Chapter 12                                                                          The Reality


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Conversion assumes the railway should be given free for road building, and surplus land and assets sold to finance conversion. No mention is made of the £1.3bn debt to be paid to former owners - with annual repayments of £3.2m & annual interest of £45m. BR had been paying these sums, and as they were deprived of income due to political interference and incompetence, had to take on interest bearing loans. By 1962, this had cost BR £680m. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, page 176). The previous owners were not finally repaid until 1988. The conversionists overlooked others with a claim. After paying off creditors, repaying loans, continuing to fund statutory fencing and other costs, the residue should next be applied to paying staff in lieu of notice and outstanding holidays, redundancy pay and pensions*. Railway owned houses would, following prevailing UK practice, be offered to sitting tenants, at prices which, following normal practice, would be below market value. Whether anything would be left to fund conversion, as is believed, is open to doubt, but it would be much less than postulated.

*It should not be overlooked that BR had, effectively been buying itself from previous owners, which, together with external directions to hold fares below inflation, pegged salaries and wages well below industrial trends. Negotiations on pay always produced a reminder by management that free and reduced rate travel, secure pensions, and post-retirement travel concessions were part of the deal, and ‘justified’ lower pay levels.

The basis of conversion is a house of cards depicting claimed benefits: less congestion, less fuel, fewer deaths, faster and more reliable road transport. These unsubstantiated claims were handed down from generation to generation, until they became believed - but only by the devout conversionists. They, in one of their wilder allegations, linked those who opposed conversion, to the propaganda of Dr. Goebels, whom they quote as saying ‘that constant repetition of propaganda would make people believe it’. The irony is that, that is precisely what a handful of conversion supporters have been endeavouring to do for 50 years. Remove any card and the edifice collapses. Among the most unreliable of their many claims is that of reduction in road deaths, particularly among pedestrians. What they ignore is the probability that there will be a pro rata increase in fatalities among other users, even in the unlikely event that pedestrian deaths fall on existing roads


The unsuitability of railway infrastructure for use as roads

The MoT said that, except in a few instances, it is prohibitive to convert redundant railways into roads (Hansard, 16.2.55, vol. 437, col. 47).When Lloyd made his presentation to the ICE, annual BTC Reports showed that over a third of route mileage was single, and a further 54% was double track:


Table 3


No. of tracks

Route miles

Single line


Double line


Triple line


Four or more lines




Track miles





The DoT publication Railway Construction & Operation which sets out railway construction standards shows that track widths were too narrow for use as roads. Moreover, some rail routes were below prescribed widths for historical reasons. 

Conversionists overlooked that some railway formations were shared with LT, e.g. Queens Park-Watford; and London-Upminster which had LT tracks alongside BR tracks. They overlooked that the concept of 60 mph vehicles at 100 yard spacing would be rudely broken by swing bridges over navigable waterways. There were several locations where one railway line crossed another ‘on the flat’, and thousands of level crossings of minor and major roads (including then, the A5 near Lutterworth). Rail junctions would cause delays, as traffic turned right. Examples of these inconvenient locations will be found in scores of books on railways, which tabulate details of junctions, crossings, viaducts, bridges, tunnels and swing bridges - on single and double lines - illustrated by photos.

Norfolk County Council stated in a letter to the author (3.2.05): ‘Land required for roads that have overlaid former rail routes considerably exceeds the original land take for railway construction, so that, apart from minimising disruption to communities along the line of route, there is little advantage in following these alignments & costs incurred may have been higher than those of totally new alignments. In most cases, to allow road construction to take place, the vertical profile of former railways has been altered significantly with embankments lowered & cuttings infilled to allow for the greater width needed to construct a new road’. This destroys the claim railways were of adequate width, & could be converted at a fraction of the cost of new roads. Other authorities made the same point, (see chapter 13). Widening and infilling cuttings to raise a roadbed to a level providing adequate width were not uncommon.

A report on the conversion of a short length of closed railway to be part of the [40 mile] Heads of the Valley road, in Wales stated that ‘consulting engineers recommended a short section be incorporated in the new road, but not the rest. Other parts of the line were found on investigation to be unsuitable for engineering reasons’. (Times 27.5.58).


In 1967, the Institution of Civil Engineers published Developments in Railway Traffic Engineering. Two key findings were:

A 4-track railway occupies half the width of a dual 3-lane motorway. 12 acres per mile are required for such a railway, as against 24 acres for a motorway. Because of this, an average motorway will incur greater construction costs than a comparable railway: 3-lane motorway £0.7m per mile; 4-track railway, including land: £0.5m per mile. (page 1).

Ballast is normally nine inches deep. Only where a railway cutting acts as ditch to the countryside are drains usually necessary. A road with concentrated run-off at each side requires drainage costing £70,000 per mile. BR has 64,000 bridges, of which 25,000 are over-bridges. Of 39,000 under-bridges, approximately 18,000 are wrought iron or steel construction, the rest are brick, masonry or concrete. Metal bridges incur an aver­age annual expenditure of repairs, renewals and maintenance amounting to £10m, (page 2)


American experience

Conversion supporters repeatedly quote the ‘conversion of an American railroad into the Pennsylvania Turnpike’. Lloyd wrote to The Times (4.7.81): ‘In doubting whether conversion is a busi­ness proposition, Mr. Posner (The Times 18.6.81) is ig­norant of the suc­cess of the Penn­sylvania Turnpike, which bought an old railroad, turned it into a motor­way and from profits, paid bondhold­ers years ahead of their obliga­tion. It should then have passed to the State, but they pre­ferred to leave it with the Turn­pike Commission’. The original 3¾ % bonds were redeemed, not from profits, but by new 2½ % bonds to save $0.5m interest pa. The bondholders were the federal government as part of the New Deal. The Commission was created by the State, it was not a private company, and remained a State body.

He en­visaged a ‘modest 2-track rail­way con­verted to an unluxurious road at, say, £0.1m per mile, car­rying a typical rural trunk road flow of 6,850 ve­hicles’. The source of the £100,000 is not mentioned nor justified. 6,850 cars per day would carry about 10,000 people. 28,500 are carried in an hour in one direction on one line from Liverpool Street, (see Chapter 10-III).

