Chapter 11                                                                            Trying to revive a lost cause


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The Railway Conversion League, (aka Railway Conversion Campaign), pursued con­version until 1994, when Angus Dalgleish, its last chairman died. Its demise suggests that it had become a virtual one man band, as was rumoured. Unlike thousands of others listed, the League had ceased to mention the size of membership - a fair indication that it was very small. Its membership was last listed in 1988 as 26, having fallen from 75 in 1972.


The InterNet Age

Transwatch uses the Internet to try to revive the lost cause: ‘Re-igniting Conversion’. Director, Mr. P. Withrington, calls on people to submit information on conversions. The website ‘attempts to provide a list of all locations in the UK where disused railway lines have been re-used as roads, giving details, where known, of map references for the road and original railway, and the date the conversion took place’. (Transwatch website. The Directory of British Associations list it in 2004, with no chairman, and no members. The Directory listed it under its original title until 1996).


In this list, the routes of the railways concerned are not clear, and are less easy to identify than those in the 1970 list, (see Chapters 7 & 13), which was by no means perfect. Although, with that, one could often compare a railway atlas with a current OS map.

Transwatch list (5.3.05), 204 conversions - few of which specify identifi­able railway locations. Some can be identified as sections of the same line or road and should be treated as one. Their total length is 254.8 miles, an unimpressive average 1.2 miles. ‘Rules’ are specified for inclusion of conversions in the web site:

The road must join the formation of the railway line, run along for some distance and then leave it again.

Only publicly accessible roads are included. Farm tracks, private drives are excluded

Industrial or housing estates are generally excluded because it is too difficult to follow the route and the routes are generally too short to be worth recording.


What is meant by ‘some distance’, rather than, say, ten miles, is unclear. It is a highly subjective definition. Rules are not rigorously observed.

The list contains many ultra-short sections proving nothing about the practicality of wholesale conversion. Nine are less than 1/4 mile, 75 are ½ mile or less, and 131 are under one mile, only one of the 204 listed is in double figures - and then only just: 10.2 miles. A local group aged over 55, regard a 4 mile walk as a minimum distance for beginners! Walks by the group up to 10 miles take place almost weekly. It is hardly worth getting a car out of a garage to travel less than a mile.

Despite the Rules, some industrial roads are included, together with roads which cross a disused line at a tangent (e.g. M25 over the former Westerham single line branch).

The list includes entries which read: ‘it is unclear if the road has been widened onto the railway or just very close’; ‘A466 widened onto the railway for 0.6 mile’; ‘road took route over river, but unclear if railway bridge re-used’; ‘line closed in 1930s, not clear if bypass actually built on railway’; ‘conversion not confirmed’; ‘looks like realignment’; ‘A148 round Hillingdon - this make [sic Presume should be ‘may’.] not be a conversion, A148 may just be running close to railway’; ‘industrial estate road - less than ½  mile’.

‘Cambrian Moat Lane Jcn to Tallyllyn line’ appears three times between other entries. Stoke-on-Trent people would be surprised to learn that the Potteries Loop Line [Stoke-Etruria-Hanley-Kidsgrove] extended to Shrewsbury; and more surprised that the single line Jamage colliery branch was wide enough ‘to create the A500/A34/A527 junc­tion’. Large scale maps for the area around that junction show that the roundabout is 140 yards wide, excluding slip roads, as it crosses at right angles across the former branch line. ‘The A66 widened onto the trackbed’ cannot conceivably rank as a conversion.

Thirteen entries relate to conversions to motorways! It includes ‘conversions’ listed in earlier reports, e.g. the 12 foot wide Barton line widened into a 102 feet motorway (see Chapter 7) - and the single line Westerham branch ‘converted’ into the M25, (see Chapter 13).  For comparative dimensions of motorways and railways – see Diagram 7, Chapter 14

Only one complete disused route has ever been replaced by a road (Spalding-Boston - some 10 miles long. The scale of widening is not known) confirming the inaccuracy of the long-standing claim that railways were straight between towns, wide enough and therefore ideal for conversion. More significantly, after 10,000 miles of railway have closed, it can only be claimed that 2% has been converted, even applying a very loose meaning to the word conversion!   

A conversion date is only quoted for a minority. 70 entries record ‘conversion’ ‘before 1984’, and 90 ‘after 1984’. The nature of this landmark year is unclear. It is unhelpful in obtaining information from local authorities. The list is largely silent on the crucial issue of the extent of widening required to provide the essential width for a road. Only 20 of the 204 entries name the person who provided the data, precluding amplification.

Roads built on closed lines are irrelevant to the conversionist objective - con­vert­ing all railways. Using a closed line as the foundation for a new road is not con­version in the sense that it would apply to an operating railway. 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, nor the provision of transfer stations whilst conver­sion took place. The anti-rail lobby is willing to see roads on converted rail­ways with­out verges and ignores the problem of uncompacted cess, verges and open ditches within the boundary fence. However, should they ever be converted, it is likely that delays and accidents will justify compulsory purchase to provide extra width and verges.


