RAILWAY CONVERSION - the impractical dream

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This new book is the first analysis of railway-to-road conversion theory and proves that it is totally impractical:-


Ø Of 10,000 miles railway closed since the idea was proposed in 1953, only 250 were ‘converted’. Mostly short lengths, averaging 1.2 miles, widened by a factor of up to eight. Closed routes were 20-180 miles long! Most lines were converted to footpaths, cycleways & bridlepaths, for which limited railway width is no problem. Inquiries of local authorities involved in conversion reveals that there is no data on costs for the converted sections, and that costs may have been higher than building new roads. Claims that converted railways made safer roads are disproved by media reports. 


Ø Only one study, in 1975, included some data of main line clearances. It reveals that, over the 113 mile length, of 124 bridges listed, 43 over-bridges had inadequate headroom even by the below-DfT-standards envisaged; 17 under-bridges would need structural alterations. At 13 places, property would be purchased to give adequate width. 26 miles of double-track route – which is mainly on embankments or in cuttings, with some 50 bridges - would be abandoned. Rail traffic transferred to road transport would be diverted to a heavily used road, and thence to local roads. It was strongly criticized by non-railway groups, and rejected by its political sponsors. Photos illustrate the impracticality of using Liverpool Street station as a bus station, and the inadequacy of railway formation width. They also illustrate the inadequacy of the proposed sub-standard bridge heights advocated when used by HGVs.


Ø     If the inevitable below-standard road widths & bridge heights are adequate, delays could be slashed by reducing lane width on m-ways & concreting verges to create five lanes. Bridge construction costs could be slashed. (Photos illustrate the limited width of railways and height of tunnels and bridges).


Ø     Conversionists assume that all rail passengers will transfer to bus, when experience shows that most transfer to cars if railways close. Where there was a transfer to bus, it was usually short-lived, before they also changed to car. Buses were often withdrawn. They assume all buses will depart when full, that there will be no timetables!


Ø     Theorists never consider the problem of finding entrepreneurs with capital to buy, operate & maintain large numbers of vehicles & depots – only to see passengers turn to cars! They assume all rail staff will become bus/lorry drivers – at lower wages – and ignore they would only be available for training after lines close, leaving erstwhile rail passengers and freight without transport until training was completed many weeks later!


Ø     Utilisation of roads is so poor, that there would be no space for existing road traffic on converted lines. (Photos illustrate the wasteful use of roads)


Ø     Traffic claimed to be on roads is over-estimated, so that the road/rail disparity is exagger­ated. Unsafe practices have held down road transport costs and undermined competition by railways, which are subject to far more stringent external safety controls.


Ø      Road/rail comparisons by Transwatch exclude 200,000 miles of roads – but include every mile of railway in comparable rural areas & situations – in an attempt to make road transport appear to use land more efficiently. Despite this exclusion, they include every journey and tonne on every road in the country.


Ø     Conversion to guided busways will be another bus subsidy. Operators will not pay all costs & will not be comparable with rail. Complications from thousands of public, private and farm level crossings are ignored. (Photos illustrate the guided bus principle).


Ø      The changeover methodology is usually vague. The 1975 study is the only one to set out a method, and it is shown to be deeply flawed and wholly impractical.


Author – E.A. Gibbins, joined the LMS Railway in 1946 as a junior & retired from BR after 40 years as a Chief Officer.

The book has been reviewed in the Railway & Canal Historical Society journal, Railway Gazette International and ‘Focus’ –journal of the Chartered institute of Logistics & Transport, which named it book of the month in April 2007

ISBN 0-9535225-1-2; Paperback: pages vii, 220, 24 photos. £13.95, offered at £8.50 + UK postage 85p;

or by post from E.A. Gibbins, 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke on Trent   ST7  2SR + UK postage 85p