A rebuttal of Transwatch paper to the Transport Select Committee

by E. A. Gibbins, C.M.I.L.T.


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1 August 2007

The idea of converting railways has been put to Ministers several times, including in 1960, 1970, 1976. It was rejected. The paper is a re-hash of documents & papers that have been in circulation up to 30 years. (The following pages & paras & the underlined words are from the Transwatch paper to the Committee which is on the web.


page 3, para 1 If the internal combustion engine had been invented in 1825, railways would not have been built

That does not follow, at all. Motor roads would have been built & paid for by the State. UK government was much more likely to have been attracted by the provision of railways at shareholders’ expense.

page 3 Sir Dan Pettit said railways are incapable of offering the kind of freight service society increasingly wants

He was a haulage company boss; such a statement is no surprise. However, government had placed Freightliner under him, & it continued to carry containers by rail. This extract from The Times (17.10.72), leaves out a statement by Pettit: ‘Nothing I have said should be taken to mean that I am against railways - which I am not’. Pettit did not say that roads were suitable for rail traffic. The article said: ‘It has been difficult to find anyone speaking out intelligently & openly against the view that railways should be retained at their present size, even if that means a large & growing contribution from the taxpayer’.  Moreover, what matters is the present & the future - not what was said 35 years ago. In this context, haulier Eddie Stobart has transferred traffic to rail.

LGVs cause delays when making deliveries, damage pavements & buildings, block traffic in all directions when negotiating right angle or acute junctions. This will not change if railways are converted, because vehicles must enter towns. Promoters of bigger lorries glossed over this reality, & the DfT did not spot the danger. Big lorries should break bulk at the outskirts of towns as happens in some countries, using smaller street-friendly vehicles to make deliveries & collections, preferably at night as advocated by the FTA chairman (Daily Telegraph 14.2.07). Any cost increase to consumers would be offset by cessation of damage & delay.

page 4 ‘Using loop pick-ups & drop-offs many of these journeys would become door-to-door

Routing more buses into the congested streets adjoining main line termini would create gridlock. If they meandered round workplaces & homes, they would not get back to a converted railway to maintain a schedule. Adelaide’s guided buses which go off-system return in convoys. The idea that each bus could be door-to-door picking up people for one area of a particular town (not all commuters go into one central city area) is absurd.

page 4  Claimed that one bus lane could carry 50,000 passengers per hour.

It is irrelevant if there are not 50,000 to carry. If rail passengers exceed capacity, trains can be lengthened, e.g., trains to Southend from Liverpool Street have more coaches than other trains on that line. Differences reflect demand, rather than physical limitations. A further increase would come from improved signalling. To carry 28,500 passengers per hour, the East Anglian study praised by Transwatch required buses departing at 8-9 second intervals! One bus breaking down or one pedestrian injured and the service would be in chaos.

page 4  Compares an average freight train with one hypothetical fully loaded lorry.

This chalk & cheese comparison is common in conversionist claims. Some rail wagons (and lorries) are full by volume, rather than weight. A road transporter carrying ex-rail cars would have a load of about 6 tons (not the 30 ton claimed), & would return empty, giving a 3 ton average, not the 15 ton average claimed. Length of each journey has to be planned into the working day of labour, & within the constraints of hours customers specify. The same principle applies with buses where arithmetic appears to show how few buses & drivers are needed to carry rail passengers. It will be noted that conversionists ignore the need for management, supervisors & clerical staff, & staff required to cover holidays, sickness, training, etc.

page 4, para 2 Rail Subsidies

Overt subsidies are paid to bus operators & covert subsidies enjoyed by road haulage & buses from motorists who are really funding the cost of roads, which are worn out by heavier vehicles. Transwatch’s paper ignores these. The True Costs of Rail & Road Freight over Trunk Routes - BR 1964 study submitted to the Geddes Committee - demonstrated that hauliers were underpaying. The Road Haulage Association accepted that, but by a lesser margin, (Times, 19.8.64, 8.10.64). A case of pleading guilty to a lesser charge in the hope of a more lenient outcome! This would never have surfaced without BR’s study. John Wardroper stated in Juggernaut, (page 126): Slow & middle lanes of motorways, used by HGVs are wearing out halfway through their design life a hidden subsidy for road haulage ignored in paper comparisons. The Hall/Smith Study which looked at a main line & 5 associated branches, stated for every one of those 6 routes, the same qualifying phrase: assuming conversion costs have been offset by benefits to private traffic. It implies that motor­ists will fund conversion, but not in coin of the realm - essen­tial to pay for construction - but by a theoretical value placed on time saved by motorists, who, it is assumed, will transfer from existing roads. Road costs would be paid in cash by government. This is a subsidy to hauliers & buses. Accidents caused by LGVs are a cost to the NHS; & to delayed motorists. Roadside checks reveal worrying levels of corner cutting, & some operators regard these checks as part of their routine maintenance - albeit infrequent & free of charge. If railways were converted, all LGVs, buses & coaches would need to be better maintained, & additional safety modifications imposed, to prevent jack-knifing. Hauliers should be forced into mergers - as railways were in 1921 to eliminate cross empty mileage & improve average loads.

John Wardroper (Juggernaut) & sundry TV documentaries reveal costs are held down by low wages, which are compensated by excessive hours.  Without railways, the lid would come off, & employees would demand higher wages & shorter hours. With no alternative rail service, customers would have to pay up, & consumers would be worse off. Road users gain a return in the form of time saved by new road building & improvements, which should be set against taxes that they pay. Hall/Smith claimed that time saved by motorists had a value & this was the financial justification for conversion.

