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on 24 March 2014
This book by Tanya Jackson is interesting and well written and worth the price. However I would say that the title leaves you expecting something different and a bit more overall.

Jackson does write in the introduction this was originally to be titled "British Rail - a passenger's journey" but was changed because they felt it confusing. This title would definitely have served the book better, in my opinion.

The book starts around the development of the railways, their gradual amalgamation, the grouping of 1923 and nationalisation. A good chunk of the book is concerned with the development of passenger rolling stock, mainly the MK1, MK2, MK3 and MK4 carriages. The book goes into details about technical developments of the rolling stock and often tells interesting stories about BR. There are some gems of info in there, such as the invention of the pandrol clip for sleepers but this is only mentioned in the context of improving the riding qualities of the carriages.

Jackson does cover some other issues, such as how BR changed customer service. The truly innovative creation of the railway corporate scheme and how BR aggressively marketed itself against road and railway and closes with the disintegration of BR.

Overall I feel it is worth reading but if you want to read about BR infrastructure or the freight side then you need to look elsewhere.
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on 3 October 2013
Although the book is about British Rail it also contains enough historical information to give a framework to how it came about and the challenges British Rail had to face. The author is a little bias but with British Rail as a subject its difficult not to be. What was interesting was her analysis of Dr. Beechings work and the cuts that came before and after it. Her journalistic training means the book is readable even if it is full of TLAs (Three Letter Acronym), there is a glossary of them at the back. As British Rail Carriage Steward of HMRS (Historical Model Railway Society)one would expect her to have detailed knowledge of British Rail coaching stock but I was surprised to find a mention of double-deck coaches being run on UK main line.

If ever you travel by train and have wondered why something is done the way it is you'll probably find the reason in here.
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on 3 September 2014
In writing this book Tanya Jackson readily acknowledges Modern Railways magazine as a big source of her information and this shows through in the narrative. That's not to be critical: Modern Railways has always offered informed, thoughtful coverage of the UK railway scene and that's something that could be said to apply to this book but only in the areas that the author has chosen to do so. I worked for BR from 1978 onwards - and am still in the allegedly privatised industry today - and recognise much of what she describes. The appalling attitude of many staff in the early 1980's was very real and very shocking to someone like myself who had parents as publicans and who taught me to treat customers as kings! Her view that this approach by the staff was engendered by customer attitudes shaped by a very hostile media is not one that I'd considered before. It is indeed the case that the press were then, as now, almost genetically incapable of saying anything positive about the railway industry despite the vast amounts of taxpayers' money being invested in it. One could go on about this for hours but in my opinion BR was indeed hamstrung by being state run and that in itself makes me less than convinced that it was a success as the back of the book cover proclaims. BR did what it was remitted to do with completely inadequate funding, political support and in the face of voracious competition from the new motorway network which had yet to choke itself into utter uselessness. If the structural changes of 1993 hadn't resulted in so much death and injury then there is no question in my mind that the railway of today is far more successful. As I write this Network Rail has, quite unremarked by the media, passed back into state ownership. The old funding constraints are back and the dilettantes of the DfT and the Treasury are even now tightening the purse strings. Its all in the latest edition of Modern Railways. Plus ca change plus ca meme chose!
If you are of the BR era, and particularly if you worked for BR, you will find this book an interesting read albeit one that focus on specific items to the almost complete exclusion of others.
For the railway to succeed? Get the politicians out of it and give it freedom from constant administrative re-organisations which merely serve as vehicles for ambitious managers to prove themselves. As Gerry Fiennes is well quoted in the book: "every time you re-organise you bleed".
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on 28 October 2013
Certain other books on BR history have been almost overwhelmingly statistical. This is a fine balance - with a fresh style and excellent "business and social" elements , without going into the (often chartered) grounds of anti - Beeching hysteria. Highly reccomended (as an ex BR manager who lived through some of these times) - and the cover design is outstanding.
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on 19 October 2014
This book is not to my mind a history of British Rail as much as a meandering journey through it. Just like a trip on a rural branch line on a summer's day.