Practicality & costs

Transwatch said that government should remove all impediments to converting rail­ways to roads, but doesn’t list them. First refusal of closed lines has been to local authori­ties, who, BR stated (Conversion Report 2.3.84) ‘have had pre-emptive rights since 1966’. What, then, are the impedi­ments? Clearly, inadequate widths led to local authorities con­verting more closed lines to footpaths than roads. Sustrans has just announced that there are, in the UK, 10,000 miles of cycle and footpaths, including lengths of closed lines that are sig­nificantly longer than the pathetically short lengths of conversions to roads

Transwatch compares the contract cost of upgrading the West Coast main line from 110 to 140 mph - involving track and signalling renewals, station rebuilding etc., - with a non-contractual Treasury paper figure for building a 70 mph motorway - a chalk and cheese comparison. It is a fact that the cost of building the M1 substantially exceeded forecasts, (see Chapter 12), whereas BR schemes were within budget. The rail cost includes:

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

Diversion costs of rail traffic during engineering work which 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 - in the ballasted area. Motorways cater for 11.5 tonne. If they were built solely for cars, the required axle weight would be about 0.5 tonne, illustrating the excessive extra cost of roads suitable for HGVs. The railway axle weight was established when the UK used imperial tons which are slightly heavier than the metric tonnes now used. One ton = 1.016 tonnes. The road axle weight was quoted by the Highways Agency.



Transwatch makes reasonable assumptions of the capacity of rail and road alternatives. Conversions seem to be based on unreasonable assumptions: transfer to bus, diversions to new roads, track width, etc. No assumptions should be made. Researched facts must be used. The fact is that road transport requires 22 times as much road mileage - much of it wider than railways - to carry ten times as much traffic - even on the unreliable basis by which road tonne-miles/km are estimated, (see below). If nine foot widths without verges on converted railways - are adequate, no widening of the M6 is necessary, lanes can be reduced to nine foot and verges concreted to provide five lanes. Congestion would be solved, cheaply, at a stroke.

How many would divert from the M6 to a converted west coast main line with its delay-inducing flat junctions and traffic lights? None. All would wait for someone else to do so. There are few railway routes close to motorway junctions to take diverted traffic. Hence, in the event of conversion, existing roads will continue to experience congestion arising from diversions from blocked motorways.

Like its predecessors, Transwatch compares the whole railway system with only motorways and trunk roads. The DfT say there are no reliable statistics of freight volume on motorways either in terms of tonnes or tonne-km. The only data available is distance run on motorways by goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross weight. Gross weight of a vehicle fully loaded by weight. Vehicles even well above this minimum do not compete with rail.


Table 2


Vehicle miles on m-ways

Est 11.5 bn

Total vehicle miles – all roads

Est 28.5 bn

Tonnes carried all vehicles, all roads

Est 1.6  bn


The basis used exaggerates road freight tonne-miles/km. The DfT explained that if a vehicle starts with, say, 10 tonnes at A, unloads half at B after a mile, then picks up 2 tonnes, the tonnes conveyed are counted as 12 for the full journey! If the full length of the journey is, say 50 miles, 600 tonne-miles would be counted instead of 353! From this inaccurate base, an estimate of traffic on motorways is made by taking 40% of 1.6bn tonnes = 657m tonnes. Applying 40% to the estimated 152bn tonne-km on all roads, produces 60.8bn tonne-km on motorways. No statistician should accept it

DfT statistics for road passenger transport are equally suspect, being based on vehicle mileages and assumptions. Little definitive data is submitted by operators. There is no data on loads - and 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 and compare it with rail, cannot be justified. Some accuracy needs to be imparted into recording road traffic figures, which are also used to justify road building.

A claim that BR misled the public by comparing a train load of passengers with the low known occupancy of cars is incredible, not least because it prays in aid a national rail average train loading depressed by the low load of rural train services, which BR was prevented from closing by politicians. Those routes, when they are closed are mostly not converted to roads, nor do they lead to good PSV loads. Operators required subsidies to replace rail - initially paid by BR - and even then, many bus services had a short life.

Transwatch claims that ‘fewer than 1 in 50 motorised journeys are by rail’. (The meaning of this definition is unclear). It does not state what percentage of journeys is on those roads, whose mileage it excludes in com­parisons. It overlooks that 73% of car journeys are under 5 miles. Many must be in areas with no nearby railway, therefore conversion could have no effect. An RAC 2004 report shows that the most frequent purpose of car journeys is shopping - accounting for 25% of annual mileage - which does not compete with rail. The Report quotes the average car journey as 8.7 miles! If diverted, it would travel further. Over 75% of bus mileage is on local roads, and if diverted from roads which have houses, shops etc. on them, they would run empty. These facts seriously undermine claims on diversionary gains.

It is stated that ‘commuters with prepaid tickets may board at the rate of one per 1.5 per second [sic], and alight at one per second, totalling two minutes for a 50-seat bus’. It does not say how long those who haven’t prepaid would take. Runcorn bus passengers, ‘most of whom have the fare ready, load at the amazingly fast rate of one every two seconds’. Municipal Engineering (12.3.76) quotes ‘fastest loading times of 3 seconds per passenger, and says that from Liverpool Street, with different fares, 7-10 seconds is likely’..



Bus terminals

Transwatch 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 and use, road transport out-performs rail by a factor of 3-5 across the network’. A claim must not begin with probably and conclude with certainty.

‘If these [buses] are spread over three levels, there would be some 30 bays on each’.  There is no assessment of the cost of a terminal, nor the ground that would be occupied with ramps, nor of the length of time required to pass between street and upper levels.