The Transwatch website claims that conversion costs could be cheaper than Hall/Smith estimates, which local authorities & others said were much too low. (See Railway Conversion - the impractical dream), Transwatch prays in aid a 7.3-metre road built on a closed railway at Southport through flat country, said to cost £140,000 per km at 1991 prices, (Major A. C. Dalgleish, The Truth about Transport). The actual costs incurred were £34,000 per mile in 1965 (Municipal Engineering, 20.12.68). That equated to £54,400 per km in 1965, which with inflation would have risen by 1991 to £0.5m per km! It is overlooked that they got land-fill material free, & the Engineer who built it, said sub soil was favourable. (Dalgleish dismissed costs used on other schemes on the grounds that the sub soil was unfavourable!) Figures quoted by contractors at the 1971 Institution of Civil Engineers meeting were up to £406,000 per km for a 6.7m road, ten times the Hall/ Smith Study figure. This damning fact from non-BR critics is ignored. The argument about what conversion would cost for any given location can only be established by contractors’ written quotations for that location.

page 4, para 3. Converting lines which are not profitable.

This is a new departure. Hitherto, the conversionist mini-lobby, (whose membership peaked at 75 members in 1972, falling to 26 in 1988, and finally zero), called for replacement of all lines by roads. The bluff of conversionists should be called, & one route offered for conversion trials. If that fails - based on pre-determined criteria - the advocates should pay the costs of conversion to road & back again to rail.

On its website, Transwatch, compares the contract cost of upgrading the West Coast line from 110 to 140 mph - involving track, electrification & signalling renewals, stations, etc., - with a non-contractual Treasury paper figure for building a 70 mph motorway - a chalk & cheese comparison. The actual cost of building the M1 substantially exceeded forecasts, whereas BR schemes were usually within budget. The rail cost includes:

Electrification costs which are not comparable with concrete as they are part of fuel dis­tri­bution, & comparable with costs of fuel distribution to filling stations, bus & lorry depots

Diversion costs of rail traffic during engineering work that has no parallel in building motorways in green fields - but would arise in a conversion of an operational line.

Track & bridges are built for 22.5 ton axle weights; motorways for 11.5 tonnes. If they were built solely for cars, the required axle weight would be 0.6tonne, exposing the high cost of roads suitable for HGVs. (The railway axle weight was established when the UK used imperial tons that are slightly heavier than the metric tonnes now used. One ton = 1.016 tonnes. The road axle weight was quoted by the Highways Agency).

The scenario which must be considered, is that of a main line carrying one Inter City train every five minutes replaced by 3,600 cars per hour in one lane, or one every second. At 60 mph their available headway would be less than half the pre­scribed safe headway, even if they flowed along like computer controlled robots in­stead of in unregimented surges. When account is taken of cross traffic at flat junctions & farm crossings, other vehicles entering the road, whilst others wait to turn right to exit, accidents would not halve, but would soar out of control. Why conversionists believe that displaced passengers would turn to buses instead of cars is no mystery. Towns would be gridlocked if users turned to cars. The conversion theorists, who would not lose a penny in an experiment, were blind to the reality. It should be easy to find someone to blame for failure.

Even were there an economic case to convert - which there isn’t - it would be madness to embark on a scheme that would increase oil dependency when a thoroughly researched book - The Last Oil Shock by David Strahan - discloses that oil reserves will soon be inadequate to meet growing world consumption.

page 4, para 3 Traffic would transfer from historic routes to adjacent railway rights of way

Transfer from 220,000 miles of such roads to 10,000 miles of railway is absurd. Railways do not serve as much area. Longer journeys would be inevitable. Vehicles diverted from existing roads would still run in towns & villages. Why did conversionists not jump in with cash to buy up a closed route & provide a toll road? There have been many over 25 miles (the length of the M6 toll road), & some over 100 (M&GN, S&D, GCR). Sir David Robertson MP urged replacing the 161 mile Inverness-Wick line with an autobahn in 1955, (Hansard 11.7.55, vol 543, col 1682). When it was proposed for closure, he was a leading objector, having discovered the weaknesses of the alternative, (Hansard vol 624, cols 30, 47, 73). 

In researching for my book (The Railway Closure Controversy), I examined the papers of the Transport Users Consultative Committees - which conducted public hearings into closures - & media reports. There were no calls by conversionists supporting closure & conversion to road. Why? Every such closure had to be publicised in national & local media. They could not be unaware of the opportunity. Did they fear public ridicule.

There is no evidence - nor can there be, without a detailed traffic survey of vehicle journeys - that a single vehicle will benefit by diverting. Lorries make deliveries on existing roads. Buses would have no passengers if they did not run along residential streets. The proximity of buses to houses is their attraction.

If conversion is so beneficial, why has it not been adopted in Europe? It is not due to British Rail being backward. In 1980, a Leeds University study found that they compared favourably with European systems

page 4  Re Hall/Smith Report reference to American transport Reports

It is significant how selective the conversion view is of American opinion.  They pointedly ignore Reports that demonstrate the excessive road wear by road haulage. Transport Research Laboratory Report (LR 1132): The US Army conducted research on the subject after WWII. In Juggernaut, (page 132), John Wardroper states: The State of Oregon ‘a leader in road cost studies, found that half the cost of bridge maintenance is attributed solely to lorries’.  R. Calvert (Times 18.6.76): A USA official study of highway wear revealed the damage caused by a 6-ton axle load was 10,000 times as much as a car & a 12 ton axle load 160,000 times as much.