 It is ir­rele­vant to his objective - converting all railways, displacing rail traffic and diversion during change­over. The South Pennsylvania Railroad was not a closed railway, as it never opened! Begun in the 1880s to compete with the Penn­sylvania Railroad [aka the Pensy], be­fore it saw a train, it was sold unfinished to the Pensy, and abandoned. In 1934/5, the idea of using the abandoned trackbed to build a road was advanced by State officers in response to the federal New Deal job creation plan, which would im­prove transport in the war that was on the horizon. They per­suaded gov­ern­ment to give $29m in Grants, and fund a $41m loan [bonds] to cover the forecast $70m cost. It opened in October 1940. It was totally unlike Lloyd’s concept. Only 34 miles of the 160 mile Turnpike were part of an unused railway formation. Six of the tunnels built for a single track railway had to be enlarged. (R. Calvert, Railway Magazine, January 1965).

The design fea­tures were:

A 200 ft right of way.

Four 12-ft wide concrete traffic lanes.

Maximum curvature of 60; banked corners and separate grade crossings.

Limited access with 1,200 foot long entrance and exit lanes. (The East Anglian scheme envisaged equivalent acceleration and deceleration lanes of 90m! see Chapter 10-II).

10 ft median grass strip (central reservation) & 10 ft wide berms (verges).

Ten service plazas along the right of way.

No cross streets, traffic signals, driveways or railroad crossings.

Eleven interchanges along the 160 mile route. (These were huge, see photograph. A typical one spread over land ten times the width of that occupied by the dual carriageway road! For source see

Speed limit 35 mph in tunnels (through which flammable loads are banned).

Although it had one of the lowest fatality rates, safety improvements had to be made to meet rising accidents. This led to a 300 foot wide right of way with a 60 foot median. $100m (£49m) was spent on bypasses in the 1960s to eliminate three of the tunnels.


Lloyd would have been wise to study the figures. The reality is that the 160 mile Turnpike cost $437,500 per mile in the late 1930s. At $4.89 = £1 (the 1938 rate) that equalled £89,470 per mile. By 1981, inflation would have lifted that to £1.5m per mile! His road would have half the lanes as the Turnpike, for one-fifteenth the price! Banning flammable loads through UK tunnels would put BR’s huge oil traffic on existing roads

Another favourite of conversionists is the capacity of New York’s Lincoln Tunnel. The New York Times reveals delays occur. Two buses collided head-on, injuring 12, when one swerved to avoid a car-lorry collision, and then skidded on a wet road, (14.9.00). Two buses and two other vehicles, travelling at 20 mph, were involved in collisions, injuring 57, and blocked the Tunnel in the peak for over 2 hours! (24.2.01). Gridlock was caused for two hours in the peak by an oversized lorry, despite a signed height restriction, (9.4.05). A two hour blockage on the Liverpool Street route would hold up 800 buses!


UK conversion studies

The League could have commissioned consultants but failed to do so. In contrast, BR commissioned such a study. They found that the only conversion possible - without excessive and costly reconstruction of many bridges, tunnels and other structures - was below the standards laid down by the DoT for new through roads. The Report on the potential for the conversion of some railway routes in London into roads, was published in March 1984, by Coopers & Lybrand together with G. Brian Parker, an independent highway planning consultant. Ten radial or orbital rail route sections - all less heavily used than the main trunk routes - were looked into for the prospects of converting some of London’s railways. It shows that only one of routes examined could be, considered a prima facie case for conversion. In all cases it proved uneconomic to meet the design standards laid down by DoT highway engineers because of the very large capital sums that would be needed to reconstruct bridges, enlarge tunnels and widen the rights of way. In three cases the double-track formation would not even accommodate any width of two-way road. Some 200 kilometres of rail route were examined, including orbital and radial routes, but ignoring the most heavily used lines. The ten schemes were picked in the hope that some could be linked together to provide a new Inner London road ‘box’ running round from Lewisham in the south-east to Peckham, Clapham, Kensington, Willesden, Islington and Hackney. The two radial routes were from Fenchurch Street. and Marylebone-Northolt, which the conversion league claimed was ideal for road traffic. On all routes where roads might be physically possible no adequate financial case was made apart from Marylebone-Northolt, which presented, prima facie, a case for further study.

The Report states that: ‘the narrowest point of that route is the tunnel under Marlborough Hill, which is on a curve of 380 metres radius*, with a clear width of 7.75 metres only up to a height of 2.5 metres. The route passes over a viaduct 800 metres long. Another tunnel is 7.3 metres wide, and there are bridges with width limitations. It would be difficult to provide any road links at the Marylebone end due to much of the first 4 km being in tunnel. A road resulting from conversion would be only 6.7 metres wide as against the standard 7.3 metres, with one section only 5.9 metres wide. The line would need to be widened in three locations, but the stretch of only 5.9 metres could not be widened. User would be limited to cars only, feeding into the congested highway network north of Baker Street. Single deck buses would only be possible if subject to light controlled alternate working at the narrowest part, if the MoT approved such a restriction. The capital cost of £16m excludes the cost of a bus terminal at Marylebone, or any land’.

*A road engineering expert stated that the radius of motorways is 2865 feet -873m, see Chapter 4.

The other radial route examined - Fenchurch St to Shoeburyness - would convert into a single lane road only. Even if it was good enough to take buses, the Steering Committee said that it would be less economic to carry commuters by buses than continue train services, even assuming conversion could take place overnight. BR said: ‘imagine buses being steered between massive steel structures with six inches to spare at each side; hardly a recipe for safe transport’ At the 60 mph speed planned by Brigadier Lloyd and never moderated by his successors.  BR considered the study was worthwhile as it throws an objective, independent light on a controversy which has raged for 25 years.


Comparative costs of rail and road transport

Roads are built on the basis of social benefit, an ingenuous formula based on the time road users may save by using new roads. BR had to justify investment in money terms - either lower working costs or higher revenue.  An advisor appointed by MoT in 1979 said the DoT method of estimating time savings were far-fetched, unduly simplistic & grossly over-estimate the tangible benefits of road improvements, (see Juggernaut, page 40).

