John Speller's Web Pages Alternative Grouping

John Speller's Web Pages - British Railways

Alternative Grouping Untitled UKRH Horizontal
There have been three major disasters in the history of British Railways. The first was the Grouping of 1923, the second was nationalization and the third was denationalization. Let us hope that there are no more. It's not that any of these three events was inherently wrong in itself, but rather that they were all carried out in the worst possible way.

The Grouping of 1923 was on the face of it a good idea. A number of railway companies, particularly those in Scotland, were on the verge of bankruptcy after World War I, and the idea was that the prosperous and the financially-strapped companies would merge to produce a system that was overall sound. The only problem was that the Government got it all wrong in deciding which companies to group with which. The initial plan made for six companies, and this might have worked all right. Then, at the last minute, due to various political pressures which had nothing to do with common sense, the plan was changed to a grouping of the four companies with which we are familiar -- the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, the London & North Eastern Railway, the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway.

What do I mean? Well, for example, the Caledonian and Glasgow & South Western Railways were arch-enemies over the Carlisle to Glasgow route. By merging the G&SWR into the same company as the CR the Government was dooming the G&SWR to oblivion and stifling competition. A number of companies worked closely with others, and it was inconceivable that these should be grouped other than together. For example, it is inconceivable that the Midland & South Western Junction Railway should have been grouped with any other company than either the Midland or the London & South Western. Yet it was grouped with the Great Western, who already had two routes (via the Basingstoke branch and the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton line) to Southampton. The M&SWR became a backwater. Surprise! Again, it is inconceivable that the Neath & Brecon Railway could have been grouped with anyone other than the Midland Railway, since it formed part of their main line to Swansea. Again it became a backwater. It is inconceivable that the Hull & Barnsley Railway should have been grouped with the North Eastern Railway, its arch-enemy. Well, actually, the H&BR was taken over by the NER a year before the Grouping, but the Government should never have allowed this to happen. Again it became a backwater. I am even prepared to stick my neck out and say that it is inconceivable that the Great Central should have been grouped with anyone other than the Great Western, with whom it worked very closely. By 1948 the damage was done, and the Great Central line was run down and closed under the Beeching Axe. I rest my case.

So here is my idea of how the 1923 Grouping should have been done. I have actually grouped the pre-1923 companies into five different groups. My Grouping has the advantage that the five companies are more equal in size. It also maximizes competition. I guess if I had my way Nationalization and Denationalization would also have looked pretty much like this. So in my ideal world, these would be the regional railways operating in Britain today. And there would be no Railtrack. There might be some franchising, but that would be up to the five regional companies to decide for themselves.
Midland Railway Southampton express leaves Cheltenham Lansdown behind Midland & South Western Junction Railway 4-4-0 No. 1, designed by James Tyrrell, Locomotive Superintendent of the M&SWJR 1903-22, and built by the North British Locomotive Co. in 1905
John Speller's view of what the Grouping of 1923 should have looked like
Scottish Express from St. Pancras to Glasgow St. Enoch, a joint venture of the Midland and Glasgow & South Western Railways. Deeley 4-4-0 "Compound" No. 1032
The King's Cross to Edinburgh "Flying Scotsman" express in about 1910 behind an Ivatt Great Northern "Atlantic." This was a joint venture of the Great Northern, North Eastern and North British Railways
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