According to Transwatch: ‘terminal capacity is a separate issue and more difficult to demonstrate simply’. It is crucial and only difficult in the absence of a timetable based on a full analysis of the precise journeys which passengers make. Conversion proposals have tended to ignore the practicalities of operation, which any transport operator - road or rail - would regard as the first essential step. Lloyd sought to dispense with timetables for the very reason that they would prove the impracticability of his dream, (see Chapter 3).

Despite that, Transwatch claims ‘the 50,000 passengers who alight at Waterloo could all find seats in 1,000 50-seat coaches – sufficient for one lane of a motor road managed in a way that avoids congestion’. That will be the day, when a road is managed to avoid congestion. It will also be the day when all buses depart with a full load. Not a penny has been allocated by conversion theorists to a management system. An assumption that all passengers present themselves in orderly groups of 50 all conveniently going to one and the same place within the space of a minute is untenable. It assumes that buses would run at the same speed as trains - which obviously, they would not. It makes no allowance for those with luggage, cycles, or prams, passengers in wheelchairs or other disabled, and those with dogs, which would prolong idealistic loading times. They say that their claim is consistent with American research and the approach to the New York bus terminal. The research has been challenged, as has the relevance of the New York terminal, which is on several levels (see Chapter 10). Moreover, bus lanes in New York have problems, (see Chapter 12).


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. Data supplied by the coach station shows it has 10m pa. One must not compare what one system may 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, (see Chapters 10 & 10-III)


It states: ‘In comparison [with rail delays] disruption when there is a major motorway accident seldom lasts more than a few hours’.* That ignores the ensuing chaos on other roads, and the total delay of thousands of vehicles, which is never evaluated, and for which, unlike rail, there is no compensation paid by the culprits. It is selective in focusing on motorways. The scale and consequences of road blockages is under-estimated. There is not a day, when radio reports of accidents - with staggering delays - do not reach double figures. The zillions of minutes delay to tens of thousands of vehicles daily are convertible into money, just as reducing delays are taken as financial justification to improve roads.

*The reason for the relative brevity of a closure is that, unlike rail, less effort is expended to establish the cause.

Following a road traffic accident on a converted railway, thousands of vehicles would divert to village and residential streets, creating congestion and accidents there.

Casualty figures follow the same path as attempts to prove roads are better utilised than rail. Everyone injured or killed on the railway is counted, (see Chapter 10-II), whilst cyclists, motor-cyclists & pedestrians on roads are excluded as they are ‘seldom met with on railways’. On that basis, as cars, buses, lorries are seldom seen on railways, casualties caused by them could be excluded and, hey presto - there are no deaths on roads at all. Those they exclude use level crossings where most accidents are caused by failings of road users than trains. (According to the strictly independent HMRI). Such deaths appear in railway statistics, but should be debited to roads of which a level crossing is part, and analogous to cross-roads, except level crossings are safer. Likewise, when road vehicles crash through barriers or fall on the line (e.g. Selby - which was not a unique), deaths appear in rail not road statistics. Had that line been converted, and the same vehicle had crashed at Selby, the fatalities would have been far higher. Trespassers are pedestrians, as they are not in vehicles. These pedestrians - ‘seldom met on railways’ - are taking a short cut across the railway, but are included in rail deaths. Pedestrians are killed taking short cuts across roads instead of using a controlled crossing. Pedestrians used roads long before motors, and trains crossed roads long before motors. A fair comparison requires all fatalities counted in both modes. In this context, converted railways will not be pedestrian free. ‘Trespassers’ will continue to take short cuts and those using level crossings, will continue to use the same route, but without the protection of barriers. Deaths will soar as they try to cross between closely spaced 60 mph vehicles.

Hall-Smith study

Transwatch states that rail lobby criticisms of the Hall-Smith study are risible and vitriolic. It does not divulge where these offending criticisms may be found for others to consider the validity of such emotive adjectives. The only record of BR comments found by this author were at the ICE discussion (see Chapter 10), and the media (see Chapter 10-II). Neither the official record of the ICE discussion nor the media contain words which can be so described. Local authorities - often critical of BR, and never considered to be a rail lobby - dismissed the Study’s figures. A Transport Study Group unconnected with railways, comprehensively dismissed it, (see Chapter 10-II). The DoE*, which commissioned and paid for the Study, dissociated itself from the findings, as it ‘had major reservations about some of the calculations in the study’ (Times, 23.12.75). It is impractical, based on unwarranted assumptions, and has many flaws and defects, (see chapter 10, parts II & III). 

*The DoE was a conglomerate, embracing that most notorious of road lobbies - the Dept of Transport!

These many defects are not answered by the book [Rejoinders] as claimed by Transwatch, which states it ‘exposes rail lobby comments’. That book refers to criticisms and comments from 41 sources, (see chapter 10, part II)1. Critics include the DoE, Hansard, technical journals, Professors Cooper and Spaven of the Polytechnic of Central London.2  None of these are part of a rail lobby. Only BR and its Chief Executive are paid-up members. Modern Railways, which criticised the study, was openly critical of BR on many issues. Only since privatisation has it tended to concede that BR was not as bad as it was painted. Any rail lobby is seriously outnumbered by road transport operators, who have been silent on this Study in particular & conversion in general. Revelations from detailed examination of the Smith study report, (see previous chapter), indicate that current faith in the study, is misplaced. When conversion was first debated at the ICE, in 1955, it was rubbished by road engineers & road transport operators! (See chapter 4). 

