Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The West Coast Mainline, and Nineteenth Century Admiralty Coal Contracts


I used to commute to Warwick once a week from St Albans. Thus I used to take a First Capital Connect train to London, then a Virgin train between London and Coventry. I have also 'enjoyed' other parts of First's railway empire in other parts of the country. In a year, there was one cancelled Virgin train. First trains are not only regularly late, or sometimes cancelled, but they often send four carriage trains at peak times. Furthermore, Virgin trains are far superior in every way, and first class is actually worth paying more for, and is only £10 or £15 extra if you go at the right time. Also, if you have a railcard, its always offpeak, making a £90 ish ticket £30.

Anyway, I think I established the better train company there. Which brings me on to Admiralty coal. Through many trials and, most importantly, practical experience, Welsh coal was chosen as the Admiralty coal, over that of northern England. As the Admiralty was the largest steam coal contract, this was a big deal, just like the West Coast mainline is. Welsh coal prices were always higher than northern coal, but in 1889 they were particularly so. Sensing an opportunity, the northern collieries sent a delegation to the Admiralty. They stressed the price issue, as well as that in various trials their product had been shown to be equal.

Despite these protestations, their appeal was rebutted by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord George Hamilton, who suggested that that practical experience had proven that Welsh coal alone was the only suitable fuel for the Navy, due to the ‘special duty and work which the Navy is called upon to perform.’[1]
The performance of the Navy was more important to the Government than saving money based on the spurious promises of collieries whose product had been shown by practical experience of those using it not to have been good enough.  

It is a shame that this government does not feel the same about the importance of the rail network, and more importantly, those who travel on it.

Perhaps it is best to finish with the words of Richard Branson:
'The last two times UK government turned a Virgin bid down the companies they accepted both went bust. Insanity is doing the same thing over & over again & expecting different results. When will UK government learn?'

[1] Welsh Versus North Country Coal, Western Mail, 22 May 1889