An American study, (The Times 21.1.74) which claims that busways were cheaper than rail, was quoted by conversionists. Richard Hope, Editor, Railway Gazette wrote (Times 28.1.74): ‘They ignored that American trains carry three redundant staff which distorts the comparison’. Conversionists neglected to mention that this study pre-supposed that all commuters are collected up by buses meandering around residential areas & deposited at the station. In the UK most walk to a station or are dropped off by car.

The much quoted bus lane in New Jersey leads to a multi-storey, multi-million dollar terminal, which took 2 years to build, (New Scientist 5.2.76). This journal also said that the £50,000 expenditure proposed for the conversion of Liverpool Street station to a bus station, would pay only for drawings of the bus station. The New York Times reports on blockages of the much quoted bus lanes due to accidents. A two hour blockage at peak time, such as has been reported, (New York Times, 24.2.01), would delay 860 bus journeys from a converted Liverpool Street. Unfortunately, Hall/Smith plan to have a maximum of 432 buses in service. Some 30,000 passengers would be waiting in Liverpool Street bus station!

Conversionists’ quotes from The Economist, use the ellipsis to ignore unhelpful issues, and ignored a letter from America about the costly consequences of using buses instead of trains, (The Economist, 26.8.74).

If PSVs of modern design, using motorways for almost their entire journey, cannot attract all existing rail traffic, despite some of the latter being at higher fares, how can anyone realistically believe that they could do so on roads with one lane & flat junctions at thousands of cross roads? It is claimed that PSVs could be equipped with every comparable facility found on trains. That would reduce seating, increase costs & fares.

page 5, para 10 RAC Report.

The RAC also published a Report in 2004 stating that motorists’ first preference after the car was the train. That is ignored. The inference is that bus is third & thus if there is no rail, the first preference will be car.

page 5, para 11 - Waterloo.

Why focus on Waterloo – for which there has been no study - ignoring Liverpool Street, which is the second largest commuter station, although Hall/Smith referred to it, erroneously, as the ‘busiest commuter station in the world’ in their Report which Transwatch praises?

page 5 para 11 Motor coach has 3-4 times train capacity offering prospect of seats to all London commuters:

To make a claim, does not prove it. It is irrelevant if those displaced from trains opt for cars, as in past closures. Smith, who co-wrote with Hall, a report on converting an East Anglian rail route, which involves commuting to London, wrote in the Journal of Transport Economics & Policy, September 1973: ‘there was no assumption that peak bus passengers would be all seated.’

page 6 para 11 ‘Motor roads managed to avoid congestion

It is not said how they would be managed, nor the cost thereof. There is no system to spread traffic evenly over alternative routes. Drivers decide which road to use. Photos in my book show underused motorways, dual carriageways & other roads that are as good as or better than a converted railway could be. Not a penny has ever been allocated by conversionists to a management system. Their assumption that all passengers would present themselves in orderly groups of 50 all going to the same place within a minute before departure is untenable.

Transwatch says that Lincoln Tunnel has a daily peak hour capacity for 700 45-seat buses providing 30,000 seated passengers via Lincoln Tunnel in a single lane 3.2m wide. Data supplied to me by the New York Port Transit Authority which has responsibility for the tunnel refers to a peak of 33/4 hours (06.15 to 10.00), with 1700 buses & 62,000 passengers, giving an average of 453 buses & 16,530 passengers per hour. They state that some peak passengers stand. Transwatch neglects to mention that there is a maximum speed of 35 mph in the Tunnel. Despite this there have been collisions which block the lane up for two hours. New York Transit Authority/Transportation Alternatives (www): The New York City busway system ‘once had the best surface transit system in world. Today, it has declined to point where New Yorkers skip taking a bus as it is often no faster than walking. It is slower than taking a cab or driving your own car. Buses don’t work because they are high capacity vehicles stuck in traffic behind low capacity vehicles. The city tried bus lanes, but they fail consistently without heavy enforcement’. The UK has had no success in blocking misuse of bus lanes.

page 6, para 12  Terminal conversion - Within terminals the nimble bus/coach would use the available space perhaps three times as efficiently as the cumbersome train with the added advantage that buses could proceed to first or second floor departure or holding floors or do a loop beyond the terminal to drop off and pick up.

The only published study of a UK terminal is by Hall/Smith. They envisage converting the area used by trains as a bus station. This scheme is mentioned by Transwatch in its paper & praised on the Web. My book shows that the location would be beset with problems, delays & accidents. I prove, with fact, figure & photo, that the portion of railway to be converted to an entry/exit route is not wide enough for one lane in each direction as the authors claim. A ‘cumbersome train’ (Transwatch’s term) has the facility to leave the terminal without turning. The bus is not nimble enough to do so. To avoid reversing and speed turnround, it is proposed that buses pass every 8-9 seconds, across a walkway used by 28,500 passengers in the peak hour. A bus will have to very nimble to cut between 28,500 passengers without accidents. Wheelchairs and cycles were not provided for.

