By Matthew Engel
Financial Times journalist and past editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack Matthew Engel travels the length of Britain by train, analysing the railway network as ‘the ultimate expression of Britishness’, reflecting ‘ingenuity, incompetence, nostalgia, corruption humour and capacity for suffering.’
His journey provides the backdrop to a history of Great Britain’s railways, focusing on the political environment rather than the technology. He blames the real and perceived problems which Britain’s railways have faced over the years on political dithering, short-sightedness and incompetence, running from the nineteenth century’s laissez-faire approach which led to the piecemeal development of a tangled network, to political interference in the detailed workings of today’s privatised industry.
He places key events such as the post-World War II nationalisation and the extensive route closures of the 1960s in the context of opinion of the time, and speaks to some of the key players in the privatisation process of the 1990s. ‘John Major had a plan for the railways’, writes Engel after interviewing the former Prime Minister. ‘It was a terrible plan, execrably executed. But … at least he had a plan.’
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