Chapter 10 - Part II                                         Contemporary Comment on Hall/Smith scheme


Back to Home Page


The Hall/Smith scheme was subject to some criticism and led to Better Use of Rail Ways - Comments & Rejoinders - referred to here as Rejoinders. There were 41 entries, of which, 18 were critical, with 16 rejoinders. The sole acknowledgement is to Mr. & Mrs. P.F. Withrington for hospitality.

Conspicuous by its absence, is the lack of support from hauliers or any bus company willing to take on the job on the specified basis: fleet size, manpower numbers, no timetable; nor any construction company willing to undertake conversion at the price. If the scheme was practicable and profitable, there should have been a surfeit of bidders. A trawl of the well-indexed Times found no bidding interest, (see chapter 15). but includes four letters on the study - all are critical. With one exception, they are not included in Rejoinders. Media articles related to conversion, not specifically referring to this study are in chapter 14. Major defects and flaws have been identified by the author - see Part III. The scale of criticism shows that the Study had posed more questions than answers.

The introduction to Rejoinders (page ii), states ‘critics fail to substantiate their claim that replacement bus services on a converted railway cannot offer a level of service equal to that of the former railway’. The authors of the scheme failed to substantiate that it can.

‘Many converted railways carry heavy lorries with a cost saving to the lorry operator’, (page iv). No facts are included to show savings have been made. The belief that an average length 1.8 mile conversion can noticeably cut lorry costs is untenable.

‘Many objectors felt that the traffic flows assumed were excessive, but none produced any evidence’, (page iv). No evidence was produced by the authors to prove that theoretical flows were not excessive - other than to claim that evenly spaced traffic, unprecedented even on motorways, and free of surges and nose to tail - can do so.


No rejoinder to those largely supportive of the scheme

An article in the Guardian (29.4.74), claims railways carry less than 10% of traffic on roads. (This is disputed, as the basis used to calculate road traffic is crude and unreliable - see Table 2, Chapter 11).  It states that ‘freight has to be brought to railheads by road’, and that most freight trains operate with more empty capacity than long distance trucks - no source is quoted.

This was written before the Hall/Smith Report. Its inclusion is therefore mystifying, and outside their own criteria for inclusion. Most rail traffic never sees a road, passing from private siding to private siding. A diagram (see BRB 1976 Report), covering 1973-6, shows that traffic passing almost exclusively between private sidings - coal, coke, iron & steel, earths & stones, petroleum - accounts for 85-88% of all railfreight. BR statistics contain more detail than road transport statistics, which are now revealed as being unreliable, (see Diagram 2). If railfreight transferred to road, it would incur precisely the same proportion of empty mileage. A critical article on the same page of the Guardian is ignored, (see “Not Supportive”)

An article in Investors Chronicle (12.12.75) referred to eminent geographer Peter Hall conducting research on lines, below bridges, in cuttings, prodding abutments and testing the compaction of formations. It accepted that sub soil would be of sufficient strength merely to require a layer of asphalt, claiming that local authorities have proved this can be done (The reality is different - see chapter 13). and refers to the uninterrupted carriageway straight into city centres. (There are thousands of public and farm level crossings to restrict flows. Lines are not straight.  Moreover, streets adjoining many city stations - especially in London - are so narrow, congestion would arise.).It adds that replacing trains by buses will save 75% of staff. (No independent source is quoted, and as no main line has ever been replaced by a road, it is not clear how there can proof. Comparison with closed lines is irrelevant. See also comparison of BR and NBC – see Chapter 12).

  ‘Sums in the study are said to be part fact, part judgement. (The study by London Polytechnic dismisses the sums.). A saving is claimed by not having to build any roads in future’ 

The research was a revelation, given BR was criticised for refusing help, whereas these activities should not have been carried out without either trained protection staff provided by BR, arrest by BT Police for trespass, or accidental death due to being struck by a train. Testing formations would have required qualified and suitably equipped engineers. Even they would need operating permission to make tests that may temporarily destabilise the track, and require suspension of services. Safe practices would have required prior publication of locations of site work in Engineering Notices. Suspending all road building cannot be achieved, when huge areas of the country had no railways to convert.

In a letter to Autocar - 8.5.76 - Smith says “he dodged between trains to measure width between abutments of all bridges from Liverpool St-Harwich”. This was no mean feat for 8 bridges in Liverpool St-Bethnal Green cutting - see photo. Access to the lineside would have mostly been via private property, Some bridges were missed – see Chapter 10-III... No measurements are listed for 51 bridges on other routes (see early part of this Chapter). No data is given on formation compaction tests in the cess or banksides.

An article from The Times (17.12.75), suggests the study may embarrass government.  It quotes figures on savings & benefits, and refers to tolls for lorries and cars.

Hauliers avoid the M6 Toll road. The road dominated DoE paid for the study. The Treasury should have been drooling in anticipation. In fact, the DoE was unimpressed, (Times 23.12.75). Clearly, they must have discovered that the study had serious weaknesses.

An article in the Economist (27.12.75), refers to vain attempts by government to solve the rail problem. A radical solution is by Hall and Smith. The article repeats the claims made of national benefit, and reduced fares. It states that ‘BR has a staff of 23 for every engine’. (What is one supposed to deduce from that?)

Had the Economist researched its back issues, it would have found that it recommended the solution - BR to have equal commercial freedom as road transport - (Economist, 10.5.52), long sought by railway managers. It was rejected by government which feared that it would leave rural areas denuded of transport, and could result in railways driving road transport out of business. The manpower comparison overlooks thousands involved in maintaining infrastructure - whilst road counterparts are ignored. It ignores that multiple units, not engines were the dominant part of traction, (see BRB Accounts). It is noticeable, that Rejoinders did not include two other extracts from the Economist:

I would have liked to see a more perceptive review. It was expected that engineers would pick up the sloppy cost estimates. It is surprising that you accepted that conversion would be beneficial if costs rose 2000%. BR’s annual turnover is £1bn. That means, we would get the transport service for less than nothing”, (Economist 10.4.76).

Hauliers were free to drive railways out of business! Railways were blocked from the reverse - see Britain’s Railways - The Reality, page 26.


During 1973-6, bus journeys have fallen 34%. In France, a doubling of the number of buses has led to hardly any increase in bus use. Could it be that people are not willing to put up with the motorised stage coach? Alternatives are proposed, but government’s hands are tied by the opposition of bus unions to innovation, (Economist 17.4.76).

An article from The Times (10.1.76), refers to an unrelated line, which BR claimed had no subsidy in 1966, but was subsidised in 1968. It urges the DoE to study rail resources that could be more productively used by others. (Before the 1968 Act, no subsidy was given for uneconomic lines kept open by ministers. BR had to subsist with interest bearing loans.(See Britain’s Railways – the Reality). Their Study should have looked at underused roads (see photos)

A quote from the Evening Echo (2.2.76) states the thought of travelling by bus rather than train may horrify many. It notes buses that took over from trains often ran into trouble, but assumes that this was due to using winding country lanes. It suggested minimising rises in rail fares. It said that this report did not come from an impractical man in an ivory tower, its main author is a civil engineer.  (This study needed experts in other fields: bus & lorry operating, scheduling, vehicle maintenance, stores control, accountancy & marketing. Their absence shows in the report. Other engineers disagreed - see Chapters 4 & 12

The opportunity to glean readers’ thoughts of conversion is denied by lack of knowledge of the paper’s location. The assumption - initiated by Lloyd and pursued by Hall/Smith, that rail staff would turn to driving buses is improbable. It is more likely that they would seek jobs offering high wages in one of the factories forecast to spring up on railway land, not lower bus wages! Buses ceased to run where they had decent roads, and where they replaced steam trains on single lines, which, by definition, were not fast. On ‘minimising fare increases’, they would learn much from studying the reality of fare levels. (By 1976, BR lost £11bn in fares due to interference by Ministers & their unique Law Court; see. Britain’s Railways – the Reality.).