The idea of multi floors has not been thought through. Buses “proceeding to upper floors” is a disadvantage, but essential because the ground level would be inadequate. It will be costly. Every terminal will be out of action for a year or two, whilst a new one is built. Passengers will be diverted to existing roads. The time required by buses to pass to/from upper floors has not been evaluated. There are no costed drawings. It is overlooked that local authorities can block such schemes as they did BR plans to build above Fenchurch Street & Euston. To ‘do a loop, beyond the terminal’ is impractical in the adjoining congested streets. Buses would have to cross pedestrian flows, leading to more accidents. Some terminals are higher or lower than street level.

The Transwatch website states: If buses ‘are spread over three levels, there would be 30 bays on each’.  There is no assessment of cost, nor the area occupied by ramps, nor the length of time required to pass between street & upper levels. Transwatch states that Victoria Coach station ‘is said to be able to handle 10,000 passengers per hour’ =  50m pa on a 16 hour day/6 day week. (Who made this statement is not mentioned). Data supplied by Victoria coach station management shows it has 10m pa. One must not compare what one system may theoretically be able to handle with what another is actually handling. Liverpool St east side is actually handling 28,500 in a peak hour in an area half the size of Victoria coach station. According to the Transwatch website: ‘terminal capacity is a separate issue & more difficult to demonstrate simply’. It is crucial & only difficult in the absence of timetables based on an analysis of journeys. Such a study must be made before a penny is spent on construction plans. Conversion proposals ignore the practicalities of operation, which any transport operator regards as the first essential. Brig. Lloyd, who initiated the conversion idea, dispensed with timetables which would prove the dream impractical.

Conversion theory is that buses will be point to point, without stops. Thus, there have to be more ‘platforms’ for buses than trains. Passengers would take longer to join buses. The lack of reference to a departure display in proposals is no oversight. They cost money & need staff not envisaged in minimum cost levels claimed.

The Transwatch website states that: ‘Probably a bus would use terminal space 3-4 times as efficiently as the train.’ It goes on to say that ‘with similar calculations, it can be shown that, in terms of both capacity & use, road transport out-performs rail by a factor of 3-5 across the network’. A claim must not begin with probably & conclude with certainty.

page 6, paras 13 & 14 The flow per track averaged over the national rail network is equivalent to only 300 buses. The density of use, in terms of passenger-km or tonne-km per km of track achieved by the Rail system is one third to one fifth that obtained per lane from the motorway or from the trunk road and motorway network.

To average the buses required over the network is absurd, but is a formula used by theorists since 1954. A London commuter does not want to know there is capacity in mid Wales or Lincolnshire. In all conversion proposals, no timetables are produced to prove the feasibility of transfer to bus. The ‘detailed’ plan for East Anglia by Hall/Smith was no exception. No bus operator has ever expressed interest in undertaking the task.

If railways were converted for one route, & failed, reinstatement would be very costly. This issue has not been addressed. By definition an experiment is something that can be reversed if it proves impractical or too costly. Reversal may not be feasible. If an experiment proves the theorists are wrong, who picks up the tab?

Para 14 takes the volume of traffic throughout railways - urban & rural - & relates it to a motorway. Rural railways can only be compared with rural roads. Converted railways will not be to motorway standards. There will be cross-roads, ‘level crossings’ for farmers & public, and right turns across oncoming vehicles. Whether or not uncosted traffic lights are provided, there will be delays & accidents, which are endemic at cross-roads & right turns. No cost has ever been allocated for phones to assist with breakdowns, as applies on motorways.

page 6, para 15. Casualty rates

Transwatch implies that although many rail passengers are injured on stations before travelling, few bus passengers are. There is precisely the same risk of trips & falls. Slipping on diesel covered surfaces will be a new risk. The only scheme to portray a terminal converted to a bus station envisages thousands of passengers facing injury or death from hundreds of buses passing between them every few seconds.

Postal workers on rail stations will face analogous risks between road vehicles, assuming provision is made for mail, which the East Anglian scheme ignored.

All trespassers are taking a short cut to get from A to B. They will have the same motivation & opportunity after conversion, but will be at greater risk, & deaths will soar, due to the greater frequency of road vehicles. Perhaps, there is an assumption that they are trainspotters. They travel great distances by rail, to stand on platforms to observe trains. Those ‘spotting’ from a lineside location, stand well back to be able to read loco numbers as they flash by at 100-125 mph. Having had to attend inquests into trespassers’ deaths on the railway, I can say that they were either crossing the line or walking along it to get from A to B. I cannot recall hearing of a trainspotter’s death. With conversion, there would be new forms of trespass: to hitch-hike, to pick up goods falling off lorries, or illegal immigrants jumping out. The ‘cost of trespasser deaths’ will be higher. 