In 1964, the BRB prepared a Report (A study of the True Costs of Rail & Road Freight Transport over Trunk Routes), as part of its evidence to the Geddes Committee, which had been set up to consider the comparative costs of road and rail transport. This Report stated that it was essential in any proper study of the relative roles of rail and road freight transport to establish the hitherto unresolved problem of system costs: the cost of providing and maintaining the highway, its ancillary services, structures and equipment, signalling, policing, etc - Over succeeding years since the first motorway was built - at ostensibly low costs, we have seen progressively more and more add-ons: hard shoulders, more service stations, lighting, huge numbers of illuminated signs, etc.. In contrast there was an abundance of data on rail costs and very little on roads.

Operating costs were compared for a 10 ton wagon, 12.5 ton container, a 10 ton lorry and a 16 ton lorry* all involved in carrying general merchandise. The system costs were on the basis of a new railway being constructed, including land purchase. Road costs are based on new construction published in a paper Roads in England & Wales.” in 1963, which exclude the cost of major bridges and land purchase. Nothing was included for land purchase at present, but land purchase was based on 80% of the distance being through rural areas and 20% urban - the same formula as for the railway assessment, and the same values per acre assumed. * These were the prevailing standard sizes of rail and road transport. Both have increased.

Annual road maintenance costs, snow clearing etc. were based on MoT data for the year to March 1963. Expenditure on road policing and lighting were taken from National Income & Expenditure, 1963. Total costs were then divided into those costs which are occasioned solely by the need to provide roads able to stand up to heavy traffic.

The extra construction costs attributable to heavy vehicles has been assessed as the difference between costs of trunk routes catering for all traffic & of routes built for light traffic only. Costs had been inflated by the higher cost of moving earth to reduce gradients to facilitate reasonable speeds by heavy lorries. Before the M1 was started the cost per mile was expected to be £0.25m per mile. It was £0.4m, whilst today [1964], excluding major bridges & land acquisition, it is estimated to cost £0.75m per mile. In contrast to this latter figure, a motorway built for light vehicles only would be £0.2m per mile.

The study revealed that the cost of a 4-track railway was less than a 2-lane dual carriageway, and very much less than a motorway. The relative traffic volumes which could be carried by either system were taken from MoT data, to which was applied running costs and an allocation of track/highway costs, from which it was demonstrated that rail freight transport costs per ton mile were around 50% of the cheapest road alternative. The BR Report demonstrated that the road freight operator pays no more than a third to a half of trunk road costs. The Report showed the sources for all data, in contrast to the unsubstantiated figures used in the conversion campaign, which invariably shows no independent sources or, at most, edited extracts of quotes, (see Chapter 7).

If haulage drivers’ hours were cut to rail levels, they would need 50% more drivers, who would want higher wages to compensate for lost over­time. Together with NHS costs, it would increase road hauliers’ costs. A change will be enforced by the EEC directive.


Responses to the BRB Report

The BR study of true costs presented to the Geddes committee shows that hauliers were only paying one-third to one-half of their actual track costs. The argument is fairly convincing. It is in the national interest to reveal that the haulier has been doing things on the cheap. (The Times Editorial, 24.6.64).

Douglas Jay, MP wrote there is substantial truth in BR contention that lorries are under-taxed. Figures supplied by the Treasury show that Duty paid by lorries is hardly higher than in 1933, and in some cases lower. To have kept pace with inflation, lorry tax should be almost three times as high as it is (The Times, 26.6.64).

Motorway slow lanes wear out much faster than others, confirming USA studies that heavy vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate share of road costs. They reveal that 1,000 12-ton axle loads create the same wear as 160m car axle loads. (The Times, 26.6.64).

‘The MoT claims that out of each £700,000 spent on new motorways, only £124,000 was attributable to heavy lorries. The manner in which MoT evidence to the committee was published suggests a strong desire to avoid embarrassing comparisons. Whereas with railway evidence the press were given ample explanatory material, time to study it, and a press conference chaired by Dr. Beeching, MoT evidence consisted of a mass of qualified statistics slipped out quietly late yesterday with no comment. The DoT said that it had not attempted to make a comparative study of road and rail costs, which - they claimed - they were hardly qualified to do! BR said that the MoT figures show that HGVs do not pay full track cost. The major difference is the amount allocated of capital costs’, (The Times, 19.8.64)    

The RHA admitted that hauliers in heaviest class may not be paying enough tax to cover their full track costs, but claimed that BR assessment was too high. MoT claims that lorries over 8 tons incurred track costs of 5.2p per vehicle mile. (The Times, 8.10.64).

It is astounding that the MoT conceded that lorries did not pay their full share of road costs - but were unsure what the share should be! How had they justified spending on motorways without establishing the effect on capital and maintenance costs of heavier vehicles? How had they approved heavier axle loads without a sound basis for assessing what hauliers should pay? It was not rocket science. They had ignored USA research. It is notable, how often the road lobby has tried to use USA experience to justify building mo­torways and to advocate conversion - but on this crucial aspect affecting taxpayers and dispossessed property owners - they, and the MoT - are silent, (see also Chapter 10-II). The grudging admission by the RHA that some heavy vehicle taxes do not quite cover costs should be seen as confessing to a lesser charge, in the hope of getting off lightly.


Other Reports relating to competition

The Highway Economics Unit, of the DoT, stated in Developments in Railway Traffic Engineering, (page 62), published 1967 that a 4-lane all-purpose road would cost about £0.5m per mile. Costs in recent cases ranged from £0.25m to £1.25m. 

Brian Fletcher, manager of Staffordshire County Council Engineering Consultancy Group stated: We think we are doing well if a motorway lasts for seventeen years, (Stoke-on-Trent Sentinel 23 May 1997).  In contrast, railway track and bridges last for many decades.  

‘It costs £7m pa to police abnormal loads on motorways and dual carriageways. We are seeking to reduce the burden on police forces and encourage transfer to private escorts which would of course transfer part of the costs to hauliers involved in abnormal loads.’ (Lords Hansard, 7.11.00, vol. 618, col. 1361). Transfer to private escorts has occurred, but delays continue.