The author appears to be of the Left and probably from 'Sarf ov the River' but one should not hold either of these factors against her. She is quite objective about the trials, transgressions and triumphs of British Rail - the Advanced Passenger Train (APT) disaster to the Pandrol rail clip masterstroke. But one area is not properly covered; she lets the Unions off lightly. Down the years their obstruction to progress on a variety of issues from single manning to maintaining 'differentials' was a constant thorn in the side of British Rail and a pain for passengers.

Another constant was the inevitable constraints on British Rail through central government finance. British Rail as a nationalised undertaking was under pressure to deliver what politicians of the day thought the railways ought to deliver while enduring the inevitable restrictions from a Treasury that balked at providing the financial wherewithal.

She explores in some detail odd corners of the social fabric of railways: toilets on trains and camping coaches for example. She goes into the technical issues of bogie design and the limitations of nose-hung traction motors. She identifies the traditional conservatism that kept compartment stock and slam doors in service beyond their time. She is very interested in the promotional and marketing activities of British Rail and in particular, a strong focus on the Intercity brand. Unlike many, she does not paint Beeching as a Bad Guy, just the man who did what British Rail would probably have done anyway.

The end of British Rail in the 1990s is not seen as a conclusively Bad Thing or a Good Thing. I had forgotten that Margaret Thatcher was, despite her reputation, very reluctant to have anything to do with rail privatisation. That had to wait for her successor, John Major. It was a bit of a botched job and the government still exercises an inordinate amount of power within the industry, far more than it does over the road transport or aviation industries. Certain benefits have been lost or dissipated but other aspects have improved. Decision making and easier finance raising are probably the most significant. On the other hand, the administrative, regulatory and legal costs in running the total system are far, far in excess of what British Rail incurred.

There is a good selection of mainly black & white photographs. The story is not a chronology but a story. The author is chatty, She is humorous. She is astringent. I enjoyed this book very much.
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When Britain’s railways were nationalised in 1948 it was under the title British Railways. With the coming of professional publicists and image consultants the title was apparently changed to ‘British Rail’. I say ‘apparently’ because this change was only for the shop-front. Behind the scenes, and in the legal documents, it stayed British Railways until the whole business was given over to private enterprise nearly half a century later. This is one nugget of information among the many that I have extracted from this well-researched book.

Thoroughness of research, fair-mindedness and a bright and engaging style are the particular things that this book has to commend it. Tanya Jackson has to admit that British Railways became a bit of a joke at one time for perceived unreliability, surly staff and sad sandwiches in its buffets. Most of the British public probably realised to some extent that the railways were under-funded, but for a considerable time this was seen as inevitable because the railways were a sunset industry, due to lose out to road transport, (and to a lesser extent to air), and consequently a drain on the public finances. Even those (such as myself) with a dangerous little learning criticised the operation for seeming inability to keep up with its European counterparts. In particular BR stuck with steam haulage when France, Germany etc were converting to diesel and then to the more complete solution of electrification. The eventual change of mode was, beyond denying, shambolic, and that was as far as many got in gaining an understanding of the matter. However it seems that there was a deep underlying cause, one that was due to the very fact that Britain was the cradle of the world’s railways. It appears that the great original engineers (Stephenson and co) had saddled Britain with a restrictive loading gauge that could not cope with the kind of diesel haulage that they used on the continent, and that engines of more modest capacity were simply not available at first; so steam it had to be, and apparently the steam locomotive designs did a good job. I owe this insight to this book, and it is an example of what I mean by its thoroughness and fairness.

Things all look different now, and the book extends its historical survey into the new post-BR regime. These days road congestion leaves many people with no effective choice other than between taking the train to work or working from home. As regards internal air transport, the strictness of security these days and the length of checkin-times have wiped out what started as air transport’s advantage in speed. These points are glaringly obvious, but for some reason the book does not make them; and that is an example of the book’s main shortcoming, namely a rather variable focus and some lack of organisation of the material. Even-handedness is all very well, but sometimes I wished that Tanya Jackson would make up her mind. Where I felt this lack was mostly in the contentious issue of the Beeching reorganisation in the 60’s with its large programme of closures. Beeching’s main argument, that most of the network mileage contributed nothing to profits and much to cost overheads, was quite true as far as it went. However it had staring at us the likelihood that large areas of rural Britain would be left without public transport. Beeching’s glib promise that buses would fill the gap struck me as risible then and still does – why would bus operators serve unprofitable routes either? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. However I would have liked Tanya Jackson to take a firmer and more definite stance, and maybe even to enter into the environmental and carbon-saving questions that are clear now even if they were not clear then.

