A to B 40 Blog, February 2004, Rail Privatisation, Cycle Helmets

FIRST PUBLISHED February 2004
Rail Privatisation, Cycle Helmets.

Back in the early ‘90s, when Prime Minister John Major came up with the idea of privatizing the railways, the poor fellow could never have guessed how it would all end up. The original idea, it seems, was to restore a bit of pride to the rail network by creating a number of large, privately-owned regional concerns, rather like the ‘Big Four’ railway companies prior to nationalisation in 1947.

Private enterprise would flourish, profits would be made, more passengers would be carried, regional identity restored, jolly staff, wealthy shareholders, Fat Controller, etc, etc. What he actually got – once the civil servants and right-wing fruit & nutcase lobbyists had got their teeth into it – was an unworkable monster. But instead of sweeping it all away, Tony Blair’s even more fruit & nutcase government went on to shore up the crumbling edifice with tiers and tiers of extra bureaucracy, making the privatized railway even more expensive, cumbersome, inefficient and dangerous.

However, one is delighted to see that common sense is working its magic. In recent months, Network Rail (or whatever it’s called this week) has announced that track maintenance will be brought back in- house, eliminating the contractors and sub-contractors that have plagued the rail industry. And we’re already being softened up to accept the idea of vertical-integration on a regional basis. If that means state- ownership, it’s broadly the railway we had before Mr Major started tinkering. If it means private-ownership, it’s broadly what Mr Major intended. In other words, the ten year hiatus has all been a ghastly, pointless cock-up, as ordinary folk knew all along, one suspects.

Compulsory Cycle Helmets

The colonies are not immune to the odd cock-up themselves, of course. One flawed policy being eyed all too seriously by one’s own Police State, is compulsory cycle helmets. It seems a determined lobby has formed, with legislation a distinct possibility in the next parliamentary term.

But the bounders are not playing fair! One of the spurious arguments put before our vulnerable and misguided politicians is the suggestion that 28,000 children suffer serious head injuries each year while riding bicycles. The correct figure (including the sort of injury that requires brief medical observation and a pat on the head) is around 1,000 to 1,200.

The rogues have also suggested that cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries. This sort of figure gives the impression that a helmet might get Little Johny home for tea after an altercation with a 40- tonner, but in reality, cycle helmets are virtually useless in collisions with motor vehicles, even small ones.

Rather than forcing cyclists to adopt body armour, might it not make greater sense to discourage people from driving, and to do it slowly when they do get behind the wheel? We need only look at Germany or the Netherlands, where helmets are almost unknown, yet cycle use much higher, and cycling statistically safer.

Governments spend millions on ad campaigns to convince us to stop smoking or drinking and driving, but not driving per se – where are the subliminal messages suggesting we do something positive for our health, like riding a bicycle to work?