A major Report on road pricing produced in 1964 by the government, was put aside quickly under political pressure, (Ways of the World, by MG Lay, page 330).  Another Report by consultants for the DoT in 1973, which advocates transfer of some freight from road to rail for economic reasons, has been kept under wraps, (see Chapter 16).

A report The Transport of Freight [Cmnd 3470], published November 1967 stated [Para 6]: ‘the legal limits on the working hours of professional drivers have played an important part in protecting public safety since they were introduced in 1930. The present limits have remained unchanged for 33 years’. Appendix 1, Table 1 shows that road hauls are mostly short, 70% of tonnage being carried less than 25 miles, and only 7% above 100 miles. Of rail traffic, 45% travelled less than 25 miles and 20% was more than 100 miles. Appendix 2 stated: the Transport Bill will reduce the maximum permissible length of a driver’s working day from 14 to 11 hours, and this will include an allowance of no more than 9 hours at the wheel compared with 11 out of the present 14. The minimum daily rest period is to go up from 10 to 11 hours; a new limit of 60 hours total work in any week will apply and a new requirement for at least one 24 hour rest period each week.

In 1967, the MoT Paper Public Transport and Traffic [Cmnd 3481], examined PSV drivers’ hours: ‘Legal limits on hours of PSV drivers are unaltered since the 1930s. (Prior to that there was no legal limit whatsoever to the hours of drivers of road passenger and goods transport).  The maximum length of working day will be reduced from 14 to 11, except stage services which may spread eleven hours work over 12½ hours; with not more than nine hours at the wheel. The rest period before work will be increased from ten to eleven. On one day per week, it may be 9½ instead of the present 8 hours. There will not be more than 60 hours per week. Many bus & coach drivers are working hours substantially in ex­cess of these limits’ (pages, 23-24).

The Act was less severe, reducing hours at the wheel to 10, & 12½ hour day for HGV or PSV drivers. All rail staff had an 8 hour day, with 12 hour rest period since 1919, when it was imposed by government against employers’ wishes. If lorry & bus hours were the same as rail and had comparable safety conditions imposed, road transport costs would have risen, making rail competitive. It is no surprise BR lost so much traffic*, (Unlike BR, hauliers had pricing freedom, and could – and did -refuse unprofitable traffic), when competitors:

were allowed longer working hours by law, and exceeding those permitted hours,

overloading their vehicles and exceeding statutory speed limits,

keeping costs low by a failure to \use comparable safety devices & inadequate maintenance.

All these failings are exposed in Juggernaut by John Wardroper. It should be read by all motorists and voters.


In 1976-77, a Select Committee stated: ‘One argument about competition is that government is not taking an impartial attitude towards EC Regulations in respect of road and rail freight. It is phasing out rail subsidies - paid for socially necessary but uneconomic lines - and not implementing regulations on drivers hours and tachographs. The Secretary of State saw neither as affecting competition’! (Report pages 72,73).

Limit the Lorry, a Report by Transport 2000, stated that HGVs cover only 50-70% of their full costs, and cause 100,000 times as much damage to roads as a car.


Road & rail capacity

In 1961, The cost of roads by PEP included an extract on research by Dr. Smeed of the Road Research Laboratory, who calculated that ‘the total area [in square feet] required to move one person one mile in the peak, was 14 for a car, 4-10 for a bus [depending on the width of road] and 1 for rail’. This represents a resounding case for the economic and environmental benefits of rail passenger transport over road...

In 1963, Sir Robert Halls Group reviewed the likely future demand for inland transport. Members of the Group came from within and outside government departments. Transport Needs of Great Britain in the next twenty years stated that BR studies showed that about 95% of all traffic is carried on only half the railway system, 99% of freight was on 70% of route mileage, (Para 13).

AGM G. Wilson of BR/Scottish Region, in an address to the University of Glasgow (BR Management Quarterly - No 11, February 1967) said that the design capacity of various categories of road, as stated in Road Research Laboratory reports were:


Table 4

passenger car units

heavy vehicles

2-lane single carriageway  



3-lane single carriageway



2-lane dual carriageway 



  3-lane motorway



The Reports show that a 3-lane motorway capacity in 24 hours is 150,000 tons, assuming that heavy vehicles have a capacity of 12 tons, all fully loaded. The normal width of a 3-lane motorway is 130 feet, so that one mile of motorway will occupy 75,000 square yards of land. The capacity ton-mileage per square yard of land is 150/75 = 2.0 ton-miles per day. A four track railway is stated to have a capacity of 200m gross ton-miles pa, i.e. each track can carry 10 trains per hour, each of 600 gross tons, say 350 capacity tons. Four tracks in 24 hours have a capacity tonnage of 350,000. Such a line occupies a width of 80 feet; one mile will take up 50,000 square yards of land. Capacity ton-mileage is therefore, 335/50 = 6.7 ton-miles per day.

Comparative figures of other widths of rail and roadway are:


Table 5  (Freight tons)



Types of rail/road per sq yd of land


Capacity per ton-mile








2-lane single carriageway



3-lane single carriageway



2-lane dual carriageway



3-lane motorway



Turning to passenger transport, Mr. Wilson quoted an article in the Financial Times (17.10.66) which included the following figures relating to urban passenger systems:


Table 6  (Passenger seats)

Capacity (seats per hour

On one-lane/track

Equivalent (seats per

hour Per foot width)

cars on urban motorway



buses with exclusive use of single lane



suburban railway  




J.P. Weston of the Highway Economics Unit, MoT, stated in Developments in Railway Traffic Engineering, (page 62): ‘We have a problem in the roads sector of underutilisation’

Dalgleish in 1982, urged transfer of all long distance traffic to a segregated route, (see chapter 8). He claimed to show the spare capacity of railways converted to motor roads. The diagram in his book, is of dual carriageway throughout, with bridges and no junctions,  which would rule out conversion. He claimed the system ‘could carry 219bn passenger-km + 50bn tonne-km. All-purpose roads would then need only to carry 178 bn passenger-km + 41bn tonne km, instead of 443bn and 105bn respectively’. BR was then carrying 30.6bn passenger-km and 17.4bn freight tonne-km on a network 1/20 the size of the road network. That means a transfer from existing roads of 188bn and 33bn respectively. Traffic on roads is crudely estimated (see Table 2, Chapter 11). The idea that 220,000 miles of road could transfer about 40% of its traffic to an 11,000 mile network is patently absurd. It is noticeable that no one offered to back these ideas with their own money.