 An article in the Observer (8.2.76), stated: Many commuters will be giving undivided attention to planners who argue that rail lines should be converted to roads.  This study makes a prime facie case to turn part of the network into expressways. Fares could be cut by almost two-thirds. The conversion of rail tracks to roads would be a quick and relatively cheap process. ‘The main reaction has been to treat the proposals as an academic exercise. Criticisms have been superficial’ It claims that the Report makes detailed engineering and operating costs. Door-to-door service could be offered if buses ran onto ordinary roads.

1.      Where closures were proposed, opposition was as strong as ever. No one argued for conversion. Readers’ letters columns bore no evidence of that, and most who wrote were opposed,- (see chapter 15)

2.      At face value, there does seem to be a case. However, when one reads other opinions, and digs below the surface of the report - whose clarity leaves much to be desired - the risk areas and defects can clearly be seen.

3.      An analysis of the proposed costs and fares show that if fares were so cut, the bus company would have to be subsidised, even if one accepts the manpower and fleet costs, which are strongly disputed – see Table 1, Chapter 10-III

4.      Easy, cheap conversion was rejected by non-railway engineers - see Chapter 4. Other major flaws are exposed - see Chapter 10-III

5.      Criticisms are not superficial. The author has studied the scheme and finds numerous serious defects - see Chapter 10-III

6.      By no stretch of imagination can the costs be described as detailed.

7.      Door-to-door is a dream. There is no prospect they could run via narrow streets near Liverpool Street and other city stations, and onto congested London streets and get back to fit into a 9 second interval departure pattern.


An extract of an article in Commercial Motor (28.5.76), argues that as rail services have been steadily taken over by road transport, it is appropriate that the same thing should happen to the tracks on which those services are provided.

Bus travel had fallen steeply, that by train only marginally. Traffic per member of BR staff had doubled, rail passenger miles per coach were up 33% on 1948 by 1969. See Britain’s Railways - The Reality, page 145.)


A letter to the ICE (6.4.76), refers to the Smith conversion costs as having been obtained by the League from county councils, ‘when track and buildings were already demolished’. It quotes Southport and Radnor councils as proof that work can be done cheaply. It mentions cattle creeps under railways, and that farm severance had largely sorted itself out. It claims railway land is publicly owned, and selling to adjoining owners spoils the concept for long distance bridle paths, footpaths, lanes or trunk roads. Conversion League is the only body offering a solution to the BR deficit. There is no rejoinder.

The Southport scheme was less beneficial than claimed, (see below & Chapter 7 & 11 ). Radnor had a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ road scheme totalling 3 miles of the 56 mile closed single line. All track and equipment had been removed. Their costs are ir­relevant to East Anglia. Radnor does not now exist, but other counties deny League cost claims. The Countryside Commission said severance has not been re­solved, (see Chapter 13). Rights under original Acts are valid. Offering land back to farm­ers is just. There are cattle creeps, but thousands of private level crossings are used to take cattle and equipment be­tween fields. Farmers objected to conversion, (see below). The solution to the deficit spelled out long ago was to give BR freedom to decide its prices, determine which routes to keep and which traffic to handle - as mollycoddled competitors have been free to do for 85 years (See Square Deal Denied and Britain’s Railways – the Reality). Better Use of Rail Ways, (page 72) shows 380 buses will depart during the “peak” (as defined by Hall/Smith 58 minutes. The peak has always been recognised as 1½ hours. The reason for this shorter period is not explained.

Conversion will lead to a long-overdue cut in drivers’ hours, an increase in vehicle and oil imports, and an overburdened NHS and emergency services. Costs will spiral out of control. When someone wagers that this will not happen, and puts down cash to convert an operational main line will be the time to hope that they have a solution. This is an experiment from which there is no return. Conversionists will not offer their heads on a platter if it failed. Nor would they reimburse reversal costs or fund excess costs and ensuing na­tional losses. Taxpayers will pick up the tab, and dreamers will find ex­cuses for failure - circumstances beyond our control - the excuse reserved for the pri­vate sector.            


The League’s 1977 letter to the DoT claims that transfer of traffic from all-purpose roads to converted railways could reduce accident rates by a factor of 4 to 20.

They say could rather than will. They ignore the disparity between 220,000 miles of road & 11,000 miles of railway. Traffic would make long diversions to get on the converted system to try to prove the point. They fail to bring into the equation, the conflict of 28,500 commuters dodging between buses departing every 9 seconds. They ignore that buses will have to make two right turns against nose to tail cross traffic to return to Liverpool Street, and that traffic joining and leaving a converted system will make right turns - a well-known cause of accidents. Not a single fatality has been conceded for these adverse factors.

Autocar reported (7.2.76) on the proposal, stating every aspect of conversion is looked at & studied - fares could be cut by 60% & bus operators still earn good profits. It would give far more capacity for passengers. The result of the contract has embarrassed the DoE.

All aspects had not been looked into, (see Part III). There is no profit (see Table 1  Chapter 10-III). much less a good profit, even before cost increases to reflect flaws discovered by this author and others. On their figures, the promised fare reduction creates a deficit, which a correction of costs produces a deficit of £10m pa (see next Chapter). Reports in the media (in this chapter) and letters to the press (chapter 15) show others identified weaknesses missed in the Autocar article. There is no doubt, that if the scheme would produce the gains postulated, the dominating Treasury would have had it implemented promptly. There is no prospect that they were unaware of it, given the claims made in parts of the media.


Not included in Rejoinders - largely supportive

The Surveyor (6.2.76), illustrated the Liverpool Street bus station & details of the Reading study, set out in their 126 page paper describing it as a ‘limited access road’, and stating:

About half of the savings would be staff economies, as a bus service required 650 drivers and 750 other staff including ticket sellers at two stations, staff making buses and maintaining roads, compared to 3,650 rail staff on the six lines. (A comparison of BR & NBC staff for 1976, having deducted track maintenance & freight staff, reveals staff fell 0.5% on BR for 41% more passenger revenue and at higher speeds! See Britain’s Railways - The Reality page 148.)

The new road from Liverpool St to Brentwood would be motorway standard for most of its 26km length, and can be built to cater for ex-rail traffic for less than £3.5m.

An extra £1.5m could cater for private vehicles as well, needing extra access points.

Rail fares would be cut by 60% and operators would still earn a profit. (A grossly erroneous belief, see Table 1, Chapter 10-III.).

At 30 bays, a bus would unload every 9 seconds. Hall acknowledges that the safety at the proposed bus station would be unsatisfactory, and that a grade separation as at New York’s Terminal would be appropriate.

No cost was mentioned for creating a grade separation. It is incredible that a proposal would be submitted which depended on a major structural change which was not costed.

It mentions that the Conversion League ‘wanted for years to carry out an appraisal of this sort’. What held them back, and why did they disregard three (see Chapters 3, 4, 5)  by their founder! Contrary to their claim, their 1971 (dated 1970), dossier did not mention safety on any ‘conversion’ except at Southport, and that was not proven, (see above). The most telling comment by Surveyor was that Tyneside Metro opted for rail as it gave a better output per employee.    


Rejoinders to those supportive of the scheme

An extract of a letter (9.1.76), from an unnamed senior BRB Officer is quoted. It expresses concern of problems of dealing with redundancy unless spread over some years.

This rejoinder suggests how staff can be retrained to work for lower wages!  The field of this anonymous “Railway Officer” expertise was not disclosed. Anonymity need not have been damaged by dis­closing this. He may have been in the Clothing Supply Dept, with no experience of the problems likely to arise. Smith censures anonymous critics, (see below). He overlooks that re­training would occur after conversion, and only if staff wished to be trained in road transport. All staff required by highway and bus companies would have to be pre-trained.


Rejoinders not made to those not supportive of the scheme

The DoE which commissioned the Study by Hall and Smith ‘had major reservations about some calculations in the study, and would not be publishing it’. (Times 23.12.75).

An article in Planning (6.2.76), described the conclusions of the Hall/Smith study as an ‘academic nightmare’ with no basis in fact. The ideas were completely fanciful.