   1. The chapter includes an assessment of the validity of the Rejoinders & notes that several criticisms are ignored.

2. The author has tracked down most of these parties - see chapter 10, part II, which contains an assessment of the Rejoinders by Smith, and notes that some valid criticisms have not been addressed.


It is claimed by Transwatch that the cost of conversion could be cheaper than the Smith estimates, praying in aid a 7.3-metre carriageway built on a closed railway at Southport through flat country, said to cost £140,000 per km at 1991 prices.1  It is overlooked that they got land-fill material free, and that the Engineer who built it, said that sub soil was favourable.2 Figures quoted by contractors at the 1971 ICE meeting were up to £406,000 per km for a 6.7m road, (see Chapter 10-II), ten times the study figure. This damning fact from non-BR speakers is ignored. The argument about what conversion would cost for any given location can only be established by contractors’ written quotations for that location.

1.       A. C. Dalgleish, The Truth about Transport (1st edition published by Centre for Policy Studies, March 1982; 2nd edition, December 1993, published by the now disbanded Railway Conversion Campaign). See chapter 8.

2.       Dalgleish dismissed costs advanced by critics on grounds that the sub soil was unfavourable! (see Chapter 8).


Transwatch criticise BR for refusing to help Hall-Smith. Their book acknowl­edges help by BR! Any research would inflate BR losses, giving more cause for criticism. Clearly, BR could not help with a bus timetable. Bus op­erators would have been happy to, but there is no evidence they were asked. Aside from staff numbers and costs, which would incur costs to determine re-allocation where duties embrace services not included in the Study, the only help BR could provide would seem to be dimensions of bridges, tunnels & land. Much is available on maps in the House of Lords Record Office and Public Record Office. Data on formation suitability as roads, required on-site test borings, soil analysis, etc.: a costly exercise, interfering with trains and delaying passengers. Money - well in excess of the fee paid for the Study - would need to change hands. BR had no expertise in building roads on railways, so they would be unable there. It is significant that the DoE - then, BR’s political mas­ters - which commissioned the Study, did not direct BR to give more help. 


Fuel consumption

Transwatch tries to prove that road transport is more fuel efficient than rail, making an unchallenged statement that given rail rights of way, coaches and lorries could discharge a national rail function using 20-25% less fuel. The statement is hereby challenged

It takes the average lorry load as 15 tonnes1 [30 tonne load, return empty]. Included for rail is an unwarranted presumption of 20 miles road transit. This inflates rail fuel con­sumption as 85% does not travel on roads, (see Chapter 10-II). No data exists on the distance of road delivery for the rest2. Speed - crucial in con­sumption - is ignored. Freight trains are up to 75mph, lorries 60mph. The lorry fuel basis is ‘If the lorry runs at 7 mpg, it re­quires 5.7 gal­lons’.3 No source for 7mpg is shown. It is statis­ti­cally unac­ceptable to take an av­erage of all railfreight trains to create an esti­mated train load, to compare with one hypo­theti­cal lorry with a maxi­mum load. That should be compared to actual train loads of 1000+ of coal, ore or oil, empty back, averaging 500+ tons. DfT data gives tonne kms for all road trans­port over 3.5t gvw in 1998 as 159bn, and goods vehicle km ex­cluding light vans as 32bn. This puts the average of a heavier lorry at 5 ton­nes, and even this is over­stated due to the unreliability of road statistics, (see Table 2 below). Thus, fuel con­sumption per tonne-mile for lorries is underestimated by a factor of three. This worsens road con­sump­tion from the claimed 120 to 40 tonne-miles per gallon, compared to 181 tonne-miles per gallon for rail­, excluding the erroneous 20 miles road transit. Allowing for some road transit on 15% of traffic still leaves rail consumption far better. Plowden & Buchan say that diesel consump­tion per tonne km by road haulage, is five times greater than rail.

1. A large percentage of mileage is driven with loads well below the vehicle capacity, (Plowden & Buchan). Many lorries make multiple drops, so that the average load will fall below the 50% level.

2. The author was Assistant Goods Agent at two goods depots, at which delivery distance for most of this traffic was under 3 miles.

3. Using a global approach as Transwatch did, an average lorry achieves 5.9 mpg. This covers all vehicles from light vans to HGVs. A lorry carrying 32t would use more. Source: National Fuel Use statistics & DfT vehicle miles.


Transwatch claims that system-wide rail returns the equivalent of 115 passenger mpg - 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 and rural routes - and compare it with one hypothetical PSV carrying 20 passengers. The DfT say that no reliable data exists for average PSV loads (see entry following table 2). PSVs seen locally by the author are frequently carrying one or two passengers! 

The average train load is compared with one diesel-powered car with an above average two people, to claim that rail energy use is no better than a car. The speed disparity, crucial in fuel comparison, is ignored. The average car load is 1.6. With two people, it must average 60mpg, with 1.6 people, 75mpg. The comparison is untenable. One could equally compare one well-loaded train with the average of all road passenger transport.