Utilisation of rail and road

In 1989, a conversion campaign regurgitated the discredited Lloyd theory, in an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph, 26 July 1989, see Chapter 8).claiming that railways were grossly underused. The author’s unpublished response demonstrated that road utilisation was worse than rail, having 22 times as much road mileage and disproportionately more acreage, for ten times as much traffic1. There were under-utilised lines in rural areas, that were kept open by political decision, and for which there had been no subsidy for the first twenty years of nationalisation. British Rail had to fund them from interest bearing loans, which together with fares held below the RPI, had caused the crippling deficit.2 Thousands of miles of railway had closed since the 1960s - most of it was available for conversion but remained unused. After standing derelict for years - in the ownership of local authorities - much was brought into public use as footpaths. The letter reminded readers that track widths were inadequate even for single carriageway roads, whilst limited bridge heights would restrict use to cars and small commercial vehicles. Due to poor utilisation on roads, converted railways would not accommodate road transport carrying existing rail traffic, leaving no space to transfer traffic from existing roads. In addition to converting railways, it would be necessary to build an equal length of new roads merely to cope with traffic displaced from rail, due to the poor utilisation achieved on roads.

1. Based on the common practice of adding freight tonne/km to passenger miles/km to produce total traffic, & comparing the totals for rail and road transport to the total route mileage of road & rail. (See CSO Annual Abstract of Statistics for traffic data and route length). Also based on the relative shares of traffic by road and rail, then being claimed by the road lobby, but now discredited, (see Table 2, Chapter 11).

2. See The Railway Closure Controversy. No bus operator, nor other business would have provided a product below cost by government directive without subsidy. See also Britain's Railways - The Reality, page 176.


There is a lack of efficient management of the existing road system, with poor signing, and inadequate arrangements for limiting congestion after an accident. Diversions for accidents or major road works around ‘three sides of a square’ is typical, when good or­ganisation would limit extra mileage. Congestion could be cut with imagination and man­power. Such measures should be considered before new roads are created.

After forty years of motorways, no system has been developed which effectively diverts traffic held up by an accident onto alternative routes until a very long three-lane queue has formed. Radio warnings usually come after one has passed the last exit, and arrives behind a three hour queue. Additional routes such as railways converted into roads would therefore be wasted. Neither has a system been introduced to separate traffic travelling at different speeds so as to maximise road utilisation and therefore tackle the self-created congestion problem. Heavy freight confined to night travel and particularly outside city commuter periods would reduce congestion. The reality is that those concerned with road traffic have a one track mind - create more road capacity to wastefully use.     

A principal cause of poor utilisation of roads is speed variation: 30-100 mph on motor­ways, 10-75 mph on other roads. It is bad management in commuter peaks, to permit horses, 10 mph tractors and lorries so heavily loaded that they cannot exceed 20-30 mph on a 60 mph road. Delays are also caused by very wide loads that make their majestic progress at horse drawn speeds. Some wide loads are encountered on minor roads causing delays and potential danger for other road users. The implications of meeting a wide load on converted railways with their projected nine foot lanes was completely ignored by every conversion plan, since loads wider than nine foot are legal, (see below). 

The road lobby ignores the fact that juggernauts have to leave motorways to deliver in towns and villages, where they negotiate road junctions by halting traffic movement in all four directions. Some commercial premises have such restricted access that vehicles shunt to and fro for up to five minutes to effect entry. Delays can only be reduced by gutting premises and reconstructing local roads, with its attendant compulsory purchase of property. More delays are caused by hauliers using roads to unload car transporters and by other deliveries to firms with inadequate access to premises. Selfish conduct, bad lane discipline, and failures to observe the Highway Code exacerbate the problem. 

Despite the appalling underutilisation of roads, users create worse problems. Ultra-brief media reports inform of mind-boggling hold-ups due to lorries turning over1, jack-knifing2, shedding their loads and losing tyres, and many other vehicles travelling too fast and too close. Ensuing delays are never translated into time or money loss. No compensation is paid by offenders - if it were, road delays would plummet. Converting railways serving small towns and villages into roads would not change this situation. The tracks, being double or single, would not offer the huge turning areas required for LGVs to leave the converted system and turn on to the local road.

1. Juggernaut by John Wardroper reveals that large articulated vehicles are inherently unstable, due to a high centre of gravity, and, for that reason, are limited to lower speeds in Europe.

2. The means to prevent jack-knifing was developed in the 1960s, (Times, 29.9.66), most hauliers resist the cost

Another factor in poor road utilisation was revealed in a Study (Goods without the Bads by Transport 2000) which stated that, at any one time, 30% of lorries run empty. It also stated that government research into the food industry revealed that only 50% of the cubic capacity of loaded vehicles is used.  Loads of cereals & food products to supermarkets & retailers would not give full loads by weight, and they would return empty.


Road safety standards

The conversion campaign ignored the tendency of government to direct much higher and more costly standards of safety must be implemented by BR, than were de­manded from other transport, including permitting excessive hours of working on road transport.

In 1964, ‘the MoT was surprised at the number of lorries found in a dangerous condi­tion in road checks. I pointed out (The Times, 10.12.57), that the DoT Summary of Road Acci­dents, was misleading. It claimed that less than 3% were caused by mechanical defect. Later, the MoT said it was 20%. The MoT intended to introduce an annual test of HGVs, but it was not practical at present. If a vehicle is stopped for a check, it gets a free exami­nation. If it is seriously defective, it is ordered off the road. The only deterrent is a fine, but the average is £3.’ (AL Goodhart, The Times 24.8.64). HGV testing began in 1968, PSVs in 1981. Testing of other commercial vehicles and cars over ten years old began in 1959.

In May 1992, government imposed a six month time limit on BR to resolve an alleged safety problem with carriage doors. (Which the H&SE found was mainly due to irresponsible conduct by passengers, BRB 1990/1 Report, page 7).  No similar time-scale was imposed on improving safety of HGVs or PSVs which caused road pile-ups.

