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It’s Time to Nationalize the UK Rail System

There’s no getting around it, the UK rail system is in trouble!

UK rail systems were already facing significant challenges prior to the COVID-19 crisis, let alone what is expected to become a prolonged economic recovery — perhaps with successive waves of Coronavirus to further complicate things — and with some of the country’s rail operators falling into administration possibly within days. That disaster could unfold every week until every train in the country winds up parked.

Therefore, rather than allow a complete unravelling of the UK rail system via government inaction, Parliament needs to nationalize every rail operation in Britain and during this time of light ridership — solve every rail-related problem — beginning with standardizing the customer experience to the highest possible level.

Whichever rail operator has shown itself to be the most successful railway company over the past two-years (success = a good indication how a rail operator handles the profitable times AND an unprecedented national health crisis) should have their key managers hired by the government and placed in overall charge of the (proposed) then-government-run British Rail. That way the country will have the best-of-the-best operating that newly created pan-UK entity.

Click here to see Britain’s 2019 railway rankings.


Boris Has a Lot on His Plate, but This Is Important

Brexit is ultra-important, of course. No serious person would advocate for dropping things where they are and letting the present uncertainty continue. The government’s response to COVID-19 is super-important too, that goes without saying.

But millions of Britons ride UK trains every year; To work, to sporting events, to visit family, and to check on elderly friends who have no ability to run their own errands, or for some much-needed ‘retail therapy’ or for other reasons. Which makes the British rail system the 3rd-most important issue in 2020 for UK politicians, IMHO. Whatever else goes on in Parliament are politics that will inevitably work out over time.

Fixing the country’s rail system can’t wait because whether you’re a student, an employee, or an employer, trains are essential transportation in the UK.


Switching to Government Ownership

The government should purchase all rail systems at full market value and combine them into one mega-unit and merge them with Network Rail ASAP — putting the government in the position of owning ‘everything rail’ in the country. That way, there would be no delays or pushback whenever vital changes need to be made.

Some rail operators were in such rough shape financially — even before COVID-19 wrecked the economy! — that the purchase price might be £1 (only) along with assuming the existing operator’s corporate debt.

The government would be wrong to assume they have weeks or months to ramp-up to take control of every British rail company; Expect one rail company per month to fall under administration, beginning October 2020.

After a railway is shut down it’s more difficult to begin the process of fixing deficiencies once the former employees have moved-on to other jobs and management is consulting with the banks (and law courts) on outstanding financial issues, and their regular ridership are by then car-sharing or have made other lifestyle choices like quitting their jobs. (Why do that? No train, boss!)

Therefore, whatever the government does, they must actually begin to do it — next month. There’s no luxury of time here. Other than Brexit and COVID-19, this is the country’s most pressing issue and it needs to be handled. Yesterday.


Suggestions:

  1. The UK rail system is powered by high voltage (24,000 volt) overhead lines. This was done to make the UK rail system as CO2-friendly as possible. And while that part of it works well, those locomotives are only as clean as the National Grid that provides the electricity of which only 30% is renewable energy annually — much of it produced at night when the wind is blowing but no trains are running. Therefore, electric trains are dirty trains but only because of the source power plant emissions and the high-ish electricity transmission line losses experienced when dispatching electricity over long distances. However, as many electric locomotives are now nearing time for replacement, clean-burning bio-diesel locos could replace today’s electric locos, helping to create a more reliable railway.  And bio-diesel locomotives feature 80% lower emission levels compared to old-style diesel locos and (bonus feature!) schedule disruptions due to electrical grid failures will no longer occur.
  2. With the huge resources available to government, whatever major problems have been deferred by today’s rail operators due to the inability to afford expensive maintenance or upgrades would easily be afforded by the government acting as sole owner/operator of the country’s entire railway infrastructure. Yes, some immediate infrastructure spending would be required, but as the man says, ‘You can pay me now (a little) or you can pay me later’ (a lot) yet, once the upgrades would be completed the entire UK rail infrastructure would last several decades.
  3. The profound and expensive changes needed throughout the British rail system haven’t been made, can’t be made, and won’t be made by leaving them in the hands of private companies. There isn’t enough profit at the best of times to make both Profit and Necessary Upgrades to their systems. UK rail operators can either have profit or they can make necessary upgrades — not both.
  4. No private rail operator would say it publicly because saying so would affect their bottom line and risk upsetting their shareholders, but they’ve taken the business model as far as possible — and nobody likes to admit defeat! — but they did the best they could within the constraints they operate under. They can’t say it, but it’s time for the government to take back control of the country’s railway networks, fix what’s broken, upgrade what needs upgrading, and once the whole enterprise is purring like a kitten, sell it as a (by then) successful and profitable operation via IPO. The entire upgraded and profitable enterprise could fetch £1 trillion (approximately) 10-years from now, thereby allowing the UK government to (more than) recover the cost of righting the country’s rail system. Woot-Woot!

