“T’ain’t What You Do…


(It’s the Way That You Do It)”


Painting out the GWR logo on a Great Western Railway delivery lorry at Paddington Goods Depot on 31 December 1947, the eve of the nationalisation of Britain’s railways. Photo originally in BR Western Region archives, retrieved via Jamd.com.

Calls by railway trade unions, giving evidence a couple of days ago to the Commons Welsh affairs committee, for the renationalisation of the railways reminded us that 61 years ago The Guardian was warning its readers about the consequences of railway privatisation.

November 27 1947


Taking over the railways

The nationalisation of the railways on January 1 is going to involve drastic changes in organisation at once. That is made clear in the statement issued by the Transport Commission on the new structure.

The Commission has been set up to assume control and ownership of all the assets to be transferred to the nation. At the end of the year the four main-line companies, which have existed since the amalgamations of 1921, will disappear. Under the name of British Railways they are to be unified under a single national command.

At the same time the system is being divided into six regions – there may be more subdvisions later. The type of organisation chosen for the nationalised railways involves a radical change.

The technique of management will be completely altered. The six railway regions will not be autonomous, as the four groups now are. It has been deliberately decided that there is no need for the type of officer whom the railways, like other commercial undertakings, describe as a manager.

This decision cannot be viewed without uneasiness. It is a favourite idea of the Civil Service that administration is best left to specialists and that co-ordination can be entrusted to committees. This may have been a good idea when the Government machine was small. In more recent times it has been the cause of much weakness in public administration. During the war we learnt by trial and error that no person or body can ever co-ordinate the work of others unless given high and indisputable authority. The plan for the railways does not seem to have absorbed that lesson.


It seems that little has been learnt by Sir Humphrey and his civil servant colleagues in the intervening 60 years.

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