Media reports (24.12.94), on a proposed restriction of PSVs to 65 mph to comply with an EC directive, stated: ‘It will be similar to existing restrictions on lorries, which are fitted with limiters’. Many would be surprised to learn that juggernauts were so restricted. If PSVs are likewise ‘restricted’ it will be a case of ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose’. Ministers consulted [the industry] on this safety measure. With BR, whose safety standards were far higher, Ministers issued instructions, regardless of practicability, cost or effect on competition, with tight time scales.

A TV programme which reconstructed the Selby accident caused by a motor vehicle falling on the track, included HGV drivers admitting that they drove when tired. A BBC1 programme (21.11.05) revealed 20% accidents are caused by lorry drivers falling asleep.


A new Framework for Freight Transport, (Plowden & Buchan), lists many serious problems:

The existing road transport safety rules are not being enforced.

Tachographs can be tampered with easily and cannot be detected in roadside checks.

The impression that lorries have a better safety record than cars is incorrect. Fatality rates for lorries are 2.4 times those of cars. 25% of lorries fail the annual maintenance test at the first attempt, even though it takes place at a pre-arranged time!

Lorries are frequently overloaded. Spot roadside checks found 17.6% overloaded on M1, 12.6% on M6; up to 24.5% on ‘A’ roads. A random survey at Carlisle in 1988 found 21.5% lorries overloaded. Immediate prohibitions issued 1985-93 in up to 8.9% cases and delayed prohibition in up to 12.9% cases.

The Metropolitan licensing authority said driving hour regulations were widely abused.

One haulier had 18 vehicles and 14 trailers, but no maintenance staff and no records. One facing prosecution was allowed extra vehicles. A third was allowed a large increase in vehicles despite four prohibitions and three defect notices on five vehicles.

Illegal ‘cowboy’ operations are believed to be significant. The licensing authority for the Metropolitan area said that 5-10% operators are illegal. The problem has been recognised since the 1950s, and was mentioned in official inquiries in 1965 and 1978.

In 1979, a DoT report said licensing authorities were too lenient and often gave an operator another chance, even those with a bearing on safety. One operator worked for 22 years without a licence, was prosecuted eight times and fined a total of £300.


In Juggernaut, John Wardroper catalogues his research into unsafe practices in the road transport industry. It should be mandatory reading for all road users. Examples of some of his findings in respect of unsafe practices in HGV operation include:

Defective vehicles found in road side and pre-planned depot checks of HGVs, (page 68).

94% articulated vehicles had a tendency to jack-knife, (page 71). (The means to prevent it was invented and successfully tested 10 years earlier, see The Times, 19.3.65 & 20.5.68).

In 1966, the RRL said that spray thrown up by lorries contributed to one in 77 motorway accidents. Tests showed that mudguards would cut spray by more than one half. (page 73). Private companies produced a means to cut spray, improving the visibility of following vehicles from an existing 30% to 70%. Hauliers were disinterested. (From 1986, MoT tests included checks that spray suppression is fitted, but they do not measure the spray).

Articulated vehicles with high loads easily overturn, even at slow speeds, (page 70). Legal speeds for these vehicles are higher in the UK than Europe or America. A survey in 1971 revealed that 71% of articulated vehicles were exceeding the legal limits, (page 75).

Under-run guards - to prevent a vehicle running under the back - were still being debated in 1979, (page 74). Guards had been called for by an MP in 1914 and recommended in 1919. The subject was raised in Parliament in 1946 and kicked into touch. (See Square Deal Denied, page 60). It is unsurprising, with pressure on railways to spend vast sums on safety, that the penny-pinching road haulage industry could poach so much traffic.

Instead of having vehicle suspension which is less damaging to roads, (page 99), suspension is designed down to the minimum, (page 118)

Drivers sleep in the cab or drive home illegally, (page 51).

In 1968, the haulage industry became subject to quality licensing instead of quantity licensing which still continues in Europe and the USA. Examples of the quality of road operations include: a haulier who ran a haulage business from home, kept and ‘serviced’ lorries in a council carpark; another ‘serviced’ 6 artics in a railway arch 20 ft by 9 ft; another ‘serviced’ 36 lorries and 50 trailers in 5 railway arches, (page 53).

In 1973, the EC required that tachographs be fitted to all vehicles by 1977. UK delayed action until 1981, (page 54). Their purpose, which was welcomed by drivers and owners in Europe, was to monitor drivers’ hours to prevent accidents caused by tiredness, and to prevent overspeeding which could cause overturning and other accidents. Drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel and working excessive hours.  (pages 64,65).

Between a third and a quarter of vehicles checked were overloaded, 1 in 16 were so dangerous, they were prohibited from going further, (page 61)

Undermanned inspectors ordered 8,000 very unsafe lorries off the road in a year (page 49)

In its 1993 Report, Taming the Truck, Transport 2000 stated: ‘Since the introduction of the 38 tonne limit for lorries, the mileage of the heaviest lorries has increased by 82%, much with part loads. It has meant a less efficient industry, more pollution, road damage and accidents’. The Report drew attention to the risk of damage to gas mains by HGVs. It stated that it is more common for HGVs to break the speed limit than to comply with it, that 7% of HGVs last year had very serious faults resulting in immediate prohibition notices, that between 7% and 24% of lorries were overloaded, that licences are often granted to operators who admit to operating without a licence, often for long periods and with long records of maintenance faults. The RHA recommended impounding lorries of illegal operators. Instead, it seems that derisory fines are imposed.



Brigadier Lloyd - the father of conversion - did not claim that it would cut deaths of pedestrians and cyclists. His disciples initiated this claim to bolster their flagging and discredited campaign, seeing its emotional appeal, coupled with the monetary value placed on deaths. In 1977, the chairman of the League claimed that 3,000 lives could be saved by segregating them from motor vehicles by conversion. Five years later, in The Truth about Transport, he had reduced his claim by one sixth. He did not explain, nor justify the basis for either figure. In 1977, 2,313 pedestrians and 301 cyclists were killed. Five years later, 1869 and 294 respectively were killed. His claim of 3,000 was 45% of all 1977 road fatalities. The total in 1982 was 5934. Both claims were completely unrealistic. Converting 11,000 miles of railway could not conceivably eliminate all such deaths on 220,000 miles of road. Clearly, deaths in other forms of transport are a greater problem. Providing pavements on all roads would make a bigger impression on pedestrian deaths.