Written by John Brian Shannon

The UK’s False Narrative on Hong Kong’s Protest Movement

by John Brian Shannon

Way back in the Colonial Era… it seemed a fine thing that a tiny cohort of middle-aged white men born in the United Kingdom could determine the fate of millions of people around the world… and the UK had plenty to offer the world at the time, bringing unheard-of mechanization to countries trying to improve the lives of their respective citizens. So it wasn’t all bad. But…

NEWSFLASH! Those days are over. The Royal Navy no longer rules the waves and the United Kingdom no longer consists of an Empire upon which the Sun never sets. And in no way should UK politicians be trying to roll the clock backward by empowering those who aren’t happy the world has changed.


Some History

In 1997, the UK government signed an agreement to return Hong Kong to China by the year 2000 — an agreement signed in good faith by both parties. And now that a small number of UK politicians, a tiny number of U.S. citizens (by the way, the U.S. was never a signatory of the treaty that returned Hong Kong to China) and several hundred thousand professional protesters from Hong Kong have decided they don’t like the deal, they think they have the right to overturn that good faith agreement.

Well, that just doesn’t cut it. So-called ‘seller’s remorse’ doesn’t present sufficient excuse to overturn a bilateral treaty signed between the UK and China. And that’s that. There’s no ambiguity in the treaty, therefore, there’s no room for debate, nor can there by any justification for failing to adhere to the terms and spirit of the treaty.

If you don’t like it that’s just too bad. Life isn’t fair and nobody ever said it was. So suck it up, people. An international treaty was signed in good faith — and both sides will keep their end of the bargain or chaos will ensue — as has been the case since time began. Check your Grade 12 history textbooks kids, because all the wars ever fought occurred because one side or the other didn’t adhere to the terms of an international treaty signed in good faith.


Thinking of Bringing Your HK Protest Movement to the UK?

Although I’m a supporter of Boris Johnson and his government, offering to host millions of Hong Kong residents in the United Kingdom wouldn’t be my first choice. It may be popular with certain American neocons specifically and China-haters around the world generally, it certainly isn’t the best thing for the average British citizen, the UK economy, future UK trade prospects in Asia, or for Britain’s reputation in the world as a country that abides by both the letter and spirit of international agreements.

Somebody should ask Nigel Farage what he thinks about the UK government offering UK citizenship to millions of Hong Kong protestors so they can simply relocate their violent protests to London. Stand well back, because you’re likely to receive a robust answer.

Not only Nigel Farage, of course. Millions of Britons might not want thousands of Hong Kong residents to suddenly appear in the UK, be granted UK citizenship, and be found protesting (perhaps violently) on behalf of HK issues every weekend in London, Brighton, Manchester or Glasgow.

Something to think about.

 

Resetting the UK Economy After Coronavirus

by John Brian Shannon

Things will never return to what has been thought of as ‘normal’ business in the United Kingdom following the biggest threat to Britons since WWII, yet there’s two paths forward where the country can either ‘survive’ or ‘thrive’ after Coronavirus. And that’s the focus of this blog post.

Here’s a short list of things that could be done in order to a) Prepare the UK for the next pandemic, b) Protect Britons from retransmission of a future SARS or MERS virus or other contagious pathogen, c) Build Resiliency into UK infrastructure, and d) Stimulate the UK economy to allow the country and its people to thrive, going forward.


Prepare, Protect, Build Resiliency, Stimulate

For me, ‘surviving’ isn’t enough. What the UK needs to do after any kind of negative event is to ‘thrive’.

When you’re 68-million people on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean that’s recently cut the cord with the EU, and still hasn’t reintegrated with the global economy, nor even the (eternally patient) Commonwealth of Nations, you’ve got to come out of a healthcare + economic crisis with a solid plan and impressive momentum behind that plan.

Let’s talk about what can and should be done as the UK comes out of the Coronavirus emergency.


Four Ways to Repair the UK Economy & Inoculate it from the Next Pandemic, While Supercharging the Economy Now

