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LQD: Monbiot on Trains, Wales, Colonialism

by Metatone Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 05:06:14 AM EST

We've discussed the Welsh railway network and possible North-South plans on ET before. Monbiot comes up with an interesting historical point about infrastructure as the sign of an extractive economy and highlights a new proposal. Had any of our Welsh types heard of it?

George Monbiot: Dr Beeching turned the country I have come to love into an outpost of empire | Comment is free | The Guardian

n this spirit I have to record that something is missing. Its absence offends my newfound national pride. It mocks our attempt to become a coherent country. It means that the Gogs (of north Wales) and the Hwntws (of south Wales) will for ever be at each other's throats. It means that the greenest nation in the UK is locked into unsustainability. It is also bleeding ridiculous. As far as I can discover, this is the only country in Europe that you cannot traverse by train without spending most of the journey passing through another. The only rail link that allows you to travel from north to south crosses the border near Llangollen and doesn't re-enter Wales until it approaches Abergavenny, 100 miles away.

The railway map of Wales is a classic indicator of an extractive economy. The lines extend either towards London or towards the ports. As Eduardo Galeano established in The Open Veins of Latin America, the infrastructure of a country is a guide to the purpose of its development. If the main roads and railways form a network, linking the regions and the settlements within the regions, they are likely to have been developed to enhance internal commerce and mobility. If they resemble a series of drainage basins, flowing towards the ports and borders, they are likely to have been built to empty the nation of its wealth for the benefit of another. Like Latin America, Wales is poor because it was so rich. Its abundant natural resources gave rise to an extractive system, designed to leave as little wealth behind as possible.


George Monbiot: Dr Beeching turned the country I have come to love into an outpost of empire | Comment is free | The Guardian

There are plenty of lobbyists calling for new roads, but Deiniol's plan is likely to be cheaper and more sustainable. His survey of the disused railway lines of Wales shows that there is one route - from Rhyl through Denbigh, Rhuthun, Corwen, Newtown, Llanidloes, Rhaeadr and Builth Road to Dowlais - that would require only two miles of new formation to link Holyhead to Cardiff. The rest of the way makes use of current and former railways. He proposes that short feeder lines also be built, connecting this trunk route to Mold, Llangollen, Oswestry, Bala, Hay-on-Wye and Brecon.

The One-Wales Line could not only offer a much faster journey than the current long detour through England, but it would also knit the other railways of Wales into a coherent network, as it crosses the north coast railway, the Cambrian line and the Shrewsbury-to-Swansea line. It would help to regenerate a desperately poor region in the south called the Heads of the Valleys. The project would look rather like the Western Railway Corridor in Ireland, which is reopening 184km of disused lines between Limerick and Sligo.

The least the Welsh assembly government should do is to commission a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis of Deiniol's plan. His railway would help Wales looks like a country again, rather than a depot for someone else's empire.

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I think it's a great idea, and if it requires a deference to nationalism to get it through then that's okay.

But it would be better if we had a national government committed to ensuring the UK's future transport needs are met.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 07:57:59 AM EST
But it would be better if we had a national government committed to ensuring the UK's future XXXXXXX needs are met.

It seems to me that there's not much prospect of that...

Energy, transport, health... you name it, all people come up with is "market solutions" or "vouchers" or "invisible hands..."

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 10:21:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After the initial (massive)outlay of readopting tracks, converging existing train timetables (freight use the tracks as well as passenger trains, and the timetable has to be very carefully orchestrated), there is a huge revenue implication for ever after.  

In Wales the Assembly subsidises the train services to a massive amount, and there are arguments that it is still too expensive.  Adding additional revenue commitments would be a very expensive option - although this doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered.  These kind of stories often hide the wider picture to promote a particular agenda.  

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 01:15:53 PM EST
That sounds like a costing from the "we can't do that" campaign. I'm quite sure that if the approach had been to find ways of doing it affordably, an entirely different set of costings and arguments would be produced. All from the same base data.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 02:23:25 PM EST
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We have a limited pot of money from Westminster and do not have the power to increase taxes in Wales.  I didn't say it isn't worth considering but the article conveniently leaves out the huge costs involved.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 02:37:06 PM EST
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The point I'm making is that, because this is a political decision, the cost estimate is not fixed but highly flexible; depending on whether you want to do it or not. And when it comes to railways you'd be amazed what can be done for a shoestring if there's a will or how expensive something can be if there isn't.