Claims that lives will be saved by conversion are pure speculation. There has not been one properly assessed case to prove it. Research by PACTS1 reveals that 90% of pedestrians killed or seriously injured occur in built-up areas. (Source: Road Casualties, Great Britain 2003).  Traffic in built up areas will not diminish as a result of conversion, it would increase as more lorries, PSVs and cars fed into urban areas. If a transfer of traffic to converted roads did take place, it would lead to vehicles travelling faster on existing roads, and, what would otherwise be injured pedestrians on those roads, would be killed. Nowhere, do they concede that there may a counter increase, proving that they have not considered any downside aspects. 

1[EG1] .Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety comprises politicians, academics, retired public or private sector leaders and consultants.

The road lobby dons its blinkers when speed limits and enforcement are mentioned. The reality - which independent research has repeatedly shown - is that speed kills. Naturally, the road lobby must try to deny the undeniable, because speed reductions make road transport more costly. PACTS says that excessive speed is the single most important contributory factor in fatal car crashes. Tony Grayling of the Institute for Public Policy Research says that a cut in the limit to 20 mph. would reduce casualties by 60%. (New Statesman 5.2.01). The Association of British Drivers (representing a minority of drivers), is particularly dismissive of the benefits of speed enforcement. It can only believe that all drivers and their vehicles are perfect, and that no vehicle will ever suffer sudden mechanical breakdown. An RAC 2004 Report states that 5% drive without insurance - and hence no MoT - and 20% of cars are not serviced. Risks to safety posed by such vehicles ahead or alongside arrogant speed merchants is ignored by the road lobby.

In claiming that vehicles on a converted system with 9 foot lanes would travel at 60 mph - by inference - without a single accident, they ignore that on three lane motorways, when lanes are temporarily narrowed to similar widths, speed limits are dropped to as little as 40mph, despite which, vehicle collisions have caused death and injury and road workers have been killed. They ignore that vehicles crash through central barriers and cause many deaths, but blindly assert that converted roads of minimum width without barriers would be virtually accident free at 60mph. Nothing would eradicate as causes of collision: tiredness, inattention, misjudgement, road-rage and tailgating.

Media reports of road accidents often give barest details, never establish how many are delayed nor the scale of damage. In the 1990s, deaths in minibus crashes appeared frequently, often with little coverage. Other examples include a lorry overturned in a con­traflow on the M6 (15.9.91) blocking it for nine hours; 18 miles of the southbound M5 closed (23.11.93) between Bridgwater and Weston Super Mare by a spate of accidents. A tragic accident blocking the M40 killing thirteen (18.11.93), merited 581 col. cms., including photographs, equating to 44 col. cms. per fatality. The RAC reported jams aggregat­ing to 230 miles, (12.8.94) delaying an undisclosed number of holidaymakers. A minibus crash killing 13, merited 77 col. cms, (17.12.98). About the same time, an articulated lorry crossed the central reservation on the M5 killing four, was covered in 4 col. cms. An army tank transporter crashed through the central barrier on the M1, killing five, injuring many more and causing huge delays. (12.6.03). They were en route from Southampton to Catterick and could have been on rail. In 2000, a new loading dock for tanks was built by the army at a station near Catterick, at a cost of £0.75m. The Cannon Street rail disaster in which one fatality was reported, got 578 col. cms. (January 1991).


John Wardroper writes in Juggernaut, of 678 accidents in the West Midlands in 1976, involving HGVs, in which other road users were killed: 391 were in cars, 112 on motor-cycles, 46 in small goods vehicles, 8 in lorries, 47 on cycles, and 159 were pedestrians. (page 66). The two groups on which the emotive conversion case is based totalled 30%. The other 70% would be on converted routes and deaths would, inevitably, increase. If some traffic is diverted from existing roads to converted routes, the traffic remaining on existing routes will be able to travel faster and kill more pedestrians. That is the reality.

The BRB Annual Report for 1976 drew attention to significant disparities between rail and road transport. It stated that casualties per passenger mile or per ton mile were -

Car: fatalities are eight times as many as rail; serious accidents are 70 times as many as rail;

Bus/coach: fatalities are 3-5 times as many as rail; serious injuries 20-30 times as many as rail;

HGV: fatalities are 12-17 times as many as rail; serious injuries are 35-50 times as many as rail

The road lobby argues that road casualties are greater due to the mix of pedestrians and vehicles. This is easily resolved - at the expense of those who began to use roads after pedestrians, viz. motor transport. Roads could be fenced along their entire length as railways were statutorily compelled to do, with controlled gaps at selected places.   


Bus services

Lloyd - and others - forecast that road transport operating on a converted network would cut fares for those who hitherto used railways. The reality is that when railways have closed in the past, leaving no competition for buses, fares have risen. (See The Railway Closure Controversy, pages 16,95,170).  There is little doubt that in the absence of railways, pressure would be put on road operators to cut hours and increase wage rates to compensate. The consumer will foot the bill.

Conversion proposals ignore costly terminal facilities for passengers and those waiting to meet them. Facilities, the like of which are rarely found on the road scene, will have to be provided. Toilets, waiting accommodation, catering, inquiry offices, etc., will be re­quired. In 1984, the author discovered how the road passenger industry was living off the backs of BR to keep costs down. A Liverpool coach driver had the gall to complain in a letter to the Liverpool Echo about Lime Street station men’s toilets - then under recon­struction during station modernisation - into which the driver took it upon himself to conduct female coach passengers. BR replied: ‘This is how they cut costs’. Unlike rail­ways, they were not monitored by a hyper-critical government watchdog, CTCC, which pressured BR to provide platform shelters, whilst saying: the provision of bus shelters, because of cost and usage factors, was one for councils to decide, (1965 Report). In fact, street bus stops without shelters were often used by more passengers than nearby rural stations. It is significant that bus shelters, lay-bys and raised kerbs for improved access are funded by local authorities - a hidden subsidy. Any unbiased person would have had the grace to take these costs into the equation when criticising BR costs and subsidies.