Once again, 10,000 miles of railway, including rural single lines is compared with motorways. Deaths on the mis-named “motor roads” will be higher than on motorways due to the factors identified above. Accidents that would be caused at level crossings (public & farm) & by right turns are ignored. Casualty comparisons follow the same path as vain attempts to prove that roads are better utilised than railways. Thus, every person injured or killed anywhere on the railway system is counted, including those in railway workshops, maintenance depots & sidings, whose corollaries on road: vehicle factories, bus & lorry garages, haulage depots, etc. are ignored. whilst pedestrians, cyclists & motor-cyclists on roads are excluded as they are ‘seldom met with on railways’ (see Transwatch web-site 7.7.04, & Journal of Institute of Economic Affairs 2.6.04). By the same token, as cars, buses, lorries are seldom seen on railways, casualties caused by them could be excluded &, hey presto - there are really no deaths on roads at all. The classes Transwatch seeks to exclude use level crossings, where accidents are mostly caused by road users’ failings, than by trains, according to the strictly independent HMRI. Crossing deaths appear in rail statistics, but should be debited to roads - a level crossing is part of a road, & analogous to cross-roads, except that level crossings are safer. Likewise, when road vehicles crash through barriers or fall onto the line (e.g. Selby - which was not unique, except in its severity), ensuing deaths appear in rail not road statistics. Had that line been converted to a road, & the same vehicle had crashed, the fatalities would have been far higher.

Railway trespassers are pedestrians taking a short cut. Pedestrians are killed taking a short cut across roads instead of using controlled crossings. A proper comparison requires all fatalities to be counted in both modes. Converted railways would not be pedestrian free.

Swerving vehicles would be dan­gerous on converted narrow roads which conversionists will accept - in­itially. Given the admission of HGV drivers in the Selby TV re-enactment, that they drive when very tired the reason for swerving is obvious. Selby led to the installation of costly protective barriers for bridge abutments on motor­ways. Work is proceeding elsewhere. As with ear­lier hindsight ex­penditure, such as hard shoulders (replacing soft shoulders), roadside signalling, lighting, warning signs, phones, central barriers (replaced when original barriers gave inadequate protection). these are road safety costs overlooked in superficial compari­sons.

Evidence of tired drivers is revealed in Juggernaut by John Wardroper & BBC TV & Granada documentaries.

page 6, paras 16 & 17 Fuel consumption

No source is quoted. BRB Accounts did not show quantity, only cost of the combined total for electricity & diesel. It was not split between passenger & freight sectors & engineering departments that ran works trains. A Transwatch website refers to figures supplied by Railtrack for 2003, which were split by sectors. No reliable calculation is possible, as the five business sectors & engineers were replaced six years earlier, by 100 companies, that were unlikely to disclose sensitive information to Railtrack and they were not co-terminus with sectors & departments. A guestimate may have been given to close the inquiry. If data was available, that relating to engineers’ trains, test running of new trains, etc., would have to be excluded as its counterpart on roads is not part of a comparison. Transwatch is concerned with a lack of national data on train fuel, despite there being none for lorries, buses, cars, to compare with rail fuel.

A car carrying two (25% above average of 1.6) cannot be compared with a 125 mph train carrying an average load, which also has toilet & refreshment facilities (which reduce payload) but enable passengers to use them without stopping. The speed disparity is ignored. One could equally compare a well-loaded train with the average of all road passenger transport - if reliable road data was available. Plowden & Buchan say ‘Lorries account for 6% of energy consumption in the UK, but are responsible for 31% of emissions of black smoke, 17% of nitrogen oxides, & other pollutants’. ‘Fuel per tonne km by road haulage, is 5 times greater than rail’.

Recently, cars to be built 30 years hence, are compared with today’s trains. That is untenable.

The Transwatch website, claims road transport is more fuel efficient than rail, given rail rights of way, that lorries & coaches could discharge a national rail function using 20-25% less fuel. The average lorry load is taken as 15 tonnes [30t load out, return empty]. A large percentage of mileage is with loads below vehicle capacity, (Plowden & Buchan). Many lorries make multiple drops, so the average load will fall below the 50% level. Rail consumption is inflated by an unwarranted allocation of 10 miles road transit at each end. BR audited Accounts showed around 80% to/from private sidings: ports, quarries, power stations, collieries, factories, etc., where the road element is zero. No data exists on the distance of road delivery for the rest. I worked at goods depots, at which delivery distance for most of this traffic was under 3 miles. The speed disparity is ignored. Freight trains are 75mph, lorries 60mph. The fuel basis for lorries is: ‘If the lorry runs at 7 mpg .....’. No source to justify 7mpg is shown. Using a similar global approach, an average lorry achieves 5.9 mpg. This covers all vehicles from light vans to HGVs. A lorry carrying 32t would have worse consumption than the average lorry, (Source: National Fuel Use statistics & DfT vehicle miles).

It is statis­ti­cally unac­ceptable to take an av­erage of all train loads, to compare with one fully loaded hypo­theti­cal. It should be compared to actual train loads of 1000+ coal, ore or oil, empty back, average 500+ tons. DfT data for all vehicles over 3.5t gvw is 159bn tonne-kms, & km ex­cluding light vans as 32bn, giving an average of a heavier lorry at 5 ton­nes, & even this is over­stated due to the unreliability of data. Thus, con­sumption for lorries is underestimated by a factor of three. This worsens road con­sump­tion from a claimed 120 to 40 tonne-mpg, compared to 181 tonne-mpg for rail­, excluding the erroneous 20 miles claimed for road transit of all rail traffic. Allowing for some road transit on 15% traffic still leaves rail consumption far better.

