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October 2004, Week 1

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Date:
Wed, 6 Oct 2004 09:20:41 +0100
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
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 From his recent posting, it is clear that Robert Goff's views on Britain's
railways are informed more by Ken Loach's filmmaking than by any
substantial experience of actually having to use them or pay for them.  Not
surprising, I suppose, given that, from his e-mail address, he appears to
be based in Rhode Island, USA.

'Loach's major criticism of privatisation is that it endangered the staff
and the public.'  According to this years Whitaker's Almanac, railway
workers don't even feature in the top twenty most hazardous
occupations.  According to accident statistics in this years Whitaker's
Almanac, rail is the third safest form of long-distance travel, after sea
and air.  Deaths per 10,000 passenger journeys are quoted as follows: sea =
0.0002, air=0.0004, rail = 0.12, road = 0.77, pedestrians & cyclists =
1.1.  Rail is also the most spectacularly expensive, and by a huge margin,
of which more later.  And as for those Staffordshire accident victims, they
were found to have failed to observe three crucial health and safety
precautions.

However, I did recently read that a typical track engineer foreman, who
typically has 5-7 years' professional experience after leaving school,
earns 31k.  I have professional qualifications in three separate areas,
including two postgraduate degrees gained through seven years of full-time
higher education.  I earn 13% less than that.  Unlike the railway workers,
however, I'm not complaining about it (as with Loach foregoing Hollywood
riches in order to have the freedom to make left-wing propaganda, I too am
willing to sacrifice the chance of a big salary in exchange for job
satisfaction) and do not feel it's acceptable to victimise my students and
archive clients by walking out on strike whenever I have a grievance.

Meanwhile, rail travel is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, to the tune
of some 11 billion per annum.  The two main alternatives, air and road,
are heavily taxed.  Yet rail is STILL substantially more expensive when you
turn up at the ticket desk.  A standard return from Newcastle to London
costs 156.  If the taxpayers' subsidies didn't exist, the true cost would
be 512.  The last air ticket I bought for the equivalent journey was 84,
of which 32 was tax. After you factor in the cost of getting to and from
airports, let's call that 100.  Taking into account vehicle maintenance,
depreciation, insurance and so on, I would put the cost of going by road at
around 100, too.  Take away the fuel taxes alone and that would come down
to 40.  Ergo, common sense says that like horse-drawn carriages, railways
are an obsolete technology.  Rail is a lot more expensive than air, but is
slower and not significantly safer.

So, the myth Robert Gott paints of 'expensive car owners and those who can
afford to travel by air' is a Ken Loach, loony leftie, stuck in the '70s
myth which has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of transport in
Britain today.  Those on an average or slightly below income (I earn what
is almost exactly the quoted national average, by the way) is far more
likely to travel from southern England to the the north or Scotland by air
than by train.  That is because market forces have made air transport more
efficient, safer, able to carry more passengers at a lower cost and less
polluting (hydrocarbon emissions per passenger mile are now less than 5% of
the 1980 figure).  Oh, and incidentally, those who bang on about
environmental issues should (i) consider recent research which reveals that
trains are less fuel efficient than the average family car per passenger
mile, and (ii) acknowledge that a five year-old child exhales more Co2 in
one week than my (very inexpensive) car does in 10,000 miles.  The UK
currently has a population of 64 million; academic research in the areas
suggests that 20 million is the long-term, ecologically sustainable
figure.  Suggested reading: Jack Parsons, 'Human Population Competition - A
Study of the Pursuit of Power through Numbers' (Lewiston, NY, 1998).  If
these people (most of whom have several kids) are serious about protecting
the environment, they shouldn't be taxing to death people who work hard,
contribute to the economy and need efficient long-distance passenger
transport in order to do so.  They should be doing what China has done,
i.e. introducing population control.

I'm sorry if this has gone off-topic, but I think that there is a relevant
point here, namely the tendency - even by academics - to accept what they
see on the screen as gospel, especially if it tends to mesh with their own
political and ideological sensibilities.   Should I ever visit Los Angeles,
I would not anticipate being blasted to smithereens by Arnold
Schwarzenegger; because I recognise those images for what they are -
fiction, pure and simple.  Likewise, if Professor Gott were to turn up on
Newcastle station tomorrow, then once he'd got over the shock of how much
his ticket costs, endured lengthy delays, had to stand throughout the
journey, had obscenities hurled at him after asking someone politely to
switch their mobile 'phone off in the quiet carriage and suffered a wide
range of other indignities, I suspect that he might question Loach's
eulogising about a golden age of rail travel.  Loach, I suspect, would have
us travelling around in a horse and cart if it fitted his vision of a Pol
Pot-style socialist utopia.

Leo

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