The Hall-Smith report attracted a storm of criticism. The DoE which commissioned it has serious reservations but decline to say what they are. BR describe the report as a sloppy study which fails to make its case. Where high capital cost and fixed systems cannot be justified, track should be given to other modes, (Times, 5.3.76). (The DoE gave a reason in 1975, see above).

A copy of the ICE Report is included. Authors said ‘that for longer journeys, trips to and from a station often mitigated the saving by train. It was a common criticism of railways, that passengers have to travel to or from stations by road transport’, (see below). A claim was made that ‘express coaches can act as feeders at both ends’, and that standing commuters would prefer a seat. Resolving this appeared to be an objective. (In the Journal of Transport Economics & Policy (Sept 1973), Smith said “there was no assumption, peak passengers would be all seated. Standing rail passengers are a minority”).

The Conversion League praised the report. What they said is not disclosed. As editors say ‘when dog bites man, that is not news, but when man bites dog that is news’.

Other comments at the meeting were:

Opinions differed on the accident potential of a busway under different conditions. Some thought accidents would fall, pointing to average rates on motorways [0.15 accidents per million vehicle km] which they thought would apply to a segregated busway, (see below).

Some stated that, in many cases, road standards were below those recommended by the DoE for new construction. Others thought that adhering to DoE standards was incorrect, as such an approach would lead to closure of 90% of existing roads. This is a facile argument. If standards proposed are adequate, there was no justification for building motorways after 1976 to higher standards. There have been no calls to cut standards for roads, nor to narrow existing roads

Conversion costs were disputed. A county council which had converted 15km of disused line and was working on another 12km, quoted £206,000 per km. The main problem was variation in the consolidation of the formation, drainage improvements required to create run-off from a road, and the removal of railway structures. One private company had converted 3.5km into a 6.7m carriageway for £406,000 at 1969 prices. A GLC speaker referred to a study of a 5km section for an estimated £0.25m per km for a 6m carriageway and £0.35m per km for a 8m carriageway. It will be seen that these - by unbiased parties - were all significantly in excess of the figures used in the Study.

A BR film showed bunched passenger arrivals at a main line station, whereas the study was based on random arrivals. BR referred to problems that must be expected at bus terminals: uneven loading, climatic conditions and breakdowns. They disagreed with the conclusions and were dissatisfied with the standard and partiality of the study. They listed faults that were discussed by others. They objected to calculation of rail operating costs taking average values, whilst those for buses were incremental and marginal

They overlooked short notice unavailability of the scheduled driver...

A speaker said energy issues were important. Whilst, up to 76% conversion efficiency from basic fuels using electricity was provided, only 38% could be provided from diesel.


All passengers do not arrive at stations in vehicles. Houses in walking distance of a station have higher values. Journeys by express coach involve changes, so there would be no improvement. If coaches were used as feeders, it would not affect the need to change twice, as every coach could not possibly perambulate round scores of streets collecting passengers for one destination. Increased journey times would signal an end to coach travel. If a coach collects passengers for other destinations, they would change twice. No matter how it is wrapped, they are going to change as often as rail passengers.

Commuters are under half of all passengers into Liverpool Street. (In November 1975, total passengers were 156,700 daily see Liverpool Street Station by Robert Thorne). Not all commuters stand. Thus, to satisfy a minority, they will inconvenience the majority who have a seat which is far more comfortable than a cramped bus seat. Moreover, it is a known fact, that many stand near a door - of which there are more on trains than buses - to be first out. Even some with a seat, move to a door, before arrival. Over short distances, commuters often prefer to stand near a door. In the Cannon St accident in 1991, it was recorded that many were standing at the front when there were vacant seats at the rear.

Linking accident rates to the alleged benefits of segregated busways are misplaced. This was not to be a segregated busway - other traffic would share the system. Motorways are purpose built three-lane dual carriageway, with no right turns. These conditions would be absent on a converted railway, having right turns and cross roads. It was unclear how and by whom existing traffic would be directed onto the converted system. It would not occur if dependent on decisions by individual drivers, who would not know if it was congested.


Those not supportive or opposed to the scheme

In The Times (3.1.76). BR Chief Executive, David Bowick challenged the asser­tion that the fatality rate of buses was 38% below rail. He quoted 1973 figures showing bus fatali­ties were 2.5-4 times as many per passenger mile as trains, and that the ratio for serious injuries was 14-22 times as many. These are based on assumptions favourable to road: those killed and injured in rail sidings or maintenance depots are included, but per­sons similarly killed and injured in garages are excluded as being outside the public highway.

The rejoinder claimed that the figures quoted by BR were different from any reasonable interpretation of those published by the DoE, and added that ‘the tone of the letter suggest Mr Bowick is worried about becoming redundant’.

Accident reductions claimed by the Study report and in the rejoinder are undermined by those supplied by the DfT (successor of the DoE) to the author, (see Chapter 10). The remark about redundancy is childish - a trait he criticises in others. Implementation of the Hall/Smith scheme would not have made the Chief Executive - left managing 99% of the system - redundant. In the unlikely event that the whole of BR was converted, Mr Bowick’s legal entitlement to redundancy payments should have left him quite unworried. All managers & staff made redundant would be entitled to compensation.


A Sunday Times extract (1.2.76), stated the BR view was that benefits had been greatly exaggerated, no allowance made in respect of newly generated traffic which will use the roads, and no account taken of congestion costs of extra traffic off the busway. Made

The rejoinder was that it was assumed that parking restraint would be applied to stop new car traffic on the corridor. There was no response to the other criticisms.

The article mentioned - but this is not in Rejoinders - ‘that passengers would have to dodge buses leaving one bay or another every nine seconds or so, struck one senior trans­port man, as horrifying to imagine’. It said that ‘BR called the terminals layout ludi­crously inadequate’. The article notes that Mr. Smith retorted that ‘when a bus is about to leave it could turn on its headlights as a warning to passengers to halt. Alternatively, there could be a more ambitious layout with walkways down to each bay’. The article ended, but Rejoinders also ignored: ‘things that run on tracks may still have a future’

A serious study should not assume. Half of the benefits claimed are for cars, whose lower loading would require an undue share of road space. The idea that drivers could stop passengers crossing by switching on headlights defies belief. Pedestrians con­tinually cross roads between moving traffic. There is no prospect that they would be de­terred by a vehicle starting from a stand and putting on its lights. A well prepared plan should have included walkways, rather than produce them like rabbits from a hat, when criticisms arose. An elevated walkway would need to be 5m above ground to clear double-deck PSVs, with long gently sloping ramps (to cater for prams, wheelchairs) down to platform level, and wide enough for a barrier to separate opposing flows. It would mean that exca­vation (see page 72) would need to be about 3.5m, not 0.7m to be clear of the roof, and extend along the exit road. Platforms would have to be wider than if there were no ramps. A walkway would further extend walking time from ticket office to bus (see Chapter 10-III).


Rejoinders includes an extract from Hansard (4.2.76), which records that the Minister has major reservations affecting the conclusions. There is no rejoinder. A statement by the Minister on the same day regarding coach safety and on measures being studied to improve safety, is overlooked. Without doubt, these would increase bus costs.


New Society (5.2.76), reported on the Study. It noted that the DoE, which had commissioned the study, had a number of unspecified reservations about the findings. New Society said that it must be something to do with the fastidious arithmetic and idiosyncratic methods of cost-benefit analysis. The plan for buses flying in and out of Liverpool Street at about six a minute could well lead to considerable loss of life, whilst the manpower needed to operate a bus service seems to have been badly underest­imated. In considering how cars might use the busways, it [the Study] takes a cavalier view of the effect they would have at exit points. There is no rejoinder to some damning points.

