The privatisation of the railways ranks amongst the greatest acts of political vandalism that the United Kingdom has ever known. Christian Wolmar's book identifies and highlights the events and decisions that made the move from a nationalised and publicly accountable, though admittedly flawed railway to the unwieldy privatised mess that we have today, with a great deal of clarity and focus. By framing the failures of John Major's government's crazed, flawed and nonsensical attempt at taking the public sector - and ostensibly, the tax payer - out of the running of what is fundamentally a rigid, complexly integrated system, against the terrible accidents of the late 1990s and early 2000s (namely Southall, Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield in particular), Wolmar argues that the privatisation of the railways has actually delivered very few of the benefits promised by successive governments, and resulted in a fragmented railway that is neither safer, more reliable or cheaper in real terms than British Rail before it.
Wolmar puts across his points in a detailed and clear way that is easy to understand, and quite entertaining at times, from a non-technical layman point-of-view, which makes the rather depressing narrative of the failure of privatisation all the more understandably scandalous. While it would be remiss to say that all the problems of the British rail network was down to privatisation, Wolmar's arguments are such to suggest that many of the problems are down to the unnecessary fragmentation that came with the privatisation exercise, and from the cost-cutting that invariable comes from companies running a service for profit. This book is a great manual for those who are passionate about the re-nationalisation - or re-organisation - of the railways, and a must-read for anybody interested in either the railways as they are today, and those merely interested in the ludicrousness of the decision making of the powerful.