The book has a preface by Chris Green, who gets a good deal of honourable mention as the story progresses. I suggest that after completing Jackson’s account you should go back and read what Chris has to say again. Tanya Jackson ends by telling us that Green ‘argues for the private railway’. With respect, what he actually says is that his career has spanned both the nationalised and the privatised eras, and that there are things to be said for both. This is more what I would have expected him to say. Years ago I used to know Chris very well as a friend, but my last encounter with him was about 20 years ago outside his HQ at London Euston. I was going for a train and he was with colleagues, so our conversation got no further than my complimenting him on the job he was doing at Network Southeast and his replying ‘You like red lamp-posts, do you?’ Sadly, the occasion did not allow for more insight into his thinking. Even more sadly we did not get the opportunity to experience him as Chairman of BR, something many wanted to see. This is due largely to the complete failure of Neil Kinnock and the Labour Party to oust John Major’s government (a real comic turn, as Jackson hilariously describes) in 1992, which would have stopped the privatisation from ever happening.

The book is one that I recommend unreservedly both for what can be learned from it and for its pleasant if slightly clumsy writing style (I longed for a blue pencil with which to delete the excessive occurrences of ‘though’). I endorse exactly what Jackson has to say in describing the privatisation exercise as a hodge-podge motivated by spite as much as anything else, without denying that it has brought some advantages, many of them accidental. I only wonder what stopped her from pointing out what is now well known, namely that whatever is to be said for public/private financing initiatives the real reason for them is to keep the figures off the government’s balance-sheet. They end up as the most expensive of all options, and many a hospital can confirm that, as can London Transport.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 July 2014
A very well researched book using some reference sources that I have not come across in books of this genre. Written in a light way, the volume gives a background to the railways history, but as the title suggests, majors on the period between nationalisation and privatisation, and covers the politics surrounding BR interwoven in it's history. I have read many books on this era, but many new ( to me ), facts are contained within this one. The facts are all there, but very easily assimilated. Once again the name of Peter Rayner is mentioned, a man of immense principle who turned down a lot of money rather than keep quiet about the double dealing. A man of the railways and a champion of the user. The foreword is by Chris Green, a giant of the railways who stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone throughout the history of the railways, and who is described as " the best chairman that the railways never had ". I would go farther than that and describe him as amongst the greatest industrial figures of at least the last fifty years. He had the knack of turning failure into success, but all his work, particularly at Intercity was undone at privatisation. Surely at least a knighthood for services to railways is long overdue. I very much enjoyed the references to the hapless John Major and his government. Even by British standards that administration was poor. There are two sections of photo's included, one lot in colour, one in black & white. Very highly recommended for anyone interested in railways or indeed recent history. I have not come across the author before, but this is a very accomplished work. A great addition to a collection. British Rail was a success in spite of various governments trying their best to damage it, and the media rubbishing most of what BR did. When they were left to get on with running a railway they did great things.
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on 16 January 2014
This is the story of British Rail as a train operating company. The first chapter discusses railway organisations pre-BR and then the book settles in to talk about marketing and trains themselves. There is plenty of talk about `PEP's and `VEP's etc. However, stations, infrastructure engineering and signalling of trains (all the things that Network Rail does today) are dismissed with a few one liners such as `resignalling', `electrification' `standard rail clips, `continuously welded rail', `TOPS'. There is nothing at all about the development of large signalling control centres, the hugely innovative Solid State Interlocking' (SSI) and Integrated Electronic Control Centre' (IECC), nor of the stewardship of track, structures and electrified lines. So I'm afraid the book covers only half the story of British Rail!
In Chapter 12 the book suddenly changes tack and launches into brief discussions of train disasters. There is no consistent pattern as to why these particular accidents have been singled out for mention: Harrow (SPAD), Hither Green (broken rail), Tattenhall Jn (broken rail), Hixon (slow vehicle collision at AHB), Whiteball (fire aboard sleeper cars), Clapham (signal interlocking bare wire due to poor quality wiring work), Newton (SPAD).