Motor Transport (6.2.76): Before busmen rush for the crock of gold arising from the Reading report, they will have to ask if they can fulfil the task. The report assumes only two alternatives. A more realistic approach in 1970, found that the North Tyne Loop railway cost £6.9m pa, conversion to busway would be £6.3m, but light rapid transit cost £6.1m. Buses would be unable to avoid one another on single lanes without hard shoul­ders* as envisaged in the report. The manpower envisaged is lower than the 74 largest operators. The concept of metering is challenged. For the heaviest peak flows, buses are unable to offer the level of service, safety and efficiency that fixed track systems can.  *The road envisaged ‘dual carriageway with intermittent hard shoulders’ - Rejoinders, page 34. ‘Hard shoulders will be provided where the formation is wide enough’ - Study, page 14 - elsewhere, breakdowns will block the road.

A rejoinder focused on semantics: ‘what is rapid transit’. It said Scottish Bus Group had less staff than planned. ‘Metering is dealt with in the report’. To answer road trans­port experts’ final point, it prays in aid a [USA 2½ mile] I.495 bus lane said to car­ry 25,000 seated passengers in a peak hour, at 43 mph which ‘no rail track can match’

One expects curt dismissal of rail experts’, but not road transport experts’ views! LT 40mph, 2-minute headways are feasible on surface railways. Southend 12-car trains had 1032 seats, a potential 30,960 per hour. New York Transit Authority state that bus lane’s peak [06.15-10.00], traffic is 62,000 commuters = 16,500 per hour, including standees. The New York bus lane is limited to 35mph in the peak, outside the peak to 50mph! It has delays, (see Chapter 12). Metering is not adequately dealt with - a belief that metering will limit vehicles to a specified level, is untenable. 


Country Life (12.2.76) criticised the Study, stating that it contained impressive figures, but some of the most significant were left out. Among those was a comparison of staff costs: the staff to commuter ratio being ten times better on rail than bus; and accidents: excluding pedestrian deaths, over 4,000 killed on roads compared to one on rail in 1974. It notes that the Study did not comment on skills required to control a 60 mph bus through a tunnel faced with one approaching at the same speed. Whilst that risk may be resolved by concrete flanges in the road, the friction on tyres may create problems, which could be overcome by steel flanges - an engineering concept that ‘had a familiar ring’.

The rejoinder states only total staffing was considered and ‘vehicles slowdown in tunnels. Their accident comparisons may be due to their copy having 16 pages missing!’

Trains don’t slow down. Road vehicles doing so would cut speeds crucial to conver­sion. Rail staff include track, bridge and signalling maintenance and elec­tricity distribution. There are no comparable figures for roads and road transport fuel distribution. There is no holiday relief bus staff. Rail accidents in­clude some caused by road transport or farm­ers at crossings which would con­tinue.     


A letter in Autocar (28.2.76) asked what happens in fog, drawing attention to the BR automatic warning system, and suggests that buses would grind to a halt in fog.

The Rejoinder states: railway signals only warn a driver of other trains. He must watch out for obstructions. Motors have a shorter braking distance than trains. In practice, light fog leads to half of trains being cancelled. Road vehicles carry on, albeit at reduced speed.

Main lines had modern signals, that can react to obstructions by reverting signals to danger. Trains are not cancelled due to fog on such lines. Media reports prove that motor vehicles do not slow in fog. (‘120 vehicles in M1 pile-up in fog’ The Times, 15.11.85). The few who do, are passed by horn-blasting drivers, who swerve into pile-ups, when fog density changes without warning. Short braking distance is no help, when tailgating drivers see debris ahead, and have nowhere to swerve. Only someone trying to ignore the reality of higher railway safety could advance this claim.


Modern Railways (March 1976), identifies many weaknesses in “Railways into Dodgems”, (The word Dodgems is particularly germane, given the existence of roof supports at Liverpool Street; low bridges and narrow lanes- see page 131).:

Railways can only be converted by disregarding DoE desirable lane widths and shaving side clearances nearly 75% to 0.7m minimum, for free-steering vehicles at up to 70mph

The study assumes the entire width of a double track railway has a standard solidity when it is obviously compacted to the highest degree in the area of the tracks only.

The Study does not appear to contemplate expenditure on new drainage.

The 40mph Runcorn busway is wider, has hard shoulders and has maintenance diffi­culties. This study has narrower lanes, no hard shoulder at places, and higher speeds   

BR would not run trains as close to abutments as the study plans. There were 750 cases of bridge-bashing by road vehicles in 1972-4, 183 bridges had over 4.2m headroom, the clearance Smith deems adequate. Bridges measured in Glasgow would have side clearance of 0.5m! This undermines claims little bridge reconstruction is necessary.

Attention is drawn to the conflict between 450 passengers per minute crossing lanes occupied by buses on a ten second headway, and the ensuing chaos as passengers went from one bay to another seeking a bus with free seats - and, worse, paying on boarding!    

They scorn the idea that a pair of rail tracks can be macadamed in nine days, whilst trains carry on using adjoining tracks, and ridicule the proposal that trains should be doubled in length to 18 vehicles, for which platform extensions would be made. An interest is expressed in obtaining domestic quotes from engineers, who will move the Central line 3.3 metres sideways and demolish a wall for £5,000.

They suggest that BR staffing has been exaggerated by up to 300% whilst bus staffing has been minimised by assuming split shift working unlikely to secure Union approval, unless at high cost.

Their study ignores road lane closures, and appalling tailbacks from peak hour breakdowns. The expense of coping with vastly increased traffic in the City is ignored.

  Only the innocent would trust the assumed standard of bus timekeeping.


The rejoinder says 3.65m width is envisaged everywhere except a 520m length used by buses only, and accidents are caused by sub-standard, not low bridges. Warning devices will prevent them, (they are unreliable & often ignored by drivers see Chapter 12). A breakdown ‘will cause little delay; ask commut­ers about points fail­ures’. Runcorn problems are dismissed: ‘they probably arise from an un­suitable choice of road surface!’ It claims that this conversion project is bet­ter than a mo­torway built from scratch, which ‘involves slow and costly property acquisi­tion and earthworks’. It did not answer compaction criticism, but irrelevantly referred to a letter which does not claim that full width is compacted, but speaks of bringing in material as fill. In previous conversions, all track and building had been removed..

In contrast, this conversion involves property acquisition that for unex­plained reasons will be swift and cheap. If sub-standard bridges are a criticism of railways which arrived long before double-deck buses and HGVs, it is par for the course. Acci­dents are caused by drivers, not bridges, whose locations have been fixed for 150 years. Warning devices do not prevent collisions, but if a driver reacts to a device, and re­traces his route, traffic is delayed. No cash is allocated to install and maintain devices. Road operators went blindly ahead, buying higher and heavier vehicles, and looking to BR to pick up the tab for re­building bridges - a cost that should have fallen on those creating the problem - not on all road users, and cer­tainly not on a competi­tor who was in the field first! Nor should gov­ernment pay. The irony is that the Smith scheme will increase the number of sub-standard bridges, (see Chapter 10). It is in­cred­ible that a claim is made that vehicle breakdowns will cause little de­lay, given no provi­sion in the Study for breakdown trucks or crews. Provid­ing space for one disabled vehicle per bus bay (page 13), will not en­sure break­downs only occur in that utopian location. The 520m sec­tion - in a cutting near Liverpool St (see photo) - envisages one 3.3m lane each way, between a two-lane bus station, and a two-lane road. In fact, there is insufficient width for two 3.3m lanes in that cutting, (see Chapter 10-III & photo). BR operating su­pervisors quickly learn to resolve points failures!


A report in Traffic Engineer & Control (March 1976) - another unbiased source - is critical of several aspects of the Study. It argues that, whilst the case for four lightly used lines is convincing, they are hardly typical. When it comes to the main line from Liverpool Street to Harwich and Clacton, which is one of the busiest anywhere, it is not possible to be otherwise than sceptical. The chaos that can be envisaged with Liverpool Street converted to a bus station with 30 bus lanes loading and unloading a vehicle every ten seconds is frightening. It is difficult to believe it is feasible to cope with buses on lanes of less than 3.5 metres and 380 buses in a peak hour. Insufficient consideration has been given to consumer choice - the cost of travel is not the sole criterion. The authors have been rash and unscientific in extrapolating the cost/benefit studies to the whole BR network, from 1.8% of the system. It is hardly surprising that the DoE has reservations.

