Transport Fare Increases

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1952.

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Photo of Mr Francis Bowles Mr Francis Bowles , Nuneaton 12:00 am, 28th April 1952

I do not think that matters. I am dealing with one point at a time. I was not talking about concrete sleepers; I was talking about reinforced concrete rails, which can be used if one has ordinary rubber-tyred wheels instead of steel wheels on steel rails. I have no idea what would be the length of the train. That has nothing to do with it. It may be that it would be the normal length, or shorter or longer. What I should like to see would be Diesel trains, which can be split up to deal with the load to be taken at any particular time.

We also have three restaurant cars on ordinary trains of about 14 carriages. I suggest that that is a sheer waste of a great deal of rolling stock, and the question of weight again applies. I suggest that British Railways look into the way in which deep frozen food is carried for air travellers. I think they should adopt some principle of that kind and so get rid of two, or even all three, of the restaurant cars. They could have little compartments at the end of every other carriage which could deal with the serving of food very comfortably and tastefully and, I am sure, to the delight of the ordinary passenger.

Another thing which is extraordinarily inefficient is the exits at the main line termini. One often wonders whether railways think that they exist for us or we for them. We must get some sense into this business of what I may describe as consumer relationships. A lot more must be done for the benefit of passengers. Overcrowded trains are accepted now as the order of the day. There is also the question of unpunctuality, which is a matter of which we all know only too well. My constituency is less than 100 miles from London; I never get there punctually, and when I get into the train at Nuneaton it is always late, except for the last two or three weeks, which have been exceptional.

Then there is the question of signalling. If we had an efficient electric signalling system we could run more trains, we could check up on them much better, and we could run them punctually. If one has to move a lever, it is very heavy work. I have tried to pull one myself, and I know that it is very hard work. In these days of radar and wireless we can still only warn the driver of an engine by explosive fog signals. These are terribly out of date. All these are matters which should be gone into by a committee. I am pleased to see that the Parliamentary Secretary is in his place. I congratulate him on his position. I suggest to him that these things are very essential.

With regard to goods trains, I suggest that here we have more effeteness than can be imagined. The ordinary goods truck has no brake, except one which can be operated when it is stationary to prevent it from running away. Therefore, one has a situation in which an engine is pulling 30 or 40 trucks which are unbrakable. I have forgotten the exact term. It is something like "line braking." The trains can only toddle along at a few miles an hour. That makes the sending of goods by rail very unattractive and very slow, and the goods trains get in the way of other trains which could otherwise go faster.

There is also complete inefficiency so far as rolling stock is concerned. Mr. John Elliot, the Chairman of the Railway Executive, made a speech on Saturday, presumably at Cambridge, in which he said that there was to be a certain amount of further decentralisation. He also said that we should not be able to build any more railway carriages this year, and that therefore there will be a lot of old carriages.

As ordinary railway carriages have a braking system, I suggest that we should rip off the tops of them and convert them into ordinary square-based chassis slightly longer than the ordinary truck. It is essential that a great deal more use should be made of the movable containers into which one sometimes sees goods being put. They are large containers, about as big as a truck, and they are taken up by a crane, put on to a British Road Services lorry and taken to a goods station or to the receivers or vice versa.

The amount of time that is wasted in marshalling goods trains is quite fantastic. There may be a couple of goods trucks left at Ilford. They remain there for a very long time. They cannot be hitched to the ordinary passenger train because it is not suitable. They are taken to marshalling yards and there they are shunted up and made into goods trains. If we increased the number of these mobile containers—we have all seen them in stations if we have kept our eyes open—what an easy thing it would be to make them so that they could be removed from the trucks, which could consist of old railway carriage chassis which would be brakable. They would then be able to travel very much faster and the shunting requirements would be very much reduced. If that were done, the other trains would be faster and we could reach a reasonable basis on this question of fares. The public are paying very large fares because of the very great deal of inefficiency.

Another thing that is a most fantastic waste is the ordinary brake on the wheel of a railway carriage. It operates on the same principle as that of a farm cart. I am perfectly certain that it must be very much out of date. The braking system on the internal combustion engine for motor cars is very much better. I believe there is a fantastic waste of metal on the underground system through the use of these brake blocks on iron or steel rims. I think they need renewing almost every day.

If one has rubber-tyred wheels one can save a great deal of discomfort. The wheels can also be properly braked. The steel rails can be replaced by concrete, so providing a great deal more steel for other uses. Steel is very short and it could be used for very much better things.

I seem to have remembered a good deal of my speech without any reference to my notes, which is something I rather believe in.

I am aware of the great capital investment which would be necessary, but I am also aware, as is every other hon. Member, of the tremendous importance to the nation in the economic crisis, and to our ordinary economic life, of an efficient and cheap transport system. Therefore, although perhaps what I have suggested cannot be done immediately, inquiries should be made along the lines I have suggested and a start made within the next year or so.

I feel certain that there must be a great deal more de-centralisation of authority. After all, there is a maximum amount to which a man can devote his attention. There should be more devolution and decentralisation of authority. For instance, a stationmaster at Liphook should have authority to lay on extra trains if there is a football match at Portsmouth. It must not be necessary for him to refer everything to London. Furthermore, he must be paid properly. It is not necessary to have the super-men, the super-brains, overpaid; distribute the responsibility and increase the standard of life of the people who are to accept the responsibility. Then, I believe, there will be a very great improvement in the whole system.

Finally, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether he will set up, or get British Railways to set up, a small committee consisting of, say, an industrial consultant, a chartered accountant and a statistician. In view of experience with the railways, both with the men and with the managers, I suggest that they are very conservative indeed and that it would not be a bad thing if there were no railwaymen on this inquiry. They are very prejudiced; their history is quite well known. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) may reply to these comments later, but I think many hon. Members will agree with what I say. I sometimes think that the non-expert in any matter might, with advice, reach a better conclusion than the expert, because he can see the wood for the trees.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider setting up this small committee so as to see whether, in a year's time, a report can be submitted to British Railways. Perhaps I am wrong in all the suggestions I have made, or in some of them, but obviously great improvements could be made. The whole conception of a locomotive drawing all these trucks with inefficient brakes, or with 7 per cent. efficiency in coal burning makes that clear. For every 1,000 tons of coal they burn they have to carry 930 tons with them, and they have to get rid of the waste cinders at the end. All this is sheer waste, and we shall not have the moral right to ask the public to pay any more in railway fares until we at least set up some inquiry on the lines I have suggested.