Transwatch: ‘Rail data depends primarily on information provided by Network Rail for 2002/3. Diesel consumption by passenger rail is same as freight, following approximate division of diesel provided by Network Rail’. Data ‘includes Net­work SouthEast: 108mpg, Re­gional: 123mpg, InterCity: 123mpg, system wide average: 115mpg’. Where did Network Rail obtain 2002-3 data for groups which ceased to exist 1994 & fragmented into 25 busi­nesses? Pre-privatisation audited BR Annual Reports did not include it. Net­work Rail did not supply fuel for trains. Transwatch say (In a letter to the author dated 2.8.05) that as their source was ‘no longer at Net­work Rail, and her successor claims to have no such data1 - it probably means there is no person in the nation that has today’s electricity & diesel consump­tions used by national rail’. Each rail operator has its data. No person has such data for HGVs or PSVs. It is un­clear why a precise national rail mpg is sought to compare with imprecise road traffic data.   .

1.|The original source may have given off-the-cuff estimates in order to close off the inquiry.

No deduction is shown of fuel used for engineer­ing purposes - whose comparison would be with highway authorities: track maintenance and renewal, building new road bridges, repairing bridges bashed by lorries; test running new rolling stock on behalf of suppliers, and oper­ating charter trains whose passengers or freight tonnages are not recorded. Extra fuel used by trains diverted due to bridge-bashing should also be excluded.

Bad weather

Transwatch dragged in the ‘wrong sort of snow’.* This phrase originated with jour­nalists, not BR. In February 1991, snow was getting into train motors. BR’s spokes­man said that snow was unusually dry and powdery. The Evening Standard (11.2.91) re­ported verbatim. Others - who have probably never tackled wind-blown snow to satisfy their own cus­tomers, much less evacuees from competi­tors - coined this sarcastic phrase. Un­like many countries in Europe, the UK has some years with little snow, and in others, winter comes and goes several times. The start - not duration - of snowfalls causes the problems

*Snow gridlocked several motorways. Airports had problems. Rail was not mentioned (New Statesman 10.2.03)


Transwatch proclaimed that road transport carries on in most conditions.1 ‘On Monday after a weekend of flooding in November 2000, the entire rail network came to a virtual standstill. On Tuesday, the Today programme interviewed a road haulier, who said that his organisation had reached virtually all its customers.2 No doubt there was disruption but probably 95% of road journeys were unaffected3 compared with a completely paralysed rail system’. Unlike The Times reports, which are available from 1785, and can be read to ascertain the full context, obtaining a transcript of that radio interview has proved impossible, as it has been, in the author’s experience, even only a few weeks later. 

1. That is not the author’s experience. Moreover, his book “The Railway Closure Controversy” contains many documented objections to closures, because road users and industry admit to depending on rail in bad weather.

2. It does not indicate if the haulier said when this occurred. Common experience is that road transport cannot predict the day of delivery, much less, the time, even in good weather - ‘within 24 hours’ is commonplace. To say that they had ‘reached their customers’, without saying when, is, therefore, nothing of which to boast.

3.|This is an assumption. No haulier could know that for the whole industry. There is no industry-wide data

The date was not mentioned, nor provided on request. Research of principal newspaper reports for that month, revealed serious flooding in the early part of the month. ‘Nothing like it had been experienced since records began 273 years ago’, (Financial Times, 11.11.00). Roads were closed, but there were no reports of the entire rail network coming to a stand - a failing which would not be overlooked by the media, always hypercritical of railways:


Hundreds of roads remained closed in Wales and southern England. The AA predicted some areas would not have time to recover before the predicted return of bad weather late tonight or tomorrow. Train services recovered very well from Monday’s storm, with the vast majority of services running without major delay. (Independent, 1.11.00).

Few will forget the extreme conditions experienced this week. Railways did remarkably well. Ferries were unable to dock at channel ports, (Guardian, 1.11.00).

A renewed threat of petrol shortages, with supplies low at some filling stations*. Panic buying is threatened. Overflowing rivers added to rail disruption, (Financial Times, 3.11.00). * Which are all supplied by road.

Travellers faced continued misery on road and rail services. Some train services in the West Country, South Wales and North East were delayed or cancelled. Flooding closed several main roads in Yorkshire and the Midlands, (Daily Telegraph, 3.11.00).

Trains were running London to York, and Newcastle to Edinburgh, but not York to Newcastle. On Thursday, passengers were put on buses at York for Newcastle. One returned because of flooding, and passengers were put up in hotels, (Independent, 4.11.00).

Motoring organisations discouraged journeys unless absolutely necessary. This is one of the worst weekends for travel in years and it will be days before things improve, said the AA. Ferry crossings from Wales to Ireland and Dover-Calais were disrupted yesterday due to high winds. Eurostar was experiencing only minor delays, (Financial Times, 7.11.00).

A tree fell on a car killing two passengers and critically injuring the driver. It narrowly missed a coach travelling in the opposite direction, (Independent, 7.11.00).

Floods returned, cutting off homes and closing roads and railways. 301 flood warnings were in place. A man stranded when his car was swept off the road near Sturminster Newton was winched to safety by a helicopter. (Daily Telegraph, 7.11.00).