The rejoinder states that it is surprising to speak of comfort when as many as half the passengers are standing.

1.      Smith stated (Journal of Transport Economics & Policy, Sept 1973): there was no assumption peak bus passengers would be all seated,  That would go down like a lead balloon

2.  Bus passengers between London and Glasgow have to book a week in advance.

3.      It quotes a report by Commercial Motor (20.5.77), of objection by BR to ‘choice’ to a licence for a new express coach service for cheap student travel.

Bus operators also oppose licence applications by operators seeking to cream the market. The main reason for low coach fares is an insistence on advance booking to achieve maximum loads. The practice will not change, no matter how many extra roads are created, nor railways converted. Hence, it is irrelevant to conversion. When BR tried, in the 1960s to introduce compulsory advance booking, linked to a guaranteed seat it was opposed by watchdogs who treasured the facility to get on any train without prior notice, and to complain if there was no seat, because BR had failed to invest in crystal balls.


An article in Municipal Engineering (12.3.76), an unbiased source with relevant expertise said: benefits are overstated, there are many assumptions and errors in bus operating costs, peak capacity of roads and valuation. The Report uses an arbitrary average rate for time saving for motorists. Opportunity costs are overstated by assumptions of other traffic using busways. Bus speeds on the narrow lanes appear high. ‘Several million car trips pa’ are mentioned but no indication given of origin, destination or distribution by time of day. On one line, 6m car trips pa are assumed to be diverted. Taking typical distribu­tions, and a peak factor of 10%, this implies 1,000 cars per hour in a single car­riageway two-way road. This would be close to, if not above, the capacity of such a road, and if attained would imply a much reduced speed. No discussion is devoted to junction capacity, a critical constraint on traffic flow, which would reduce bus speeds and time saved by cars. The Liverpool Street scheme is not operationally feasible nor supported by the economic evaluation produced. Signalling would be required to ensure smooth departures of buses on the 9-second headway. Incoming buses going to the first available stand to pick up would confuse passengers seeking to locate buses. The cost of the Liverpool Street scheme is estimated at £50,000 which the New Scientist states might cover a set of drawings, but little building work. The new roads would need retardation and acceleration lanes and signalling to ensure safe merg­ing. This would require a 4-lane width on many sections, eliminating much of the benefit from sale of land. The extraordinary assumption that buses could use A12 without delay, is not backed by peak hour flows for this busy road. A lorry driver spoke of frequent lorry accidents and high speeds on the A12. (See Juggernaut by J Wardroper)

The rejoinder sees no problem with junction traffic: ‘critics confuse motorways with roads laid out for horse traffic’. Loading/unloading rates of 1.5 seconds to load, 1.0 second to unload have been observed. No problem is seen with conflicting departures, buses in the out lane will have priority over those pulling out.

Another rabbit from the hat not seen before. It will delay buses starting out of bays.

By no stretch of imagination can the proposed road be compared to motorways, which have no right turns and no traffic entering from the right - as at Liverpool Street bus station. The study shows provision for right turning lanes - a notorious collision risk. Hard shoulders and central reservations are not provided throughout. Loading rates observed at Crewe bus station exceeded his observed figure.

‘A passenger will find the stop that serves his destination and wait if his bus is not there’. Lane capacity limit is challenged on grounds the DoE recommend 2,000 vehicles per hour, with no frontage access & negligible cross traffic. Stress is placed on the fare-box to speed journeys. It stated tickets at main stops will be pre-purchased as proposed in the Study, (page 114).  


Trathens estimate 5 minutes to load 71 passengers - a rate of one every 4.2 seconds. The concept of fixed locations for each bus stop for particular destinations had not been spelled out previously. However, given 30 bus bays, and 36 destinations served directly from Liverpool Street, plus one stopping service, it should have been spelled out which seven bays would suffer the con­fusion of having queues for two different routes. The problem is worsened, if platforms have to be wider, when 25 bays would serve 37 destinations. There has been no previous reference to passengers having to wait at a stop, and no time adjustment for it. Where two destinations were served from one bay, the platform would have to be wider to permit passenger flow around the first bus stop. Some confusion would arise as to which desti­nation, the first available bus should run. Negligible cross traffic is unhelpfully subjec­tive. Frontage access would not cease - the depot at Ilford, freight installations, houses and shops will remain. Not all level crossing traffic would cease. The fare-box is an ill-conceived idea, doomed to failure. The Study does not state all tickets will be purchased at main stops, but that: ‘individual tickets can be bought at ticket offices at Liverpool Street, Stratford and other busy points’. The verb is not ‘must be’. It adds that ‘tickets can be bought from the driver’ - there is no limit to the locations so involved. Putting the fare in the fare box, unchecked by the driver is a recipe for fraud. The rejoinder ignores the crucial point on the origin and destination of road traffic.


A report by the Surveyor, (26.3.76), stated sale of surplus property* could take place, whether or not conversion occurs. BR engineers pointed out that the railways have no drains (This was revealed at an ICE debate in 1955 , (see chapter 4). and the run-off from a road laid on top would be disastrous, whilst embank­ments, which were solid in the centre, but not the edges, would require excavation, backfilling and retaining walls. Smith and Hall had said that underslung girders on one bridge could be brought up flush with longitudinal ones to create more headroom, but overlooked that gas mains were concealed under the bridge. Conversion costs envisaged were well below those experienced by local authorities and others. A recent GLC study on one of the lines in the Hall/Smith Report showed £260,000 per km as the cost for a 6m carriageway, and £350,000 per km for an 8m one, both to single- decker clearance, unlike the double-decker provision in their Report. English China Clays built 3.2 miles of 22 ft road on an old railway track for £406,000. Critics said that 300m acceleration/ deceleration lanes were needed, and that much of the Liverpool St-Brentwood section would have to have an extra lane. The gap was also vast between idea and reality for building a 30 platform bus station at Liverpool Street for £50,000. The article includes examples of conversion costs of closed lines, which were substantially higher than those in the Study, even where they were only for single-deck bus clearance. Taking all objec­tions to the arithmetic, there was a strong impression that conversion costs were grossly underestimated. On inter city routes, people prefer the train to their cars. If inter city con­version went ahead, there would be a substantial switch to cars, and city centre roads would not cope with it.

An earlier report in The Surveyor on 6.2.76 is not mentioned in Comments & Rejoinders, (see below).

* BRB Accounts for 1976 refer to property sold for £200m and several major developments in hand, including 1.2m square feet of offices, shops and other amenities at Liverpool Street.

The Surveyor would seem to qualify as unbiased, with relevant expertise. The rejoinder includes a sarcastic response that anonymous critics who demand acceleration lanes 300m long, when 90m is adequate, must be told to land their Concorde elsewhere. Smith  explains an error regarding a bridge as being due to a failure of BR to help. On the subject of costs, the rejoinder refers to a letter (pages 51-52), which says that figures quoted at the ICE meeting were obtained by the Railway Conversion League from local authorities. It mentioned that work had been done cheaply, where the profit margin was not a factor.


Approaches by the author to every local authority listed in the League’s 1970 booklet (see chapter 13), elicited that they had no conversion costs for the small sections (an average of 1.8 miles per scheme). It would not have made sense for them to calculate costs for such minor parts of a road scheme, especially when many sections had to be widened, (see chapter 13). Where work was done by private companies - and that would be inescapable on the Liverpool Street scheme, profit would certainly be a factor. Whilst censuring anonymity among critics, he has, himself, quoted anonymous BR officers who seem to support him, (Study Report pages 58,78 - pages 115,125 herein). The study report quotes other information, including, for example, bus company costs, without naming the companies. To blame BR for overlooking the gas mains is unacceptable: (a) the DoE were paying him for the study, not BR; (b) elsewhere he reports checking every bridge en route.


