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Railways Nationalisation

50 Years Ago: Beeching's Rail Cuts

Doctor Beeching's casualty list was as long as anyone could have expected.

Nearly a third of the passenger route-miles to be withdrawn; almost a half of the stations to be shut down; seventy thousand railwaymen, by one means or another, to be got rid of.

The Tories have always claimed that they are the party of free competition, which is supposed to be something which will bring enormous benefits to us all. According to Conservative propagandists, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be left at the mercy of a monopoly, which will do dreadful things to our standards of living. Yet the Beeching Plan will give, over large areas of the country, a transport monopoly to the road interests. What if these interests act as the Tories have assured us monopolies always act?

The Nationalisation of the Railways

Railway nationalisation has a long and varied history. In comparatively recent times it has occupied a prominent place in the Labour Party programmes, has been backed by railway unions, and has been made an urgent problem for Governments because of the rise of competing motor traffic. Yet the first Act of Parliament giving the British Government power to take over the railways was passed over 100 years ago, more than half a century before the petrol motor was invented or the Labour Party was born. The Railway Regulation Act was passed in 1844 under Sir Robert Peel's Conservative Government and was introduced into the House of Commons by Gladstone, at that time a Conservative Free Trader and President of the Board of Trade. The immediate purpose of the Act was to force the railways to reduce charges in the interests of the whole body of capitalist manufacturers and traders, by holding over their heads the threat of nationalisation.

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