The Plastic Hippo

January 4, 2017

Investment opportunity

The next station stop

The next station stop

For people with a large sum of disposable income, I have a cast-iron, copper-bottomed, gold-plated investment opportunity guaranteed to return vast amounts of money for very little effort. All that is needed is initial start-up capital to provide basic raw materials.

I intend to lay a pathway of gravel between a picturesque if insignificant town and a deserted village some miles away. The path will be routed through various hamlets of between three and four houses. The actual location is unimportant but it must be within striking distance of the motorway network. On top of the gravel, I will place short yet stout wooden beams and at right angles to these will be two parallel steel rails at four foot, eight and a half inches apart. Four foot eight and a half is far more sensible than seven foot and a quarter of an inch because of some grooves at the gateway to a ruined Roman town in Northumberland and is the width of a chariot once the wheels have come off. I shall call my invention “a railway.”

Once constructed, “the railway” will remain untouched for about 100 years.

After that relatively short period of time in terms futures investment, teams of volunteers will give their time without payment to restore and operate the railway with machinery that they have bought themselves. Members of the public will pay handsomely to travel the few miles between a picturesque if insignificant town to a deserted village and then back again. The entire railway can be hired out of season to television production companies filming dreadful period dramas where nothing happens at all and last two hours including ad breaks. Winter weekends will generate income by offering steam locomotive driving courses to men of a certain age with sufficient disposable income to make childhood fantasies a reality. Lucrative gift shops and tea rooms will be positioned at every halt to enhance the visitor experience and to maximise profit. That; is how to run a railway.

There are, of course, other business models but these are obviously inferior when competing in the golden age of steam nostalgia industry. Some deluded souls suggest that there should be a network of railways connecting major cities with fast, affordable services served by branch lines from outlying towns. Others would wish to see the rapid movement of steel from steel works, manufactured goods from factories, fish from the coast, milk from Devon, produce from Lincolnshire and coal from Newcastle. Other fantasists imagine a world where people could work in the cities and commute to a decent, affordable home in the suburbs using something called a train. There are even more deluded folk who think that railways should be under national ownership because the railways are an essential artery for the free movement of people and goods and so are essential for the national good. Thank goodness we are an island surrounded by sea. That permanent way is as ridiculous as Isambard Kingdom Brunel trying to explain his additional quarter inch on a flying visit to Downton Abbey. Size matters to a Victorian engineer.

Mercifully, the business model adopted by our wonderful government although not as good my money making scam, is the best we can hope for. The Tory disgust at anything that benefits everyone is manifested in a transport policy that can only be described as a train crash. On the first working day of the New Year, our caring government announced an increase in rail fares of 2.7 per cent. That is a tiny amount compared to an MPs pay rise and allowances but it tends to add up over a year without the benefit of a ministerial car and chauffeur. In the name of balanced and impartial reporting, BBC News helpfully explained that rail fares have risen by 22 per cent over the last 25 years. Presumably this was to acknowledge previous governments not necessarily Tory when, in fact, rail fares have risen by 27 per cent since 2010 when Cameron set about destroying social cohesion. The reporter cleverly separated the tax payer from the commuter by stating that a rise in fares left the tax payer “better off” because government subsidies would decrease. They backed this up with a voxpop of a man in a suit saying that everything has to be paid for.

Rail operations are franchised to any old Tom, Dick or Harry who might be the highest or even lowest bidder. Network Rail owns the rails and a bunch of cowboys are riding them. Perhaps the biggest Dick is one called Branson who operates overcrowded, understaffed trains and charges an arm and leg not to sit down. A ragbag of Trade Unions and passenger groups called Action for Rail have pointed out that a regular 32 mile journey from Liverpool to Manchester costs £292 per month and that a regular 34 mile journey between Mantes-la-Jolie and Paris costs the equivalent of £61 per month. Mantes-la-Jolie might not boast of John Lennon or Anfield and Paris did not father Noel Gallagher or the first passenger railway but both places realise the need for realistic rail communication.

And this is the interesting bit. On average, London commuters spend about 14 per cent of their monthly income on railways. In France, commuters spend two per cent and Germans spend three per cent. Many of the UK rail franchises including Thameslink, Gatwick Express, Grand Central, Chiltern, Merseyrail, Scotrail, Anglia, London Midland, DLR, Northern, the Overground, Cross Country, Southern and South Eastern are owned by French, German or Dutch publicly owned rail providers. The fares they are allowed to charge in the UK by a UK government subsidise fares in France, Germany and Holland. Additionally, the UK government gives subsidies to the train operators as a thank you for ripping us all off. This is the type of trade deal that will save us all once we are free from European tyranny.

There is this very weird bloke in the middle of all this called Chris Grayling. This is a chap who has a history of being sacked for being completely useless at the BBC and various government jobs. You will have seen him recently on television talking about railways. He is the one who looks and sounds like a complete moron. He has described train drivers and train guards as a threat to national security and wishes to outlaw strike action by rail workers unions. He is happy to espouse leaving the European Union whilst simultaneously awarding rail franchises to European government departments and European businesses. In October, he said:
“We have a battle to fight to remind people of the benefits that privatisation brings and of the inefficiencies of the state in trying to run those services in the past. It would be a disastrous retrograde step in my view and it is a battle we have to win over the next five years to make sure these ideas are never allowed anywhere near government.”

He defends the crooked rail companies and attacks Network Rail for having “little reason to focus on the best possible customer service.” It is a clear as an up main line green signal that Chris Grayling is something of an imbecile. Don`t, please, take my word for it; just watch him on television. The man is an idiot.

Anyway, he could always find meaningful employment on my privatised railway as a milk churn placed at the end of the platform to remind the public that we are historic and do not in any way represent reality.

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