In March 1977, the Transport Studies Group of the Polytechnic of Central London published a 51 A4 page re-examination of the Hall/Smith Report. It took two of the six case studies embraced in the Report: the Crouch Valley and Colchester-Sudbury lines. It was packed with data and statistics from named sources to support its conclusions:

The analysis of revenues and costs for a bus service do not describe flows and service.

Bus costs need to take account of empty bus return running in peaks.

Time savings by diversion to the new Crouch Valley road would be less than forecast as the road used by existing motorists is shorter than that specified in the Study. Savings cannot be assessed without detailed traffic flow data, which did not appear to exist

It is assumed that all current rail travellers will go by bus, despite evidence that 73% of south east workers own cars. Substantial diversion to car is more likely than to bus. An RAC 2004 Motoring Report states that most motorists see rail as the best alternative to the car. The converse must be equally true. If they were barred from converted routes, they would use existing roads & increase congestion

The accident rate on rural roads with low-volume traffic is of a low order and therefore the estimate of saving is far too large.

Railfreight included radio-active waste, and the daily equivalent of 100 lorry loads of aggregate, which would slow down other traffic.

On one of the two routes examined, replacement buses could not earn enough to cover costs. In the other, costs would only just be covered. (In fact, they would not be, see Table 1, Chapter 10-III).

Rates of return were low and the case for either conversion was weak - between negative and 2.9%, compared to up to 60% claimed and 10% regarded as normal.

Private user benefits - which account for a large proportion of the total benefits of conversion - were overestimated by as much as six times.

Bus operating costs would be significantly higher than in the Study.

Terminal costs were unlikely to be cut where a terminal is shared by a retained railway.

Their Study had quoted £5/m2 for surfacing the railway formation. Actual conversions and plans reveal a figure of £41/m2..

Bus operating costs are under estimated. A comparison with NBC manpower suggests that the proposed manning levels are unrealistic.


Rejoinders includes an A4 page extract of the Polytechnic Report. It ignores the first 8 of the 13 crucial points set out above. It dismisses the basis for costs as hypothetical! It claims money spent on verges (page 5), is unneces­sary. It says manpower is accurate being similar to an average gleaned from a bus company, based on drivers not working more than 4 hours without a break, 8-hour day, 40-hour week. On terminal economies, it says only 6% of stations on the continu­ing railway will be shared. The Polytechnic had highlighted boarding times & the effect of mixed traffic on bus schedules & time savings - the re­joinder refers them to sections of the study report. Replying to land values, e.g. for agricultural purposes - the sarcastic rejoinder states: ‘turnips do not grow well in ballast’.

Smith’s costs are hypothetical - cost levels elsewhere are invalid, no price can be taken as a UK standard. Only written quotes by contractors, who require precise drawings, not a few brief paragraphs, are valid. Using manpower data of companies, which do not carry 28,500 commuters is valueless. Timetable & driver rosters must be prepared. That expertise could have been co-opted. The report does not mention limited working hours & breaks for drivers. The basis for 6% of stations is not explained but may arise by counting Liverpool Street and Manningtree - one continuing to deal with 258 trains daily, and the other with 90, as of equal value as sta­tions with far fewer.

The sarcastic remark about turnips is an own goal. Firstly, farmers who bought hundreds of miles of disused track, used it for internal farm tracks, erection of buildings, storage, slurry pits, etc., (see Chapter 13). The rejoinder over­looks that good grass doesn’t grow on oil-soaked ballast either, but that didn’t prevent them propos­ing a playing field be annexed & relocated on railway sidings, (page 103) Re­moving existing verges would allow cheap widening of many roads, cutting congestion


Autocar reported (24.4.76) on the proposal for an 11½ft carriageway each way with 2ft central reservation: the benefits were obvious, more so if it opened out to four lanes in the suburbs as the railway gets wider. (The further away from terminus, a railway gets narrower – not wider - because traffic is less). If cars divert to LT carparks, benefits would not be eroded by congestion. (There would be a cost to create parking. Most drive to suburbs and park free in residential streets to use the tube). Allowing an 8ft bus, 18 inches clearance, at speed past hefty bridge abutments in cross winds caused many pause for thought. How one tackles cutting walls & bridge abutments so close to bus sides needs more than the airy dismissal of the Report. The DoE said such widths were unacceptable. As many roads are below 12ft, they are over cautious. At the ICE meeting, BR criticised costs to convert bridges, cuttings and embankments & clearances to bridge abutments for double-deckers at high speed. Runcorn busway1 is 11ft with buses at [only] 40mph. The value of land released was questioned as were wildly inaccurate estimates for a bus terminal at Liverpool Street2. A problem experienced by councils trying to convert closed lines into roads, was that railways tended to use bridges over roads, where councils wanted traffic lights3. Farmers were happy to use unmanned crossings where trains were infrequent, but less happy about a constantly used road crossing their fields. Norfolk Council has shown the principle is workable, but at much higher costs than the Smith estimates4. They said the rail subsidy was ‘an attempt to transfer traffic from road5, and suggested converting under-utilised lines. It asked if ‘unions will allow computer controlled unmanned trains, & goods handling modernised6’. Two photos of unidentified bridges, show road traffic - one on the right hand side - and no trains on the railway. A third is of a car-carrying train and concludes there is plenty of headroom for high vehicles. A fourth shows a disused line near Bourne End, serving as a refuse tip, which, it was claimed would form a natural bypass for a village. The article ends: ‘The study is now apparently discredited on a large number of technical and cost grounds’.

1.      It was designed with a town built round it. Parking was made inconvenient. It is the lowest car owning area in the country, so is no guide. The carriageway is 22 ft wide, with 4 ft clearance on both sides. Speeds are limited to 30 mph at some places

2.      The opinion on Liverpool Street costs was supported by The Surveyor , 26.3.76

3.      This was not the attitude they took over the introduction of light controlled level crossings.

4.      These are in rural areas, with fewer bridges.

5.      It wasn’t.  It was to avoid transfer from lightly used, uneconomic rural lines. ‘The DoT does not want to transfer freight from road (Juggernaut page 106). No business provides uneconomic services without subsidy. When lines closed, bus fares rose & buses were subsidised by BR until 1968, then by local authorities or government.

6.      Goods handling was modernised in the 1950s. Forgive a car magazine for being unaware of freightliner & 1000 ton trains. Union views on private sector computers were irrelevant. Managers knew they were unreliable in less safety-critical areas and that a 100% reliable computer to safely control trains was some way off


Smith responded (Autocar 8.5.76), the most important cost - paving was from a study in the Highway Engineer and it would be worth converting even if it were used only by buses & lorries replacing trains1. He said he had measured every bridge Liverpool St-Harwich by dodging trains2. He criticised BR for not substantiating criticisms with maps, plans and diagrams. An anonymous BR officer (see also page 115), told him BR would not allow open discussion. He undermined his scheme by stating that where clearance is restricted, drivers would reduce speed. It would cut capacity! He criticises extravagant DoE requirements for road widths. He disputed his 1973 based figures were low compared to Norfolk County Council costs, saying they took place in 1976/7, and asked if no one had heard of inflation.

1 The scheme depends on conversion costs being covered by private car traffic - see Chapter 10-III. At the fares claimed, bus services would not be profitable even if others did fund the conversion and most of its maintenance.

2 BR reporting procedures would bring reports from drivers, signal box or station staff to Control ‘of someone criss-crossing the line’. In the prevailing situation of bomb threats, which frequently included railways, police would be called, and the army alerted. The incident indicates a serious security weakness in that area compared to those where the author worked. In view of internal security fears, the area should be thoroughly checked now.



Angus Dalgleish wrote (to Autocar), that conversion costs were not from the League. Those costs may be arguable, but bus costs and benefits to other traffic are unchallenged. (My book tabulates facts which challenge and demolish that scheme and all other conversion proposals).

Responding to the Article

  Photos of track and road use may have been taken when lines were closed for renewal or Christmas Day, and reflect the situation for 1/250 of a second in 365 days. Locations will be found where a bridge is closed for road repairs whilst trains run below.

