Transwatch Response to the Article: “A new book answers Transwatch claims”

with comments on Transwatch claims


2 April 2009

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Transwatch response


A personal attack in his new web page Railloons, (15.12.06) – something he claims only others do. In it he disputes the statement that “the railway conversion idea initiated by Brigadier Lloyd was demolished by road engineers & operators at an Institution of Civil Engineers debate in 1955”.  He claimed that “the debate following the original discussion lasted until 1958. Most of that occurred in the pages of the then prestigious magazine, The Engineer”.

In a BBC web page (27.3.07), he stated that “Lloyd read his paper at the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1955. That led to three years of correspondence in the then prestigious magazine The Engineer”.




He has been misinformed. After reporting the 1955 debate, there was no debate on conversion in The Engineer until 1958. In 1958, it published 31 letters from 13 supporters - 58% were members of the Railway Conversion League, 72% from Brig. Lloyd himself. None were from the road industry. Hardly proof of independent acclaim! In contrast, there were 43 letters from 37 people opposing the idea, all but two from non-railway sources. Interestingly, a major conference was held in November 1957 on how to tackle road congestion. It was advertised in The Engineer, August 1957. There was no mention of conversion or Brig. Lloyd in the agenda, list of speakers or subsequent report. The conference organisers were aware of the idea - one of the lead speakers, a road engineering expert, spoke at the 1955 debate. The conference & its implicit rejection of the idea, was followed by a meeting of a newly formed Railway Conversion League in Jan 1958, (The Engineer 31.1.58) 

The paper was not simply ‘read’ out. There was a critical debate in which 4 rail & 10 road experts dismissed his plan as impractical & dangerous, with carefully argued facts. Only 5 - none were road engineers or operators - gave what The Engineer (6.5.55), described as ‘grudging support’. It stated that Brig. Lloyd “has still to give his reply to the various speakers’ remarks” - indicative of an ill-prepared paper.

Withrington claims elsewhere that Lloyd or a supporter measured rail formations, contrary to findings in “Railway conversion - the impractical dream”. Editorials in The Engineer called on Lloyd to prove his proposal with details, & “doubted the answers would prove favourable to the idea”. Letters from sup­porters in The Engi­neer confirm that the formation had not been measured. They said it was enough for Lloyd to think up the idea & for government to prove or disprove it. One letter argued (The Engineer 21.2.58) that it was a “novel idea” for someone to have to go to that length having set out his theory. On that basis, all inventors should get government cash to develop any unproven idea. If con­version was practical, there would have been no shortage of finance to de­velop a case. Lloyd quoted from a document setting out government railway dimensional standards, introduced in 1858, when most railways had already been built to lesser standards. It did not demand retrospective action. By that date, Board of Trade returns show 10,002 miles had opened, “The Railway in England & Wales 1830-1914, by Jack Simmonds states [p.50] that: “of today's (1978) mileage, 2/3 was complete by 1854 – 4 years before the government standard was imposed.

His only other comment in this website, on the article, which has 34 points demolishing conversion theory, states: ‘Mr Gibbins asserts that our fuel consumption comparisons are based on “one hypothetical lorry – fully loaded by weight – with an average for all freight trains”. That is not true. Instead we hypothecated a lorry carrying 30 tonnes on its outbound journey & empty on its return. Hence the average load was 15 tonnes. Of course not all lorries replacing the rail function may carry 30 tonnes, but (a) it is true to say that the around 60 percent of rail freight is bulk freight (b) many lorries may return with a half load.













“Not all lorries may carry 30t” is an admission not mentioned in the original web site. The vehicle is hypothetical because it has no registration number, no owner, no journey, no loading & off-loading time, no maintenance nor fuelling time – & that is for starters. Moreover, lorries carrying bulk loads: coal, oil, iron ore, cement, chalk, clay, flyash, etc. which represent most of the bulk traffic have no prospect at all of a return load. Finally, it was compared with the average of all freight trains, rather than taking the strictly comparable scenario of a fully loaded freight train returning empty – e.g. an MGR coal train carrying 1500 imperial tons out, empty back – average = 750 imperial tons. & that is neither hypothetical nor hypothecated!


Rail freight falls into two primary groups:  bulk by weight, & bulk by volume. The latter includes cars, or car components moved between factories. A road transporter would carry, say 8 cars, about 6 tonnes out, zero return = 3 tonnes average compared to the average 15 he claims. As these cars are often dropped at more than one destination, the tonne-miles falls even more. He allows for no terminal turnround time - eg at a colliery or port - & fails to identify which entrepreneur would buy thousands of lorries to create the UK’s biggest road fleet. This would need to be established long before a single rail is removed, accompanied by recruitment & training of thousands of drivers. Conveyance of this traffic cannot be left to the chance of one-lorry cowboys turning up. The belief that train drivers would scramble to take these ill-paid jobs with their excessive hours is ludicrous. They would flock to the new factories forecast to be opened on ex-railway land by anonymous entrepreneurs held back from profitable new industries solely by lack of land. The zillions of acres of brownfield sites in every town in the UK, already linked to mains supplies etc., are inexplicably ignored.

Finally, Withrington concludes  “this book [“Railway Conversion – the impractical dream”] should be treasured as an illustration of the extraordinarily inaccurate comment typical of the railway lobby”.

This conclusion is made from a 3 line extract of a 223 page book which examines conversion proposals made since 1954, & catalogues their impracticalities. Hundreds of conversionist flaws catalogued in this book are not challenged – which includes a chapter on Transwatch claims, & three Chapters on the Hall/Smith scheme, which he praises, & other chapters covering other proposals & exposures of the facts of actual ‘conversions’.



Included in the 32 points ignored, was the fuel reduction arising from transferring Stobhart lorries to rail. When he later addressed this point elsewhere, he claimed that these lorries would use less fuel on converted railways than on existing railways, which means that they would use less fuel on converted railways than motorways.

This defies belief. Converted railways would have thousands of delay & accident inducing flat junctions, level crossings & right hand turns, in contrast to motorways which have none. Frequent braking for traffic lights & vehicles crossing ahead – often against red lights - would inevitably increase fuel consumption. 




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