always wanted but never quite got round to exploring: Byers may be crap but he's better than the alternatives.

Utilities fight hole-in-road charges

Loath as I am to support the Government, on this occasion I feel forced to. Digging holes in the road costs other people money. Roads are blocked, drivers are delayed and it takes just that much longer (and therefore that much more) to get things done.

Much as, being a libertarian, I am keen to support private enterprise I am not going to support self-pitying nonsense like this from Thus: "This is a disguised tax on utilities and telecoms companies. It also undermines attempts to create a broadband internet structure across Britain." As a potential broadband consumer I see nothing wrong in paying the full cost of that service. That's how it should be in the real world. If it is truly not possible to create a broadband network without creating chaos on the roads (something I doubt) then maybe it shouldn't be created. Maybe, the value of all those missed and delayed trips is indeed greater than the value of the broadband network.

By the way they're right about it being a disguised tax. The one group of people who will most certainly not benefit from taxes on the holes in the road are the ones affected by it.

Road tolls seen as tax on business

In a letter to the Times its author writes: "It will add a huge cost to companies with large numbers of mobile workers"

If tolls work as they ought to work (a big if) then mobile workers will be able to get around faster and more predictably. That way they will be able to fit in more calls per day and hence make more money. Everyone wins.

Competition Time

Now, I know I can be a bit slow on the uptake but can anyone explain to me why this Telegraph cartoon is funny? Now it seems to depict Stephen Byers as the man on the Men at Work sign. But his shovel is reversed. Why is that funny? Is it funny? Is it Byers at all? Do I need a sense of humour transplant?

Prize? How about warm glow of satisfaction?

In the news

Road tolls seen as tax on business
Utilities fight hole-in-road charges
Eurostar goes on wrong line - but read the last paragraph: A Railtrack spokesman said today: "There was absolutely no safety issue involved here. An error by a signalman sent the train on to the wrong track." The thing that impresses me is that the train was only 25 minutes late.
The issue New Labour can no longer duck - Christian Wolmar (see posts passim) makes some good points along with a few bad ones.

Monday, May 27, 2002

More on the rules of the private road

James Haney writes:
I agree with you it's hard to determine what the rules of privately
owned roads would be.

I tend to think, however, that rules of privately owned roads would be focused much more directly on results. Impotent, symbolic gestures
would be less likely, I hope. (Presumably also congestion pricing would help make driving safer and more pleasant without a lot of nannyism.)

I don't mind rules when they make sense to me. Here in El Paso, sometimes you will see signs saying "Road Work Ahead". These signs are
also often accompanied by the sign "Fines doubled when workers are present". When I see that sign, I think to myself, "Good, those workers
deserve to be safe."

But other times, you see speed limits that don't make sense, road designs that cause unnecessary congestion or frustration to drivers, a
20-foot stretch of road that suddenly has a 15-mph speed limit (school zone). Here in El Paso the urban planners have decided that it should
be impossible to make left turns except in very limited circumstances, so you end up having to make a lot of U-turns and being forced to figure
out where you can turn instead of being able to focus on what's in front of you on the road.
James, you are so sensible. You see, over the years I have become so fed up with one pettyfogging restriction after another I would even fume at the perfectly sensible rule designed to protect road workers.

That Transport Plan

It really is about time I posted something on the Transport Plan and its critics.
The government's much-heralded 10-year transport plan has been attacked by MPs as "incoherent" and "incomprehensible".
So, it's taken them a year (or is it two) to work out it doesn't make any sense?
But the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) hit back, saying the plan was meant to be a strategic document, not a policy plan.
When is a plan not a plan?
Committee chairman, Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody, said: "The United Kingdom needs a long-term achievable strategy desperately.
Sigh. Have we learnt nothing? Was there a strategy when Stephenson, Brunel et al built the rail network in this country? Did Charles Tyson Yerkes (the American founder of the Tube) need a Strategic Agenda? Of course not. In a low-tax and largely unregulated economy they found a gap in the market and filled it. No great strategy and very little government. And what of our previous goes at coming up with "strategies"? I posted up the history of one of these over on Libertarian Samizdata not so long ago. Suffice to say, the 1950s Modernization Plan was an expensive flop.

So, why is it that non-strategic, chaotic free enterprise can come up with the goods when sensible, informed central planning can't? If you really want to know read Hayek (not that I have ever read him myself you understand - I've just listened to people who have). But this is my best guess:
  • Governments don't know everything. Try as they might it is not possible to centralise all information about the past, present and the future. Information is dispersed. The price mechanism tells us what is in demand and what is possible far better than the State can.
  • Governments are short term. They have an event horizon of no more than 4 years. Because then they have to get re-elected. Free enterprise has a much longer vision so can plan for the long term.

In the news

Byers will back motorists - the transport plan gets changed
Critical MPs just don't understand, says Byers - same sort of thing from the Telegraph
Transport plan needs early service - same again from the Times. Only the spin has changed.
The promises made by Prescott
Train overcrowding is 'breaching rules'
Potters Bar points were 'badly adjusted'

Sunday, May 26, 2002

In the news

MPs condemn transport plan - and boy, do they do it. But one thing bugs me. Why is this news today, a Sunday?
Railtrack says faulty installation was cause of Potters Bar crash - if true this is really bad news for Jarvis