50 Years Ago: Beeching’s Cuts

The axe man cometh.

This year’s report from the British Transport Commission indicated where the proposed cuts in rail services are likely to fall.

The Newport to Brecon line, for instance, in South Wales. Here, said Transport Minister Marples, a statistical half-man is being carried for one hundred and seven miles by a 160 ton train — about equal to a five-ton crane lifting a bottle of beer.

“It would pay us,” he said, “to give that man a car and close the line.”

That is the yardstick which the Beeching inquiry has had to use. Not: Is it useful? but: Does it pay? Some of the Commission’s undertakings can answer yes to this question. London Transport pays. British Road Services and the docks have increased their receipts.

Only the railways — and only some parts of them at that — fail utterly to conform to capitalism’s law of existence: Does it pay?

Mr. Marples is not alone in his recognition of this law. Labour Party spokesman George Strauss said, when the House of Commons were debating the Transport Commission’s report, that the railway losses gave people the impression that what he called “publicly owned” transport was a failure.

Mr. Strauss has his definition of a failure, and of a success. The report showed, he said, that the reverse was true because all the services except the railways and the inland waterways had made a profit.

Both Tories and Labour are united in the opinion that to succeed nationalised industry must make a profit. Which means they agree that basically nationalised industries are as much a part of capitalism’s economy as any private industry is.

One fact seems to have escaped notice. Removing the rail services from many parts of the country means that those areas are being left to depend upon road transport. This means that the government are virtually creating transport monopolies all over the country.

This is hardly consistent with the Conservative doctrine of what they like to call “healthy” competition. But really capitalism is impatient of all doctrine — except one.

Does it pay?

(from The News in Review”, Socialist Standard, August 1962)

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