It's somewhat akin to haggling and the first bid by the seller isn't serious. We've just had the opening bid from the 'antis' and in a little while you'll see a counter-bid from the pros. Hopefully, at that point there will be some neutral assessement of the competing claims. But it is all about the politics and nothing about the cost.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 03:11:05 PM EST
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Wales Transport Strategy

The Regional Development plans still need to be put together, and frankly Wales needs the UK to invest in railways because we can't really do it alone.  Everyone is arguing over the Severn Barrage right now to be thinking about the North South links in any detail.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 03:22:16 PM EST
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by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 03:24:32 PM EST
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Well the route is daft. I'd say that the only really sensible route would be to reconnect the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth route. the route suggested links the country as slowly as possible (though it would be best to have both routes)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 03:58:28 PM EST
Off the Saesneg.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 04:21:39 PM EST
If the main roads and railways form a network, linking the regions and the settlements within the regions, they are likely to have been developed to enhance internal commerce and mobility. If they resemble a series of drainage basins, flowing towards the ports and borders, they are likely to have been built to empty the nation of its wealth for the benefit of another. Like Latin America, Wales is poor because it was so rich. Its abundant natural resources gave rise to an extractive system, designed to leave as little wealth behind as possible.

This is bloody stupid.

The setup of the infrastructure doesn't depend on if you want to take all the wealth out of a country or not.

Imagine a country rich in natural resources but with a low population density. Then what are you supposed to do? Invest in a network to "enhance internal commerce and mobility"? Hell no! That's not how you maximise the economic value. What you do is you create infrastructure which "resemble a series of drainage basins, flowing towards the ports and borders". This means you can export you coal, iron ore, timber or whatever we're talking about. This will bring in cash. Because to tell the truth, coal, iron or timber is not wealth as long as it just lies around. You're not rich if you own 10 000 tonnes of iron ore which you can't use or sell.

Monbiot just seems to have a very strong anti-trade bias.

To summarise: infrastructure is dependent on the local conditions, not on some metaphysical evil will to steal wealth from the locals. Indeed, trade will result in the very opposite.

If Monbiot was right, the 3/4 of Sweden where we have a drainage basin kind of infastrucuture would be dirt poor. That happens not to be the case.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 11:41:29 PM EST
The history of railroad development in the U.S. seems to support Monbiot's proposal. In the east, where the population centers and economy were already established before railroads, the railroads form a network that connect the cities and ALSO support the transporation of raw materials and finished products.

In the west (beyond the Missouri River), where there were no people before railroads came along, the routes form two sorts of systems. On the prairie they are straight east-west lines that allow farmers to get their wheat onto the trains for shipment to the eastern cities. In the mountains they form a drainage-like pattern because they were installed to support mineral extraction.

The cities west of the Mississippi were, in the large majority of cases, located by the railroads on railroad-owned real estate with siting specifically designed to maximize railroad company profit. There are many examples of this, with Denver and Salt Lake City being the two major exceptions that prove the rule...

by asdf on Wed Dec 31st, 2008 at 12:16:32 AM EST
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In the west (beyond the Missouri River), where there were no people before railroads came along

Exactly. During the age of rail there was not enough population in these areas to justify the network kind of rail.

Few people on a large area cannot support large amounts of capital intensive infrastructure. Simple as that.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Dec 31st, 2008 at 01:57:35 PM EST
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Starvid:
Invest in a network to "enhance internal commerce and mobility"? Hell no! That's not how you maximise the economic value. What you do is you create infrastructure which "resemble a series of drainage basins, flowing towards the ports and borders". This means you can export you coal, iron ore, timber or whatever we're talking about. This will bring in cash. Because to tell the truth, coal, iron or timber is not wealth as long as it just lies around. You're not rich if you own 10 000 tonnes of iron ore which you can't use or sell.

You're simply describing the logic behind what Monbiot suggests.

With the difference that Wales was not choosing to export and bring in cash, it was simply being used by its colonial master, England. Does this explain why the wealth all seemed to stick in England, and Wales was left "dirt poor"?

As always, what pro-traders wish to forget is power. Who holds it, who wields it, and what are their interests? There is not a level playing field.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Dec 31st, 2008 at 08:03:17 AM EST
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... proceeds of extraction, its possible to have a dendritic system extracting wealth from an area and that wealth returning.

However, if the focus is upon generating value added within a country so that the exports from the resource base supports a a substantially larger range of domestic activity, there will be some portion of the country where the transport system is not purely dendritic.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jan 1st, 2009 at 06:12:17 PM EST
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