Transwatch claimed that system-wide rail returned the equivalent of 115 passenger mpg (see response to page 6), less efficient than an express coach returning 10 miles per gallon with 20 people on. It is statistically unacceptable to take an estimated national average of all railway passenger services - for urban & rural routes - & compare it with one unscheduled hypothetical PSV carrying 20 passengers. The DfT say that no reliable data exists for average PSV loads. PSVs seen locally by the author are frequently carrying one or two! Hence, the conclusion about a fuel saving is wrong. This is borne out by the Eddie Stobart web-site which shows that a transfer of freight to rail saves 2.07m litres of fuel pa, taking 13,000 lorry journeys off roads pa, & achieving £1m of environmental savings pa. They operate a daily train from Daventry in Northants to Grangemouth, near Glasgow. When informed of this, Transwatch said that using a converted railway, Stobart could have saved more fuel - by inference, than on the M1/M6 - which is inconceivable.

page 7, para 18 Journey lengths

Transwatch says ‘50% of passenger rail journeys are less than 25 miles (same as bus & coach on non-urban roads)’. The source of this data is not mentioned. My inquiries of the DfT as to bus/coach traffic revealed: ‘Little definitive data is submitted by operators. There is no data on loads - & hence, passenger miles/kms - for long distance, contract or excursion coaches. There is some for local services, but it is not precise outside London’. Clearly, road traffic figures are not as accurate as rail. Hence, their use to calculate road utilisation & compare it with rail cannot be justified. Transwatch compares all rail, with a selective part of the road network. More frequent buses - unavoidable because of the smaller payload - will not compensate, as claimed, for slower journeys. Every bus will still be slower than the train. Long distance coaches operate on a basis of pre-booking to maximise loads. Anyone who misses a coach is not allowed to join another at the expense of a pre-booked passenger. It is worth noting the conditions of service of National Express:

“Passengers must arrive at the boarding point 5 minutes before scheduled departure, & allow one hour before departure of connecting services. No refunds will be made after the time/date of departure of a service on which a passenger is booked without evidence (eg medical certificate) of inability to travel. No refunds given for lost or stolen tickets”. 

Coach companies will not change practices to facilitate conversionist theory, nor operate without timetables.

page 7, para 19. ‘Fares are lower by express coach’.

They must be lower to reflect lower standards of comfort & speed & lack of on-board facilities. One thing is certain, if there is no rail competition, fares will rise: ‘No sooner had a rail service closed, than bus fares rose to heights which made it difficult for constituents to go about their business at reasonable prices,’ (Hansard, 23.6.58 vol. 590, col. 202)

The Transwatch website claims ‘if rail rights of way were available to express coaches, fares would reduce by a factor of at least five or at least that is often the current differential’. When PSVs replaced trains after closures they were subsidised by BR, (Railway Closure Controversy & BTC/BRB Accounts). Objectors to closures said that they would have to pay higher bus than rail fares. A claim that fares on the East Anglian study would fall by 64% has been disproved (Railway Conversion - the impractical dream, pp 139 & 150)

page 7, paras 20-22  Width & headroom

Transwatch says: ‘On approaches to London, widths available are everywhere for 4,6,8 lane motor roads’. This is irrelevant to wholesale conversion. Moreover, it is likely, that a 4-lane road (2 each way) would replace an 8-track line, on which the traffic would be too heavy for a mixture of vehicles. It is speculative. The claim of an average width of 28 feet – for which no source is quoted - is one that I challenge. In any case, an “average” infers that some locations would be narrower. Available width over 28 ft is not transferable.

On its web site, Transwatch claims that the BTC published width data in 1961. When asked for the documentary source, it replied that the 1961 data related only to route length. It has not altered its claim

I am certain that the average width of railways has never been calculated. It would have had no real value, & been costly to produce. Widths specified in DoT Requirements for Passenger Lines were not retrospective when introduced in 1858-9. Hence, routes remained which were less than DoT standards. Clearances for Goods Lines were only Recommendations for Goods Lines, & left to the company to fix. The fact that routes are wider on the approaches is irrelevant to conversion practicality in the absence of timetables & ‘paths’ for buses being moved to/from maintenance depots or after breakdowns. Timetables require analysis of passenger journeys. One cannot take total passengers & relate it to the aggregate capacity of x number of buses. That amateur’s method is used only by conversionists. In the only route-specific study, it was claimed untimetabled buses could run into a terminal on one lane at 8-9 second intervals, turn round in 3 minutes & depart without bunching at 8-9 second intervals. If one broke down, or there was an accident, services would be in chaos.

Transwatch does not accept (para 21) that rail routes are too narrow. In that case, it is inexplicable that in the scheme that Transwatch praised:

·            property would be acquired at 13 locations to create required widths,

·            many bridges altered merely to achieve clearances below DfT standards,

·            26 miles of double track main line abandoned - which is mostly on embankment or in cutting, with level crossings & 53 bridges; ex-rail traffic in buses & lorries being diverted onto the A12 to bypass this section of line. Some destinations lie off the A12, requiring buses to use minor roads into & out of villages & towns currently served direct by main line railway. No debit was accepted for inevitable longer journeys. Nor was it conceded that, since diversion from existing road to converted railway is supposed to cut deaths, that the converse of diversion from railway to existing roads would increase them.

·            Co-author Smith of this praised scheme obtained width measurements, by “dodging between trains”. He did not explain how he had obtained bridge heights, given the 25 kv power lines, which are lethal within a foot or two.