The penultimate chapter covers privatisation which I found to be a most riveting and accurate assessment of the situation. The process was rightly denigrated, with suitable words such as `circus', `incompetence' and `scorched earth policy'. The book does not mention that in his report, McNulty has stated publicly that none of the objectives of privatisation have been achieved. However, the author does acknowledge that the fragmented industry costs substantially more than a unified BR. Also not mentioned, was that BR's final organisation `OfQ' had significant disadvantages in the way that signalling of trains, management of infrastructure maintenance was split up into the businesses including Inter-City and Regional Railways. Artificial boundaries were set up to divide up infrastructure. InterCity signallers at key junctions unreasonably gave total priority to their own early or late running trains. OfQ may have enabled the businesses to have visibility of the full cost of running their trains but the structure was deeply inefficient. Happily this was one thing that privatisation put right to a certain extent. The signalling of trains and overarching infrastructure management was bought back under the control of a single organisation known as Railtrack.
There are several little slip-ups. It is stated that `second' class was replaced by `standard' class by the BTC in 1987. However, BTC ceased to exist in 1963! In discussing the Thameslink project, the point is missed that the quadrupling of tracks through Borough Market facilitates segregation of Thameslink trains and those using Charing Cross, thereby substantially increasing capacity to the latter.
In the section on accidents it gets worse. We are told that the Automatic Warning System (AWS) provides a blank disc when approaching a green signal and warns the driver by a horn in the cab if he has passed a signal at red. This is incorrect. Next, the purpose of a double yellow isn't just for the attention of freight drivers. The `T' of `S&T' stands for Telecommunications not `telegraph'. Automatic Train Protection' (ATP) apparently warns a driver if he `goes through a yellow' whatever that means. The description of a single-lead junction is convoluted. A sketch would have explained the simple concept.
Finally, there are two sets of photographs. The first batch is in monochrome. This is disappointing as, in colour, there would have been a stunning contrast of train liveries such as the Glasgow Blue Train, Deltic in two-tone green and large BR logo Class 50 in blue. Both batches cover just trains and marketing. There are no stations, signal boxes, spectacular viaducts, tunnels etc.
Having worked in the industry since the mid-1960s it is clear to me that on a shoestring budget throughout its existence, BR presided over a cost effective and efficient railway. This didn't come over very strongly in the book probably because the sheer magnitude of what BR did has not been presented in a balanced way.
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on 22 March 2015
For anyone interested in the social, political and economic situations facing the British railways, from the nationalisation after the Second World War to the privatisation in the eighties, this is a book not to be missed.
The book has been well researched by the author and there are numerous references for the source of any information quoted. Whilst it deals specifically with the eras of British Rail (and British Railways before that) it also describes the historical background to the evolution of the railway system in Britain. It also gives a background to the privatisation of the railways when British Rail was effectively dismantled.
The author's last sentence on the back of the book is "British Rail was a success" but she still describes fully both the successes and failings of British Rail both in infrastructure and management and how they were either developed or overcome.
A highly enjoyable read for anyone interested not just in railways but the social, political and economic factors of that time. Highly recommended to read.
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on 24 January 2014
Tanya Jackson has produced a really good, readable introduction to the history of BR. Unusually for an enthusiast she has also properly referenced the work. This is not Terry Gourvish's careful doctoral analysis, but it is a great introduction for the interested researcher and, with any luck will lead them on to the heavier tomes with a great deal of detail that they lacked before. In historiography, we are prone, as Chibnall[1] states for education: "uselessly and dangerously to seek perfect answers. Uselessly because perfect answers are not to be found: dangerously because we are discouraged from working with less than perfect answers, with an awareness that they are less than perfect but may nevertheless generate better questions." This book gives the reader the opportunity to pose "better questions". Reference [1] Chibnall, B, 1976 The Organisation of Media published by Clive Bingley, London. ISBN 0-85157-212-X
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