To get the same headroom, HGVs and PSVs would have to reduce wheel diameters to that which enable wagons to pass within railways’ restricted loading gauge.

The local authority did not agree that the Bourne End line could be a bypass, because part was turned into a footpath, whilst the rest is disused. A map supplied by the County Council shows the route of this disused line as being a virtual semi-circle round Flackwell Heath hill, contradicting claims that railways were straight.

Responding to the Rejoinder

Drawings are thin in his book. Of the 256km in the scheme, the length of infrastructure set out in drawings in the book, aggregates to just over one kilometre. No engineering project of this magnitude would have been submitted without comprehensive drawings.

Bridge measurements should have been tabulated in chronological order allowing DoE, BR and others to check the accuracy of measurements and ensure that no bridge was  overlooked, especially any on farming or other private land. Measurements made in haste are wisely subject to caution - remember the adage: ‘measure twice, cut once’.

Doubtless, many others were aware of inflation, but they would also be aware that construction and operating costs were higher in London & the South East!

He ignored that one company quoted costs at the ICE meeting at ten times the cost he had used - and they were at 1969 prices! The issue of cost was addressed in a re-examination of two of the Hall/Smith case studies, by the Transport Study Group of the Polytechnic of Central London. They concluded that inflation over two years cannot account for the discrepancy. They said that £300,000 per km for a 7.3m width was a reasonable estimate compared to the Smith cost (£40,000). He ignores the inflation on an estimate of £29,000 per mile 20 years earlier for a long, rural, Inverness-Wick route (see Chapter 6), which, by 1975 would equate to over £82,000 per mile, or £132,000 per km!

Paving costs would not cover costs of building the bus station, slip road construction, excavations, altering bridges, flyovers etc., which would seem to be far more significant

He does not answer criticisms on ‘the value of the land and the wildly inaccurate estimates for a huge bus terminal at Liverpool Street’ and ignored farmers’ concerns.


A letter from independent experts - the Technical & Engineering Committee of the Confederation of British Road Passenger Transport (27.4.76), to Hall & Smith, with a copy to the DoE - contained 14 criticisms. Rejoinders includes a brief extract of that letter that is limited to the last three of the 14 criticisms shown below. The rest were unanswered


The study implied that specially designed vehicles may be required but no mention was made of the high capital cost that this would involve.

There was considerable evidence of a lack of experience and inadequate detailed knowledge of the subject.

There were factual errors and a notable omission was any reference to reliability.

The British legal limit for the front axle is 9,150 kg not 6.1Mg as shown in the report.

To state that the transverse rear engine is usual in Britain, and universal in the US is misleading. This is only true of double-deckers in Britain, and in the US there is a significant number of buses with longitudinally mounted engines. No mention is made of these latter engines which is the most usual for rear-engined single-deckers in Britain and is in sizeable numbers in most European countries.

Independent front suspension is not standard in America, nor in Europe. A reference to independent rear suspension does not mention that it is impractical with twin rear tyres.

Hydraulic retarders are only used for a much more powerful engine than would be used for bus work.

It is stated that an integral body is lighter and less expensive but many integral buses are heavier and more costly than their counterparts with separate chassis and bodywork.

The 8m double-decker mentioned, is obsolete. The worldwide standard is 11-12 metres

It referred to a misunderstanding of conventional leaf springs and their linkage.

It referred to the ‘possibility’ of placing a horizontal engine under the driver, when it already exists in Paris.

The conclusion that a nose heavy vehicle was preferable takes no account of the virtually universal use of twin rear tyres on buses and coaches. These give correct tyre loading and hence the desired stability on vehicles.

The claim that for equal length, the double-decker has twice the seating capacity ignores the space for the staircase, occupying 4-5 seats space.

Articulated buses are manoeuvrable, but it is important to note their effect on street congestion and garage space.


The rejoinder by a civil engineer tells the auspicious Technical Committee that their views on engine placement on buses confuses stability in side winds with stability in corners! It disputes their view on comparative double-decker and single-decker seating. It argues that one articulated bus will take up less road space than the three rigid buses they would replace. See my photo taken in London. When one negotiated a corner, vehicles in the opposite direction were stopped. The ensuing delays clearly reduce road capacity. When two met at a corner, traffic was stopped in both directions.

The rejoinder and the original report did not consider the implications of an articulated bus using Liverpool St bus bays, nor turning into the outbound lane, with its limited space. They overlooked that using articulated buses means they cannot pull into the first available bay - a cornerstone of their plan, but only pull in a bay requiring that length of bus. This could leave an articulated bus blocking an inbound lane, whilst waiting for another articulated to depart - as there would obviously be insufficient length for both to be clear of the inbound lanes.


Rejoinders has an undated extract from a Working Party Report of the Conservation Society. It was to be published April-May 1976, (The Times, 31.3.76). The Extract mentions

1 Long bus deceleration lanes were a major omission in the original Smith paper.

2 Costs envisaged for fourteen proposed ramps are suspiciously low; they include major works, roundabouts, tunnels. and a new length of road adjacent to a major suburban location

3 The proposed average 80 kph bus speed would mean a top speed of 110 kph. Double-deck buses were limited to 80 kph, after one overturned on the M1.

4 The only front engine OMO bus was a disaster, only 70 were sold. Two caught fire. One scheduled to run at high speed overturned with fatalities. It now runs on motorways  at 50 mph.

5 The main line fleet seems to be underestimated even on the authors’ own princi­ples. Instead of 475, 530 would be needed. If running speeds average 75% of that envis­aged, it would need to increase by a further third; 15% spares are usually held by operators, not 10%.

6 One bus failure can start a snowballing effect. there could be little certainty of reliability. This means either more spare buses or journey time delays for passengers.

7 If 60 kph is taken as feasible, the benefit of £1.67m becomes a disbenefit of £2.3m.

8 As the system is incapable of the car volume envisaged, nor of achieving more than a quarter of property sales, net capital costs will rise to £90m, annual savings/benefits will fall to between -£0.03m & £4.4m depending whether speeds of 50 or 60 kph are achievable.

9 There are no figures to back the claim that freight trains run only generally at night and lorries in the daytime. (The branch lines covered in the study which have freight are not open at night!)

10 Environmental conclusions are biased. They claim that OLE is a visual intrusion, but do not refer to lighting and huge road signs that would be essential, particularly for private car traffic. There is no reference to new flyovers.

11 There are frequent crossing & access points [every 2km], a bus ‘station’ every 2.5km.

12 The scheme assumes property prices will be high enough to make a significant profit. BR’s record for disposal of property is reasonable - with receipts of £20m pa.   Property in East London is not easy to sell , partly because the GLC seeks to stop further migration from London. The area is run down, and to expect sales of any size is unrealistic.

13 North Tyneside scheme road conversion costs were prepared in 1970. With inflation, these would have risen to £0.4m per km. That scheme was based on limited station facilities and ramps every 5km in comparison with 2km in Hall/Smith.

14 If costs for the major works at Liverpool Street, Shoreditch and near Brentwood are eliminated [from the total costs between Liverpool St. & Brentwood], it leaves £29,000 per km for the rest for busway only, which is unrealistic.

15 Much of the benefit comes from additional car traffic created. The maximum level of traffic assumed is 2,400 vehicles per hour, which equates to 1.5 seconds gap between each. TV advertising warns that ‘only a fool breaks the 2 second rule’.

16 Only rail can meet urban need. Urban areas were built up because railways existed

-Rejoinders to the above 16 items, makes only partial responses to some:-

1. The bus bay figure includes deceleration lanes but was not explicitly stated. (For Smith to clarify an oversight after an exam would still result in failure. It is not acceptable to produce points like rabbits from a hat. He envisaged some bus stops in deceleration lanes! (Study page 13), a recipe for accidents   

2. Small island roundabouts have proved a satisfactory alternative to expensive junctions. (Except where used by big lorries & articulated buses! The Study mentions two small roundabouts, one large & two undefined, (pages 92,104,107,110). The largest is 178 metres in diameter & has an underpass- page 92).