·            A Transwatch web-site claims an express coach would match train journey times given the rights of way. This is a remarkable, as train speeds are 100-125mph & rising, whilst coaches are limited for safety to 60mph & not rising, on purpose designed motorways. It is inconceivable that they would be safe over 60mph on a converted system. Delays & accidents at flat junctions or farm crossings would extend journeys

Having tired of the conversion campaign by a minority, BR commissioned a study by Coopers & Lybrand & Highway Planning Consultant G.B. Parker in 1984. Having examined 200km of route, including approaches to London at Marylebone & Fenchurch Street, they reported firmly against, stressing the inadequate width of track & tunnels, (The potential for conversion of some routes in London into roads ). They drew attention to the difficulties in trying to widen these routes in built-up areas. 

As many photos can be found to prove the inadequacy of width as those claimed to prove their adequacy.

A Transwatch website lists (5.3.05), 204 ‘conversions’, 254.8 miles, giving an unimpressive average 1.2 miles. In the same period, over 10,000 miles of railway have closed. Despite specifying ‘routes too short to be worth recording’ should be excluded, the list contains many short sections proving nothing about the practicality of wholesale conversion. Nine are less than 1/4 mile, 75 are 1/2 mile or less, 131 are under 1 mile, only one is in double figures - & then only just: 10.2. The list includes: ‘it is unclear if the road has been widened onto the railway or just very close’; ‘road took route over river but unclear if rail bridge used’; ‘conversion not confirmed’; ‘line closed 1930s, not clear if bypass actually built on railway’; ‘looks like realignment’; ‘A148 round Hillingdon - this make [sic] not be a conversion, A148 may just be running close to railway’. Thirteen entries are ‘conversions’ to motorways, including the 12 ft wide Barton line widened to a 102 ft motorway.

Transwatch claims that ‘width & headroom data was produced by engineers, ex-army’. Brig. Lloyd never claimed in his book nor in debate nor letters to have done so. Neither did his successor in the campaign:  Major Dalgleish. Brig Lloyd was called on to provide details by The Engineer, but his supporters said it was the job of government to work out the details. This clearly shows that no such data was produced by them.

Transwatch says (para 22): ‘The minimum width for a 2-track rail tunnel may be stated as 24 feet, bridge head-room would be sufficient subject to limited excavating of ballast. There would be no room for verges’. The source is unidentified. Network Rail cannot supply the minimum width of tunnels. Using the full width would be unsafe, even at 30mph as applies in the Mersey Tunnel, which has kerbs on both sides. Standard UK road tunnel design requires 24.5 feet plus 1m strip each side. Without these, side collisions with walls would be endemic. Many bridges & viaducts had such limited width, that overhead electrification masts had to be fixed on the outside of the structure. Road lanes would be so narrow as to impose very low speeds, & cause delays.

The East Anglian 134 miles scheme (nominal 160 less the abandoned 26), praised by Transwatch, required increased clearance at 61 bridges, still leaving most below DfT standards. Some bridges were not listed. The section to be abandoned has 53 bridges, whose measurements are not shown. If verges are unnecessary, concreting them on existing roads would facilitate widening - less disruptive than converting railways.

page 7, para 23. The Engineering Reasons

It says: ‘the slightest mishap will bring an entire rail route to a standstill’. Slight mishaps do not bring entire routes to a standstill. However, on roads a slight bump between two vehicles is enough to block a road, & may precipitate road rage, which would occur on converted railways. Jack-knifing, spilt loads, blown out tyres, collisions as drivers fall asleep or fail to concentrate, etc., are endemic on our roads, & would transfer undiminished to converted railways. Indeed, with lanes cut to widths less than those on trunk roads & motorways, there would be a greater incidence, as drivers found they had no margin to drive past a sudden blockage. Conversionists claim that converted railways would be safer than motorways!

Reference to terminal ramps is an admission of the inadequacy of rail terminal space for thousands of buses. Trains do not need to go up such ramps, because they have adequate space on one level.

Higher train weights stems from the additional safety strength & on-board facilities not found on buses.

page 8, para 24. ‘BR policy was to sell off routes piecemeal’.

BR policy was to obey Ministerial Directives. One stated that routes must not be sold without Ministerial approval, even after closure was approved by the Minister. First refusal had to be given to central & local government for use as roads, etc. Only if declined, could it be sold off. Some sections of line were subject to long standing legal rights of return to descendants of original owners, if land had been acquired by compulsory purchase. Conversionists never appeared at public closure Inquiries to support closure & call for conversion. They were conspicuous by their absence. The most common use, by local authorities, of closed lines has been footpaths/cycleways/bridleways, where the limited width of rail formations is not a problem. 

10,000 miles of railway have closed, & the total ‘converted’ to roads is about 250 miles, most of which had to be widened, some by a factor of 8. Roads built on closed lines are irrelevant to wholesale conversion. Such schemes involved no concur­rent displacement of existing rail traffic, with its consequential costs of tens of thousands of new road vehicles to new designs, changeover costs and traffic delays.

page 8, para 25 Attracting development.

Derelict sidings are eclipsed by derelict industrial sites in every town & city. They are surrounded by roads and have mains utilities & drainage, which railway sidings lack. These areas should be the primary concern of all.

page 8, para 27. Sources.

I have thoroughly examined the ‘Fact Sheets’, & torpedoed virtually all in my book, which devotes  15 pages to Transwatch claims, and others on web-site www.railconversion.co.uk.

