LT&S (London, Tilbury & Southend line)

– the misnamed ‘Misery Line’ [1]

 

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5 January 2009

The title of “Misery Line” (Focus, January, 2009) is a Freudian slip – it should be the “Miser’s line”.  Users had always enjoyed the lowest railway fares. The London, Tilbury & Southend Railway Act 1852 limited fares to 0.5d compared to the usual 1d per mile. In the British Rail era, their success in retaining the lowest fares in Britain ensured the line was unable to finance modernisation. In 1950, the British Transport Commission (BTC) said “they had long enjoyed a privileged position and were still the cheapest at 0.55d per mile”. Users opposed fare increases, which would still have left fares well below inflation, and below fares elsewhere. Despite this, they called for the line to be modernised before busier routes which had higher fares!

The BTC stated in its 1949 Annual Report that the LT&S would be electrified. However, all modernisation – except for some begun before the War, and deferred because of it – was blocked by Government Economic Policies [3] which stated that BR must limit expenditure, even of its own money, to work essential on safety grounds. They were not even permitted to restore standards to pre-war levels – which independent experts had praised and said were instrumental in providing the transport which gave the country the means to conduct the war, and from which the Government, took a unique slice of profits – in addition to tax and excess profits tax. That money should have funded post-war restoration of rail services. This Directive was not rescinded until 1955 – ten years after the war ended. Meanwhile, vehicle manufacturers cocked a snook at Government Policies by openly exceeding government limits of vehicle numbers to be built for UK transport operators. Little wonder, they were able to skim off rail traffic.

For 20 years, the Transport Tribunal [2] - a Court of Law - was legally responsible for deciding the fares to be charged by BR. Government interfered with a judicial decision in 1952 – which according to the media, and the Opposition - was to please the electorate, and pegged average fares 27 points below the 1948 based RPI. The media accurately prophesied ruin. ‘Fortuitously’, fares held below inflation, also held down the Government payroll and travel costs for 2.56m people: armed forces: 0.85m, civil servants: 1.01m, post office: 0.25m, health service: 0.45m.

Barristers, representing LT&S commuters in that court of law [2], successfully kept their fares at the lowest in Britain. In 1952, they enjoyed a 66% discount to the rest of the country. They did not rest on their laurels, as over ensuing years, their barristers continued to oppose further below-inflation rises.

Under the Tribunal’s reign, an aggregate 9.25 years delay elapsed between application by BR to raise fares and approval - invariably for less than the below-inflation fares BR had sought. By the end of its reign, average fares were 41 points behind the RPI. In 1961, the Tribunal’s President admitted that delays arising from Hearings had cost the BTC money, and that they “took social considerations into account in reaching decisions.  No formula was applied and no attempt made to quantify the social element”. The Acts governing the Tribunal’s remit made no provision for social considerations, or hardship. Their remit was not to impede the BTC paying its’ way. Patently, it did impede the BTC in that task. [4]

BR would have happily accepted all fares pegged 1% below the RPI, and arranged behind the closed doors, rather than in a dilatory public court of law. By privatisation, BR income was down by £11.6bn from that which would have arisen from fares pegged 1% below inflation. [4]

In 1955, BR’s 15-year Modernisation Plan was launched, and detailed planning began quickly in several areas. BR could not raise fares before modernisation – as applies now. They had no freedom to set higher fares after modernisation! Modernisation works on the LT&S began quickly, and the introduction of electric services was set for 1961. It had to be postponed to 1962, for manufacturers to resolve major defects in new trains. Needless to say, BR was blamed for delays and overcrowding ensuing from these defects! Modernisation in the rest of the country was staged over the next seven years or so, and some areas did not see as much progress as the LT&S, despite paying higher fares. The Chancellor stated there would be no public money for modernisation.[5] BR had to fund it by interest bearing loans from the market or from the Treasury. Regrettably, displaying as little economic grasp of business then as now, they would not permit BR freedom in pricing, leaving the dilatory Tribunal in charge. Nor could BR abandon dead wood without public hearings and delay. The private sector – which BR was supposed to emulate - was free on both counts, without let or hindrance.

In 1971 the East Anglian Transport Users Consultative Committee, (the railways’ statutory ‘watchdog’) supported by the Central Users Committee, called for six extra 4-car units for the LT&S, which the Minister rejected, agreeing BR's view that they were not justified. BR said they would cost over £1m to act as a standby for peak breakdowns. The Committees hoped “that somewhere in the country, stock could be found which would be worked into the service and not operated for standby purposes”. Areas operating suitable trains were in other commuter areas. The Central Committee identified no Consultative Committee reporting surplus vehicles anywhere. They were out of touch with reality. As LT&S passengers had long enjoyed sub-standard fares, it was unreasonable to expect BR to denude areas which paid higher fares. [6]

After detailed planning, BR began a second LT&S modernisation in 1993. NetworkSouthEast, of which the LT&S was part, was modernising, despite its subsidy falling to zero. The privatised operators on the LT&S – and all others, except the Gatwick Express operators - were subsidised. InterCity routes which included Gatwick had no subsidy after 1988. In the first year of privatisation, the total railway subsidy doubled. Investment in infrastructure and rolling stock, which was forecast by Ministers would be wholly financed by the private sector, are being funded by the State. This began before the demise of Railtrack, which was not supposed to get any public money!

The documented sources of all these facts, and many other related facts, may be found in “Britains Railways – the Reality”. I have written on various occasions to the media over the past twelve years, demolishing this unwarranted claim by LT&S users, but the media never could find space for so much as a paragraph. Hopefully, my attempts to educate “misinformed of Southend” may be more successful.

 

(This was written as a letter to the Editor of Focus and awaits publication)

 

[1] For further information on the LT&S claim to be the ‘Misery Line’ and the repeated failures of private sector rolling stock suppliers which caused delays and cancellations, see “Britain’s Railways – the Reality”.

[2] A fuller account of claims for lower fares will be found in “Blueprints for Bankruptcy”, which contains the only published summary of the work of the Court of the Transport Tribunal.

[3] Details will be found in “Britain’s Railways – the Reality”, pages 54-55

[4] Details will be found in “Britain’s Railways – the Reality”, pages 92-96, Appendices A & B

[5] Britain’s Railways – the Reality”, pages 57, 61, 176

[6] “Blueprints for Bankruptcy”, page 137

 

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