Saturday, 17 December 2011

Puff Puff Politics

Looking at the EU and Eurozone crisis to day reminds me of the past. Going back to the 1960’s and beyond one of the main causes of problems on the railways and difficulties in operation was trying to keep all the freight moving as well as providing the passenger services that people wanted to have.

What happened in this juggling was that too many compromises had to be made for the whole system to work properly with bottlenecks all over the place and the differing requirements of the various kinds of traffic.

So British Railways came to regard passengers as a necessary nuisance whilst trying to keep hold of its freight traffic against the competition of roads and then motorways. It did not succeed.

At that time a lot of freight was coal when much of the economy and household heating depended on it. This was carried in five ton wagons which did not have air braking; had four wheels, often in poor condition and were prone to derail in the bumping and banging involved in halts or crossing complex points, especially when in a train of “empties”.

So it could take only one small truck at the wrong point in the network to cause chaos because it came off the track in routine working. This problem had been known for nearly a century yet neither the railways companies, the government nor in its first years British Railways been able to sort it out.

Going into the 1960’s British Railways were faced with major conflicting issues and one of the keys to this was dealing with the problem of the five ton coal trucks.

The EU today reminds me vividly of one of those coal trains with a long line of trucks clanging and banging as they start, stop and try to change direction. Such coal trains because of their lack of effective braking could not go at any great speed, indeed 30 mph was high risk over much of the track.

In short the model of the EU and the Eurozone and its place in the network of global finance and politics has become unworkable in the conditions of the second decade of the 21st Century. It may have served up to a point through until the 1990’s but has become increasingly prone to chaos in its routine working.

It cannot go at speed, it takes up far too much time to move from one place to another, it is continually derailed by basic working failures, it is a traditional way of functioning that is hopelessly out of place in modern conditions and it is now in state when it prevents any satisfactory solution to communication or other problems.

I recall working on the platform when a coal train was going through and seeing one of the trucks suddenly jump the track and everything stopped. We had express trains due and worse with major cross country parcels trains following. I said to the foreman “How does this work?” He replied “It never expletive does.”

Looking over the Channel I have exactly the same feeling.

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