Many towns inaccessible by rail yesterday as floods continued, thousands evacuated* (Daily Telegraph 9.11.00). In contrast, The Times and Guardian - on the same day - reported instead on main roads blocked by floods, 200 houses flooded and villages swamped.

*Not a consequence of flooded railways! Invariably, houses get flooded because roads are flooded.


The classic rail-bashing was a photo of cars in a flood: ‘Rail travellers face delays after flood damage’, (Daily Telegraph, 23.12.91). Two rail locations & a dozen roads were listed. 

Some other typical examples of bad weather transport problems include: 

Freezing fog & ice disrupts flights & makes 1000s miles roads dangerous. (Times 1.12.75).

In dense fog, I arrived Euston, early. Others using the motorway were dead (Times 15.1.85)

50-car pile-up on the M2 in blizzard, other roads were blocked by snow. (Times 9.2.86).

67-vehicle pile-up in fog closed 7 miles on the M4, (The Times 12.12.89).

Roads closed, villages flooded, bridges closed. (Times 10.1.92).

Last weekend anybody attempting to drive to the south coast needed blankets, food and a torch. Driving north is a nightmare, (Times 24.10.04).

Homes and businesses flooded as 80 mph winds and heavy rain lashed the south coast. Two trains were halted at Dawlish by high waves Train drivers said it was the worst they could remember. Brittany Ferries cancelled a ferry, (Times 28.10.04).

The M11 suffered gridlock on 30 January 2003. Drivers were snowed in up to 17 hours; 12,000 people were affected and left without heat, water or food, (C4 programme, 6.7.05).


Road disasters occur in good weather. An M6 crash killed 13 in bright sunshine, causing a 35 mile jam. Six serious motorway crashes are listed, including a 120-vehicle pile-up, and several coach collisions. (Times 22.10.85).


A search of the ‘quality’ media found no remarks by BR that seemed “vitri­olic or risible” as claimed by Withrington, (see below). What is risible is an inference that road trans­port virtually always delivers on time. Many people will have experienced them fail­ing to call at a specified time in good - much less - bad weather. The norm is to be told to expect them morning or afternoon. Often, even the day is not predicted! In con­trast, rail­ways are crit­icised for failing to keep to a schedule timed to the nearest minute! In wintry condi­tions, a modest gradient finds road vehicles skidding because gritting has not taken place. If a delivery arrives at a house at which there is apparently no one in, no delay will occur in putting a card through the door telling the occupier where a package can be col­lected. It is not unknown for a card to be put through the door of the wrong house. When road haulage pub­lishes a timetable specifying delivery time to the nearest quarter of an hour will be time for them to boast about keeping to schedule. Several new and extensive road delays are reported by the BBC every hour. The gross time delay is never calculated. Until they do, any ‘comparison’ with rail delays is impossible. Road trans­port would need to invest in a large number of staff to keep and disseminate delay infor­mation currently, and retrospectively, before they can indulge in self-praise about stan­dards. By failing to offer a proper schedule and answer for it, hauliers keep costs artifi­cially down. The much vaunted ‘just-in-time’ delivery by road is a myth. There would never be an empty shelf, or a missing product if they could fulfil that promise. That a haulier may make such a sweeping claim of reliability is no surprise. Only the anti-rail lobby would accept it at face value. The evidence of history, is that when bad weather strikes, motor­ists, anxious to avoid getting stranded, and avoid having cars ruined by salt, whenever possible, head for the nearest railway station, passing sev­eral bus stops en route!



Transwatch tries to dismiss the views of a body called Railfuture, published in The Case for Rail on grounds that they are inaccurate, but, in so doing, advances invalid claims:

Railfuture make an unreasonable comparison of the length of the rail network with the entire road network. That network is nearly 400,000 km long but most consists of minor rural roads and urban back streets. Transwatch claims that the reasonable comparison  would be with motorways and trunk roads, which have a length of 15,500 km and a lane length in the range of 52-60,000 km. In comparison, the national rail network is some 16,000 km long and offers a track length of 32,000 km.

This comparison - not Railfutures - is invalid and unreasonable. No traffic begins or ends on motorways and little on trunk roads. If traffic originating on non-trunk roads was ignored along with non-trunk road mileage, comparative road traffic volume would be derisory. In fact, every part tonne and every person travelling on local roads for a short distance is counted.

On the tricky ground of safety, on which, even the biased media, tend to give railways the edge, Transwatch, having excluded non-trunk roads in comparisons (see above), slips back to praying in aid of passenger mileage, all car mileage: ‘currently there are 18 times as many passenger miles by road as by rail’. Subjective judgements are made as to how safe converted roads would be, if free of pedestrians, motor cyclists and cyclists.

Trespassers are pedestrians taking a short cut across - sometimes, along - the railway. All three classes use level crossings, hence they cannot be discounted for railways, whilst being counted for roads.  As 73% of all car journeys are less than 5 miles (see Chapter 7), most of them will never go onto a motorway or on a converted system.  They refer to suicides and trespassers as if \neither will feature in a converted system.  Where those intent on suicide will go is not explained - maybe a motorway. Those intent on suicide will find another way.  Trespassers taking short cuts would not diminish.    

It dismisses Railfuture comparisons of passengers by rail and roads by claiming that motorway and trunk road lanes handle nearly 4 times as many passenger-km as rail.