  1. Coat all publicly handled surfaces with copper. As you may know, copper kills germs, viruses, and bacteria upon contact in only a few seconds, therefore, such commonly handled surfaces like turnstiles, handrails, push-to-open door plates, door handles and door knobs, and the taps in public washrooms, and the buttons on the ATM or any vending machine should be coated with copper. Copper acts so powerfully against germs that even 25% copper content is enough to do the job. Plenty of coins in the world have a high copper content, yet their appearance is like that of pewter or brass, so if you don’t like the colour of copper, turnstiles and more, can appear to look like pewter, aluminium, or brass. Killing germs on frequently handled surfaces is a great way to stop retransmission of a pathogen to everyone who passes through that turnstile. How to get it done? The UK government should guarantee zero-interest loans to rail companies, airlines, ATM and vending machine operators, and to cities and towns to incentivize them to coat (electroplate, anodize, or otherwise layer) such surfaces with copper or copper amalgams with a copper content of 25% or more.
  2. Designate who works in ‘Essential Services’ and allow them to continue their duties unaffected by future ‘stay at home orders’. We can’t live without Doctors and Nurses, nor can we live without food and drink, nor without heat and light. And, it’s always nice to have police, fire and ambulance services available on speed dial. Similar is true of the military. Where would we be without them? So, thanks again to those people every day — all the way back to the Great Fire of London in 1666. How to get it done? The UK government should require each department to create a list of jobs in their department deemed ‘essential services’. Also, the UK government should consult with UK industry for a list of job titles considered ‘essential services’ and determine the total number of people required to staff those essential service positions — for the purpose of creating a massive database of people deemed ‘essential’ during any crisis. Maybe those people should be issued a passcard and a matching sticker for their car windscreen allowing them to automatically pass through any police checkstop, park their car for free (Doctors and Nurses shouldn’t be getting their car impounded when they’re busy saving lives, for example) and essential workers should be paid (by the government) an extra £500 per each full or partial month of any crisis (even if it’s a local ‘State of Emergency’ situation where local officials have duly informed the UK government about the emergency) to cover exceptional costs such as the worker having to stay in a hotel after working a 16-hour emergency shift rather than them driving home overtired, and then doing it all over again the next day.
  3. Consolidate all UK Department of Work and Pensions unemployment insurance, welfare/Universal Credit, and government pensions systems into one payments system operated by HM Revenue and Customs. At present in the UK (and most Western countries) there are many government departments offering similar or the same services, which represents a HUGE overhead cost and leads to massive inefficiency in government. All payments should be paid via the ‘reverse income tax’ method to vastly improve and streamline UK services to persons. How to get it done? HM Revenue and Customs should ‘top-up’ the income of every adult Briton who is living under the national poverty line to £1200 per month. Which is cheaper than continuing to operate a multiplicity of government departments dedicated to solving the financial, housing, and legal ills of everyone in the country — especially when you factor-in poverty-based crime and related policing, court, and incarceration costs. It would result in a lowering of taxes by tapering the astonishingly high overhead costs for several government departments — and a tax increase WOULD NOT be required. For example: If a person earns more that £1200 per month, they get nothing from this HM Revenue and Customs programme. If they earn an average of £1000 per month (as reported on their previous year income tax form) they would automatically have £200 added to their bank account via direct deposit each month. Millions of entry level workers, senior citizens, some unemployed persons, and others who earn less than £1200 per month would be automatically topped-up to that amount, but only if they’ve filed their income tax return for the previous year, and only if they’re over the age of majority. It can’t be emphasized enough: The overhead savings alone for the government would more than pay for this improvement and small businesses would benefit from reduced property crime + high insurance rates, and the threat of personal theft (getting ‘mugged’) would practically disappear. Remember, homeless people are only homeless because they don’t have funds to pay rent, therefore, they turn to crime, drugs and other unpleasant means to stay alive. And the gross total cost to the UK annually is in the billions. Take away the reason for the problem and suddenly, there’s no problem. So easy. And prevention is always cheaper than solving a deeply-entrenched problem!
  4. A number of major national infrastructure programmes should be made ‘shovel ready’ as soon as this crisis ends, as nothing says ‘Crisis Over!’ like plenty of jobs ready for people at the end of any emergency. It’s the news that people need to hear during a crisis as it will keep hope alive and keep them working towards a solution instead of them sinking into the abyss of worry, doubt, and substance abuse, or even worse. ‘Here’s a shovel. Now go plant a billion trees!’ is one way to help the bottom-two economic quintiles get back to a normal life. Anyone, even workers who live (whether above or below) the national poverty line might want to spend a few hours doing that at the weekends to make-up the income they’ve lost during the COVID-19 crisis. ‘Let’s reclaim a hundred square miles from the sea and build luxurious golf resorts there!’ might be another way to create millions of badly needed jobs at the end of any emergency including the present coronavirus crisis. Adding fill to the shallower areas of the UK coastline can build sea level rise resiliency and help to prevent the normal process of erosion of land by the sea while creating spectacular tourism areas (jobs, jobs, jobs!) for those who love ocean views. Seen The Palm Dubai, anyone? Dubai was a sleepy fishing village not so long ago. ‘Here’s a hammer. Now go install 10-solar panels on every roof in the UK’ and the UK government should provide zero-interest loan guarantees for any home or business owner willing to have such an array installed on their roof that contributes surplus energy to the national grid. ‘Here’s a tractor. Now go make the UK 100% self-sufficient in food within 10-years!’ and again, the UK government shouldn’t grant such money, it should provide zero-interest loan guarantees to those able to move the UK closer to that goal. Obviously, farmers in the UK won’t be growing coconuts or bananas, but any non-tropical fruit and veg should be doable in southern England. If UK policy is right and the financing is kept at zero-interest, UK farmers and ranchers should be able to accomplish the task with ease and have enough capacity to export significant quantities of UK produce. And the last suggestion is to Get Britain Working Again!’ (but From Home) after the COVID-19 crisis ends by increasing internet and telephone bandwidth and by improving PC programmes that help people to work from home as efficiently as they do at their regular office, thereby allowing fully half of all Britons to work from their brand new home office. Which, of course, (you knew I was going to say it, didn’t you?) should be financed via zero-interest loan guarantees courtesy of the UK government.

You’ll Notice my Suggestions Don’t Cost Anything (net) and They’ll Save the UK Billions while Supercharging the UK Economy and Solving Many Social Ills

You’ve got to like that, whether you voted Conservative or Labour!