With President Obama touring the American Not Really An Empire But More A Sphere Of Influence In Africa, if only to remind China and others as the British found out 132 years ago Egypt was always a place for trouble to brew up. Then the ruler, the Khedive, had run up unsustainable debts and had made too many promises. As the British, in The City, were the bondholders, in those robust days it was not the British taxpayer who was to stand the loss, Egypt was to be taken over in a hostile bid, new management installed, Barings inevitably, and the money extracted from there.
What should worry us all is that if The President is on tour who is following close behind to pick up on all those invaluable contacts? Can Goldman Sachs and others be far behind and to what purpose? As in the old days we can expect a series of grand projects and very large schemes to hit the media replete with promises of wonders to come. No doubt that as in the past the losses will be large but largely disguised, the money men will take the cream and the taxpayer told he or she must do their duty and foot the bills.
One Grand Project of the past was The Cape To Cairo Railway. Indeed Africa did have scope for many railway lines and connections, but Cairo to The Cape? With thousands of miles of track going through country often with challenging terrain and limited or no real economic opportunities? At a time when ships were becoming bigger, faster, more reliable and rather more flexible in use?
The USA is so broke doubtless it needs to get its hands on other people's money just as the British Empire did to get hold of whatever treasure or primary resources could be found to keep the Empire show on the road. Britain is now just as broke, if not more. But it still cannot wean itself off the need for big expensive schemes at any price to claim that something is being done.
So we are told in one breath that serious economies must be made along with sacrifice and restraint. In the next, oh dear the HST2 Railway from London to the North of England is now running late at over £40 billion and rising. Also, the Ministry of Transport costing of economic benefit has a basic premise that people on trains do not work so any time saved is worth any expense. Eh? Back in the 1950's I along with others had no trouble reading and even making notes on a journey. Amazingly, it is easy to use a laptop as so many already do whenever I now travel.
The other part of all this is that if resources go in one direction then they will not go in another. If the HST2 does go ahead along with a Crossrail2 scheme for London and other London works then there will not be much for the rest of the Network. The Coalition government is essentially attracted by the "rental" benefits accruing to those near the lines, that is the property effect in the South East.
So those in The far North and over the Border need to take a closer look at all this. My guess is that what nobody is saying is that one of the two West and East Coast lines may be run down and became a secondary link with relatively limited services. At the moment the signs are that it could be the East Coast line which is going to need some serious work in the foreseeable future.
Which is ironic given the latest celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the world record for steam locomotives by "Mallard" a Class A4 streamlined loco' of the former London and North Eastern Railway. It is now rested at York Railway Museum and has been joined by others of this class that have been preserved, some still running. There were 34 of them dedicated to the East Coast Main Line, a tiny proportion of the total LNER stock.
Such were the needs of steam hauled trains at the time that at any given time a few of them would have been in works for major work with a number of others in their local engine sheds for routine maintenance and preparation. Only about half would have been available for running. Although alleged to be for non stop services most were not and according to the rostering of the period it was common to change loco's half way through a journey.
Quite why Britain was not at the forefront of effective electrification given its command of the relevant technology and skills and the existence of the National Grid for electricity is one of those puzzles. The two major wars and Empire interests had a lot to do with it but why the government that forced the great 1923 "rationalisation" into four major companies each with an effective monopoly in its own areas did not demand more is one to debate.
But then as now the politicians where really only interested in the Grand Projects and big headlines. The detail did not matter and nor did the real costs of botched schemes and operations.
Minutes after breaking the world record "Mallard" broke down and had to be towed to London.