Now, the problem a lot of people say was that the problem was the privatisation of 'British Railways' in the 1990's by the Conservative Party. I don't agree - I will agree that it was done badly. Instead of separating the 'trains' and the 'tracks' each 'area' should have been put together. The problem didn't originate there.
Let's go back - How about the 'Beeching' cuts in the 1960's. Now, this was where the UK lost a lot of railways and really created a mess. For example - the 'Great Central' route, which was the 'third' route from southern England to Scotland was lost along with a lot of other routes. A lot of the problem here was that 'roads' were the way ahead - the car was becoming cheap. Another issue was the cost of moving from Steam to Diesel. This again was started under a Conservative government - Labour said they would discontinue them if elected (they were and continued closures). This is where a big mistake was made I think - but still, I don't think this is where the biggest mistake was made. This was the start of major underinvestment into the railways - which only since the privisation in the 90's started to make good (but there is a long way to go).
Let's rewind further. How about my original thoughts of what messed up the UK railway system. 1947 - the Labour government nationalised the railways (along with other things). The 'big 4' companies were in a big mess. A discussion and some research has made me realise that this wasn't the big problem. It shouldn't have been nationalised - the railways were in a mess as the government had run them over World War 2 and there was such a backlog of maintenance and repairs (from war damage etc) that they needed a lot of time to recover. Meanwhile cars, buses and lorries were taking over.
Lets go back again, to where I believe the mistake started - 1923. When all the disparate companies were 'merged' into the 'big 4 grouping'. The problem was that during World War 1 the government took over running the railways and again left a nice pile of maintenance and repairs/renewals to be done (how nice of them). I agree that something needed to be done but they 'grouped' them badly. The way they were nationalised created very little competition - they needed to be grouped so they would compete with each other and force each other to improve and fight against the increasing use of lorry transport, buses etc. How would you react to being given control of your annoying rival - yep, marginalise them and make sure 'your side' got the best stuff (and that happened).
Why do I say this - the United Kingdom had the best railway transport system in the world - and after repeated messing by government and allowing one set of rivals to control the other. Yep this is all history and what is done cannot be undone. It's a shame - some lines would have closed but a lot others wouldn't have.
A lot of the fabulous walking I've done is based on a lot of these old trackways. The railways were ripped up and removed (to ensure they couldn't be reopened). A lot of walks - High Peak Trail, Tissington trail and numerous others are only there because the railways have gone.
Annoying really - what could have been a brilliant 21st century system is not available. A lot of fantastic and lovely walking is......