To move road traffic claimed to be 10 times that by rail, uses 22 times as much road length & even greater width. Averaging rail traffic over all routes - night & day - is untenable. To exclude non trunk road mileage in comparisons - as Transwatch persists in doing - but counting all road traffic & lives saved by diversion from such roads cannot be treated seriously. If they are ignored, there would be little traffic on trunk roads. All haulage premises are on these ghost roads. The requirement for a “properly managed motor road” would be a first. It is not spelled out how it would be managed, nor the cost thereof. Managed roads are non existent.

The photos (photo title shown in bold):

Idle railway land, it is inferred, could be developed. With UK companies closing & transferring to the Far East or East Europe, what development is envisaged? Urban areas are awash with derelict sites, the re-development of which should excite more pressure than those out-of-sight near a railway. As local authorities are on first refusal, they would snatch up land for use - if needed - as roads or as industrial or housing estates.

Which industry is there, to use ‘this dual carriageway’? The UK has lost most of its industry.

To counter unoccupied railway lines, my book (Railway Conversion - the impractical dream) includes photos of underused trunk roads & motorways. A letter from the chairman of the Freight Transport Association to The Daily Telegraph (14.2.07) said that there was plenty of road space, if roads were used intelligently.

Development Potential’ photo shows Airflow Streamlines (in Northampton). The adjoining track was closed 40 years ago. Clearly the local authority did not require it for new roads, with which the area is well provided.

Nuneaton-Hinckley ‘industry attracted by good road access’ has been identified as the A47 at Dodwells Bridge Industrial Estate. There have been at least two occupants of the unit in the right foreground, since this photo was taken. So, perhaps, the roads are not so attractive, & they may have moved to be near a railway.

The wrong kind of snow’ was a phrase coined by a journalist not by a railway manager. The Evening Standard published an interview (11.2.91) with a BR manager, regarding delays that winter, but did not use this phrase. Others could not resist the re-wording. Conversionists are not interested in the wrong kind of snow which brought gridlock to UK roads & motorways on 30 January 2003, as reported in a C4 TV programme in 2005. Every winter brings reports of vehicles skidding to a halt on the most minor ungritted gradients.

RailRoads for the future depicting seriously underused roads on closed railways are no advert for conversion as they confirm that roads are badly utilised, & some “road management” is needed now to improve matters.

The East Grinstead bypass failed to get planning approval. The road in the photo is Beeching Way. Less than one mile of the 16 mile Three Bridges-East Grinstead-Groombridge line was used as part of it. A narrow tunnel had to be opened out, & 34,000 tons of stone used to raise the formation to a higher level to secure adequate width - so much for adequate width. It cost £2.75m & took over two years to build, (A History of East Grinstead, Page 181, by M.J. Leppard). The remaining 15 miles form Forest Way & Worth Way bridleways/cycleways/footpaths.

Schoolboy pranks bringing railways to a stand are rare. One would think that schoolboys dropping concrete blocks & bricks on roads & motorways were unknown, when they have caused deaths on many occasions.

Edinburgh Western Approach road shows eight cars, average occupancy 1.6 = 13 people in a space that, even having only one train would have accommodated hundreds. Under Transwatch theory, it should have had a convoy of buses instead of a few cars. It confirms to which transport, displaced rail passengers transfer.

Euston approaches - engineering work is clearly in progress, meaning fewer trains as they would mean fewer cars, buses or lorries if a road was under maintenance. Unlike road vehicles, trains do not swerve into workmen

Rugby is an own goal being a classic example of an area once fully occupied by siding connected factories (namely AEI & GEC) that went out of business because they could not compete with foreign companies.

Other railway photos could be on days when engineering work was in progress.

Railways converted to roads are occupied by a handful of vehicles in each case, demonstrating that there is no real case for conversion.

Railway ‘of immense width’ is paralleled by a 4-lane road with one car in sight!

‘Railways attracting development’, It is not clear who has said that, & hence the point being made about it being a fantasy is meaningless. Often, development is attracted by grants. The greatest attraction is cheap labour, which means moving to the Far East.

Nuneaton shopping centre depicts one bus & a dozen cars. In fact, that is the only bus in the six photos of roads in the Transwatch paper, undermining the claim that displaced rail passengers would flock to buses.

The Blackpool road (on the cover) required extra land in 1984. All bridges had to be rebuilt. It cost £3.65m for 4.9km of mainly single carriageway, with narrow strips in lieu of hard shoulders, (£0.75m per km). Track, etc., had been removed. In contrast, the 1975 East Anglian scheme was costed at £40,000 per km for a mainly dual carriageway with some hard shoulders, including track, etc., removal, by Hall/Smith. Inflation would have increased it to £0.14m per km by 1984, clear confirmation that its cost was too low

A crucial aspect is ‘changeover’ - the method & timescale of replacing railways by roads. All proposals - save one - skimmed round the subject with generalisations. The exception was that praised by Transwatch, which devotes one short paragraph to it. It is completely flawed, & its impracticalities are exposed in three pages of my book, (Railway Conversion - the impractical dream)

Conversionists skim over converting rail staff to road jobs, naively believing that all would happily transfer to lower paid & less interesting jobs, which they could have had instead of being on railways, given the national shortage of bus drivers. Moreover, they fail to spot that there would be a time lapse between undertaking railway duties & taking up road employment. Such training will not be done in a spare weekend. Training thousands could not take place whilst they are performing a demanding job, where safety is a vital aspect that would be endangered if their hours were extended to enable them to be trained in new duties. New vehicles & equipment would have to be delivered long before conversion began. Instructors would need to be recruited & trained themselves.


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