The DfT say there are no accurate passenger/km for roads, nor motorways, (see above). Hence this comparison is invalid. Again they compare all rail mileage with 15% of roads.

It also dismisses Railfuture comparisons of freight by rail and roads, by claiming that motorway and trunk road lanes handle 3 times as many tonnes-km as rail.

The DfT state that there are no freight tonne figures for such roads. There are figures for vehicle miles, but in the absence of data as to the contents - and many vehicles are known to be travelling empty or part loaded- there is no weight data available except for the whole road network. Even that data appears to be overestimated, (see above).   Lorries travelling with wheels elevated are either part loaded or empty. Many open lorries can be seen to be empty. ‘Heavier lorries partly loaded use more fuel than lighter vehicles.’  (Juggernaut, page 16).

Averaged over the network as a whole, the average flow by rail is equivalent to 300 buses plus lorries per day per track – a flow that would be quite lost on a motor road capable of carrying 5-10,000 vehicles per day per lane.

This is a chalk and cheese argument. Rail traffic is averaged over its whole network - main lines and rural lines - and peaks flattened - and then compared with a theoretical capacity of a hypothetical road which would not be the standard of a converted railway!

Railfuture claims on speed differential are dismissed on the grounds that the express coach would match the train for journey time, given the rights of way.

This is a remarkable claim, given that passenger train speeds are 100-125 mph and rising, whilst coaches are limited for safety reasons to 60 mph, and not rising, on purpose designed motorways. It is inconceivable that they would be safe at over 60 mph on a converted system at headways as is proposed. Delays and accidents arising from flat junctions, traffic lights and farm crossings would extend journey times even more.

Transwatch says that 50% rail journeys are less than 25 miles, 90% less than 80 miles.

It ignores that 50% of road passenger mileage is by local PSVs, whose passengers average 3 miles per journey! The rest is by contract coach - school runs, excursions - and express. Their journey length is unknown, but the DfT has estimated a 30 mile average. It fails to draw attention to the length of car journeys - which represent most passenger travel - 73% of which are less than 5 miles. The RAC 2004 Report says the average car trip is 8.7 miles. 

They claim that the environmental consequence of preserving railway rights of way is that the immensely wide routes serving the heart of London are substantially disused while lorries and other traffic clog unsuitable city streets.

Given conversion, more lorries would enter cities to make extra delay inducing calls, and existing and new PSVs would do likewise. All rail freight travelling to private sidings - 85% of all traffic - would travel through industrial and residential streets to reach destinations. There is no evidence - and neither can there be, without a detailed traffic survey of vehicle journeys - that a single vehicle will benefit by diverting. Many lorries are making deliveries on existing roads. Buses which did not run along residential streets would have no passengers. The proximity of buses to houses is their attraction.

Lorries account for 6% of energy consumption in the UK, but responsible for 31% of emissions of black smoke, 17% of nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants, (Plowden & Buchan)

Transwatch disputes a statement by Railfuture that ‘it is certainly not true that most rail passengers are well heeled’. Transwatch notes RAC’s 2004 report on motoring states that 50% of fare revenue comes from households within the top 20% band of income.

Inquiries of the RAC regarding its Report on Motoring revealed that there were two in 2004. They said that neither refers to rail fares. Such a claim is not borne out by the volume of passengers on cheap tickets, Student, Family and Senior Citizen railcards, etc

Transwatch criticises a claim by Railfuture that a twin track railway has six times the capacity of a 6-lane motorway, by praying in aid an express bus lane serving New York Bus terminal. It is said to carry 700 45-seat coaches in the peak providing 31,500 seats – said to be four times peak hour passengers alighting per track at London Victoria.

The comparison is invalidated by the reality that many displaced UK railway passengers do not switch to PSVs, but to cars.  The criticised claim was in respect of what is happening on UK motorways now. The passenger capacity of a bus-only lane is irrelevant. If one lane of a converted system is reserved for PSVs, many will travel with part loads, leaving no room for cars, thereby congesting existing roads. The value of the New York situation is undermined by evidence that bus punctuality is not good and that collisions occur, (see Chapter 10).

The Case for Rail actually states that the capacities of a twin track railway & a 6-lane motorway are equal.


Transwatch believe in the national interest, Railfuture claims should be investigated by a body such as the Advertising Standards Authority. It should consider the validity of all road traffic figures quoted by DfT, BRF and others, & their use to justify road building.



Transwatch concludes that The Case for Rail is consistent with the rail lobbys propa­ganda, and that the propaganda has created a myth that bears no relationship to reality. They claim that the railway function could be carried out by express coaches and lorries, given the rights of way, at one quarter the cost of the train, halving the death rate, using 20-25% less fuel1 and offering all Londons crushed rail commuters seats at a fraction of current fares.2 National road traffic figures are unreliable (see Table 2) as a basis for fuel consumption and single vehicle performance is irrelevant. It says that no unchallengeable case against this claim has been presented. An unchallengeable answer is made herein.

1. These claims are untenable. No acceptable proof can be tabled on the effect on fatalities.

2. The main author of the East Anglian study - praised by Transwatch – admits a seat is not guaranteed, (see Chapter 10). The claimed fare reductions are unattainable without a subsidy, (see Chapter 10-III).



Propaganda is an emotive term used to describe information disseminated by the opposition; propaganda disseminated by the home side is called information!