3. The critics do not understand the difference between cruising speed and average speed.

4. The bus overturned because a lorry jack-knifed in front. Jack-knifing can be prevented by fitting an accessory to the brakes. ( There is no mention in the book of restricting use of the converted system to lorries so fitted, nor of the cost, which most hauliers have not been prepared to pay, and the DoT has not enforced, see Juggernaut, page 71).

5. Comments on the vehicles needed are based on a misunderstanding of cruising speed. A bus built of reliable components can operate with 10% reserve & will have more seats. Most of the fleet will be available for maintenance during the day.(This will be at Ilford, needing drivers to take buses there. Those on services may not have time. What matters is not that most are available, but whether those due maintenance are.)

6. A central barrier assumed in the study precludes a ‘crossover’ accident blocking both carriage­ways! (Thirty years later, we have yet to see a central barrier with such attributes!)  A breakdown will only be a problem on the 520m bus-only 6.6m single carriageway near Liverpool St. From there, a tow-truck could reach it in a minute. The book does not mention a tow truck. Two 3.3m lanes are not possible, - see Chapter 10-III. If they were, it would not get to a bus so quickly. After advice is received, a driver found & instructed (no supervisors are envisaged) it would then take another 5-10 minutes. Many buses will be stopped. The station would be heaving, a peak in chaos. If the breakdown was inbound, it would take longer, causing more delay. A bus towed to Ilford at 20mph will delay buses. There is no debit for one incident per year against passenger time savings

7 Claims made by the Working Party that passenger time is overstated, are wrong because the comment on running speed is wrong. (The author identified other serious flaws in claims of time saved - see Chapter 10-III)

8 The rejoinder addresses only the property issue, and puts faith in estate agents - many exposed on TV as being untrained or unqualified, and claims they cannot be wrong!

9 Re ‘freight trains run all night.. lorries all day’, includes numbers of trains, lorry aspect is conditioned by when not affected by congestion. It says lorries run in the day because employers have to pay extra at night. The report refers to freight from branch lines which are closed at night. Hauliers have never been inhibited by congestion. The belief lorries run in the day, has no bearing on self-employed drivers, and is not borne out by endless heavy vehicles on the M6, whose noise can be heard day & night a mile away, unlike nearer trains.

10 Lighting is dismissed as unnecessary - ‘a legacy of an age when public spending on roads was less constrained’, (page 37).

If Treasury officials had been standing knee deep in gold, they would not have allocated an unnecessary penny. Lighting was installed to reduce accidents. Non-provision invalidates comparisons between safety on con­verted roads and motorways. If superfluous, all lights should be switched off to cut global warming, and later re­moved

11. No new flyover is needed on the routes studied. A substantial dual carriageway structure is envisaged at Brook Street, between Harold Wood and Brentwood, (page 92). It is described as a flyunder, but is a flyover in which four lanes pass over four lanes.

12 Every property value was arrived at by asking an estate agent or valuer. That does not guarantee buyers, nor that in this rundown area, the price would not fall like a stone. Sellers always start by pitching the price high. The caution advanced by the critics is well judged. (See above).

13 No detail costings nor formation widths were available of the North Tyne alternatives. (He should not criticise, given his lack of data on formations, bridges & statistics -(see chapter 10- III)

14 Smith responds by quoting costs at Liverpool Street and Brook St [Brentwood].

15 DfT recommend 3300 vehicles per carriageway/hour. 2400 is to ensure a high level of service. (i.e. delays tolerated to justify bigger flows). 2400 gives a 3 second headway.

16 The Report says buses on the Liverpool St line will offer a seat for every passenger. That idealistic objective is undermined by Smith in the Journal of Transport Economics & Policy (Sept 1973). 

There were no rejoinders to:-

Busmen do not like split turns.

Construction costs are a single annual cost. The conventional approach measures cost of  construction, then assesses resulting annual running/social costs of the changed system.

Doubling the cost of BR services with a theoretical cost is hardly good analytical prac­tice. It ignores a vital point - consumers preferring X to Y, will pay more for X than Y.

The scheme, assuming it works with a high level of efficiency and complete safety, could yield at most, 5% - half of the DoE test discount rate. The economic case is weak.

Why were the effects on lifestyle and land use not analysed more closely.

A Rejoinder states (page 30) that if enough lines were converted to require 1000s of buses, a purpose built 100-seat, 110kph double deck bus would be viable. No figures are produced to validate this. A production line for this small order, with replacement not required for 15 years, is untenable. It suggests (page 37), road users obey an unenforceable ban on using horns at night, despite slamming car doors & shouting in the early hours. It is untenable. Drivers ignore red traffic lights, make prohib­ited right and ‘U’ turns, go the wrong way on one-way roads, use bus lanes irregu­larly, tailgate, make risky changes of lane, overtake on the left, fail to give way at major junc­tions & roundabouts, do not keep vehicles in good condition. Many offences occur within sight of CCTV, which are unlikely to de­tect misused horns. Rail horns are used solely for safety, car horns to express irritation

Transport Policy, an MoT consultation paper (April 1976) stated that the study costs were under-estimated, savings claimed doubtful and new traffic questionable.

The Rejoinder claimed that costs were realistic, it dismissed bridges built to idealistic DfT standards, and claimed that a 2-track railway will convert to a road with a width of 6.8-7.3m. It claims that MoT criticism is based on generalities.

This book shows that costs are unrealistic, not all bridges were measured, and a 2-track section will not convert to such a width (e.g., see Chapter 10-III), and the changeover is impractical


Neutral report included in Rejoinders - neither for nor against

Nobody cares for freight (Commercial Motor 13.2.76) bemoaned public dislike of lorries, that may have encouraged a belief of an intention to exclude lorries. There is no rejoinder.


                                                                     Not supportive - not included in Rejoinders

A Guardian article (29.4.74), adjoining one included in Rejoinders, stating that road transport appears incapable of developing beyond a point where 50 passengers or 30 tons can be handled by one driver, whilst one train driver can cope with 500 passengers or 2,000 tons. ‘Trains have a 4-to-1 energy advantage over road, ton for ton’.

Professor Hall ex­pects ‘an experiment to be carried out on a lesser used line,’ (The Times, 2.2.76). The infer­ence is a lack of conviction about routes carrying heavy traffic.

A letter in New Society (5.2.76) doubts assumptions on time savings. It refers to an article by Peter Hall, [New So­ciety, 29.1.76], and says that, although 10-times as much saving for bus passengers was claimed on a new road, com­pared to car users, it did not tempt people out of cars. This casts doubt on the validity of savings calculated by multi­plying thousands of tiny daily reduc­tions in travel time to make thousands of hours a year. It says that Hall might reflect on the light this throws on the willingness to switch to buses on converted railways. An article in the same edition of New Society is in Rejoinders. (page 71).

Criticism in New Scientist (5.2.76) is missed, although it was quoted in Municipal Engi­neering (12.3.76), an extract of which is in Rejoinders. Having said that £50,000 would pay only for drawings of Liverpool Street bus station, it points out that the much-quoted bus lane in New Jersey leads to a multi-storey multi-million dollar terminal, compared to a single level terminal pro­posed by Smith, with 27,500 peak hour passengers crossing the bus flow. By look­ing at annual traffic, the [Smith] report fails to take account of peak road saturation and substantially underestimates loading time for one-man buses. Other costs have been substantially underestimated. On one route which requires four drivers in the peak, it as­sumes the need for only five drivers. It doesn’t allow for drivers who go sick or have holi­days. The report failed to consider adequately what happens at junctions.

The introduction to Rejoinders, says as criticism was expected, it was decided to collect all criticisms   give a measured rejoinder. Measured rejoinders should eshew sar­casm, but some did not. Some criticisms are reduced to extracts, some are left out. Had supportive views been left out, there would have been room for full reprints of criticisms. Readers are left in the dark as to what else was in an article, when an extract is used.     


Top of Page