Transwatch claims ‘if railway rights of way were available to express coaches, fares would be reduced by a factor of at least five or at least that is often the current differential’. It is a recorded fact that when PSVs replaced trains after closures they were subsidised by BR, and that objectors to closures had stated that they would have to pay higher bus than rail fares. Complaints were made in Parliament that bus fares increased after closure, and objectors to closures often proved bus fares were higher.* The claim that fares on the East Anglian study would fall by 64% has been disproved, (see Table 1, Chapter 10-III). 

*See The Railway Closure Controversy, pages 37,75,95,109,134,170; Britains Railways - the Reality, page 93,  & Hansard 23.6.58, vol. 590, col. 202.

In trying to claim that express buses would achieve speeds to match those of Inter City expresses, Transwatch overlooks the need for buses to leave the converted system and go onto existing roads to get to bus stations. The alternative would require buses to use locations away from town centres, requiring feeder services, the cost of which, together with bus shelters needs to be embraced.

Conclusions dependent on assumptions, DfT road traffic figures and opinions on accident reductions are not a sound basis for costly conversion. As is pointed out on the Internet (see Chapter 15), if road transport is so beneficial, why has conversion not taken place in the major economies of Europe? It is not due to BR being backward. In 1980, a Leeds University study found that BR compared favourably with European railways.

The reality is that if railways were converted for one route as suggested in the Hall-Smith study, and were found to fail, reinstatement would be very costly. This is an issue that those concerned have not 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?

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 and 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 and fares.


It is incomprehensible that anyone can ignore the evidence that railway formations are generally unsuitable for conversion to roads. The repeated failure to calculate the vehicles required, after Lloyds embarrassing re-calculations is proof that these are dangerous wa­ters. How dangerous is revealed by the calculations in the East Anglian case. Only by ig­noring history can it be claimed that buses would do the job, when the reality is that pas­sengers displaced by rail closures mostly switch to cars. When one converts rail passen­gers into average car loads, which have not materially changed for decades, the headway for cars carrying the same number of passengers as a train is ten times that of a train, (see Diagram 8, Chapter 14). The downside scenario which must be considered, is that of a main line service carrying one Inter City train every five minutes being replaced by 3,600 cars per hour in one lane, or one every second. At 60 mph their 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 and farm crossings - whether light controlled or not - 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 they 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.  

Motorists will have seen HGVs swerve out of lane, and back in, which would be dan­gerous on the 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 tired1 the reason for swerving is obvious - as are the consequences which are ig­nored. 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, roadside signalling, lighting, warning signs, central barriers,2 etc., these are costs that are overlooked in superficial compari­sons. The discov­ery that motorways - especially slow and middle lanes used by HGVs - are wearing out in half the design life, (see Chapter 12), is a hidden cost for road haulage which is also ignored in paper comparisons.

1. More evidence of tired drivers is revealed in Juggernaut by John Wardroper.

2. Which had to be replaced as the original barriers are found to be insufficient protection against juggernauts.



A quote dragged in by conversionists, is of Stewart Joy, (Chapter 8) an Economist moved to BR for 3 years by his employer, the DoT as an extra mouth to feed. Tran­swatch mentions he accused the BTC of tricking govern­ment1 into subsi­dising railways, and of being fools or knaves, and infers as there were no libel actions, the allegation must have been true. Leaving aside its irrele­vance to conver­sion, the assumption overlooks the obvious. It is unlikely there was a mad rush to buy his book by railway managers, hence the alleged libel would remain un­known. As he named no one, no one had grounds for action. He had an aca­demic back­ground. His obituary (Rail, September 1998) states his railway experience was that of a supernumer­ary clerk with Victoria Railways [Australia]. This author was a line manager when Joy was with BR, but was un­aware of his existence until 1992, when Joy’s book - published 1973, eleven years after the BTC ceased to exist - was chanced upon in a library, whilst killing time, awaiting files from a storeroom. It exposes Joy’s lack of com­prehen­sion of railways. He ignored the ruinous effect on BR finances caused by the Transport Tribu­nal’s inequitable control of fares and freight rates - admitted by its Presi­dent - which were held well below inflation, and the effect on BR of industrial decline. He claimed that the BTC rushed to buy 0.5m decrepit colliery-owned wagons, when they were told to do so by the 1947 Act, and at a specified price of £43m. Government had been trying to force railways to buy them and replace them with a modern fleet, to help cut unemploy­ment, for 20 years2 but railway managers would have none of it. There was no protest from wagon owners! He displayed a lack of knowledge on the external control of closures, commercial freedom, common carrier ob­ligation, rolling stock, finance and productivity. His claims on these subjects, were rebutted - with fact and figure - in Blueprints for Bank­ruptcy published 1993 (updated 1995), and Britains Railways - The Reality, published 2003.

1.       The idea that railway managers - long denigrated as of low business ability - had the skills to trick the highly edu­cated & knowledgeable men who stalked the corridors of power - was aired in 1920, when railways were accused of tricking an earlier generation of senior civil servants into signing a wartime document without understanding it. It was ridiculed then by the media, and must be now. If anyone should have sued for libel, it should have been some of these highly placed civil servants! I think he has lost the plot.

        2     See Square Deal Denied, (page 87) and PRO: MT47/128.


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