The assumption that bus transport would be more effective given its own dedicated routes is false. The conversion campaign has often prayed in aid the New York City busway system. It once had the best surface transit system in world. Today, the system has declined to point where New Yorkers skip taking the bus because it is often no faster than walking. It is certainly slower than taking a cab or driving your own car. Buses dont work because they are high capacity vehicles stuck in traffic behind low capacity vehicles. The city has tried bus lanes, but they fail consistently without heavy enforcement. (Internet - New York Transit Authority/Transportation Alternatives).

National Express does not publish statistics on punctuality or reliability1. It contends that unexpected problems: roadworks and adverse traffic signals, which it encounters on roads would invalidate such statistics. Timetables state that whilst published departure times are precise, arrival times, at intermediate and final destinations are approximate. Consequently, maintenance of connections between services cannot be guaranteed. They state that they will make every effort to provide a full range of facilities, but reserve the right to operate any or all services without advertised facilities. That would blow a big hole in the fond belief that a 100% standard would be provided by bus companies on con­verted railways. These conditions may well apply generally with other bus companies.2

1. The author, when with BR, requested sight of their performance data and timetable planning basis to compare with BR’s much criticised standards. He did not disclose he was with BR, expecting it would be rejected. He said he was working on a thesis. They declined. He has no doubt, any other bus company would have declined.

2. It was rich for the FirstBus Chairman - owner of the unreliable PMT buses in North Staffs to say - when First Bus entered the rail business - that trains must be more reliable! Unlike BR, PMT published no reliability data


The company’s representative claimed that publishing punctuality data is appropriate for rail, which they see as being 100% in control of their highway, but not for road transport.* It believes customers are satisfied with bus performance. He did realise snow falls equally on road & rail; nor of the ability of road vehicles to use diversionary routes, whilst rail has less opportunity to do likewise. Bus operators do not realise the effect on train running of very bad weather, albeit railways keep running whilst road transport skids to a halt. Lloyd’s dream of ‘prompt sanding and snow clearance’ remains, even 40 years later - a pipe dream. The media still catalogues serious failures in various parts of the UK every year. * In reply to the author’s request for information.

Conditions of Service [National Express, Winter 1996/7] are much more restrictive than those on rail:

Passengers must arrive at the boarding point at least five minutes prior to scheduled departure. BR was expected to allow passengers to buy a ticket & board a train if arriving seconds before departure or board without a ticket, having arrived at a station at the last second. This unforecast passenger expected there would always be a seat. BR was viciously criticised by rail watchdogs if a passenger with this tight margin missed a train, or faced a penalty for travelling without a ticket. Replacement buses will incur longer waits.

They must allow at least one hour before the departure time of other connecting services or before important appointments. In 1985, the author conducted an analysis of complaints against BR. One of these was from a passenger whose train arrived late in Birmingham from Liverpool. He was scheduled to give a talk in Birmingham, which was due to commence nine minutes after the train was due in Birmingham.

The company does not accept responsibility for delays caused by circumstances outside its control. (BR, in contrast, was never allowed to plead circumstances beyond its control). These include: accidents causing delays in the service; exceptionally severe weather conditions; fire and/or damage at a coach station; compliance with requests of the police; deaths or accidents on the road; vandalism or terrorism. (BR was never allowed to plead circumstances beyond its control.)

The company does not undertake that services will start or arrive at the time specified in timetables nor that they will connect with services shown as connecting services.

No refunds will be made after the time/date of departure of service on which a passenger is booked without evidence [e.g. medical certificate] of inability to travel. No refunds will be given for lost or stolen tickets. (BR was savaged for not accepting the word of passengers without tickets, or with damaged or defaced tickets). (See Blueprints for Bankruptcy, pages 177-8). Some claims were on the most incredible grounds, (See Blueprints for Bankruptcy, pages 122-3).

The company is not liable for loss, as a result of any delay to services or by the same not operating in accordance with their published timings.

The company reserve the right to alter timetables, suspend, cancel or withdraw services without notice, whether before or after a ticket has been booked and a seat reserved.

No smoking is permitted on buses. BR attempts to end smoking in buffet cars - which ought to have been supported on hygiene grounds led to BR being taken to court. Attempts by the author in 1984 to persuade Merseyside PTE to agree to a smoking ban in the underground services were rejected, despite the safety implications.

This is the reality of what passengers, who transfer to bus, will face with conversion. There will be no capacity for passengers who have not pre-planned and pre-booked their journey, which is a flexibility offered by train. The idea of buses departing from tens of thousands of towns and villages, when they are 100% full and to run without a timetable, is unrealistic. Clearly, many buses will have to pick up en route, at an unpredictable  time. Experience of past railway closures proves that a large proportion will transfer to car. It is a scenario that the conversion campaign tries to dismiss.

Bus companies have insufficient resources to prevent delays from bad weather - but that always passes unremarked. Spare PSVs and drivers are too costly to provide. Passengers divert to rail, at short notice, and BR was expected to conjure extra rolling stock from thin air. This often occurred when roads were blocked by snow.

An opinion has been expressed that replacement of trains by buses will cut manpower. Norman Fowler stated in his political bi­og­raphy that ‘everyone knew that the [railway] business was overstaffed’. There was no comparison with industry, other than to point out: ‘BR had 230,000 staff in 1976 whilst the NBC had 20,000 buses and 68,000 staff.’ No conclusion can be drawn from that. BR staff operated twelve times as many passenger and freight vehicles as NBC! Moreover, the effective size of the NBC fleet is reduced as vehicles were cannibalised to keep others in service, (see NBC Annual Accounts). Fleet size related to manpower is meaningless in productivity terms. For an effective comparison, statistics must be put into context. By law, PSV drivers were permitted to work 11 hours daily - it was 14 until 1968. The law imposed no limit on other bus company staff. In contrast, government forced railways to adopt the eight hour day for all staff in 1919, without concern for cost. The sole reason for bus drivers being allowed to work such long hours - which a Government White Paper (Cmnd 3481) stated were being ‘substantially exceeded’ - was cost. That increases 68,000 staff to an equivalent of, at least, 93,500.

Total BR staff included shipping, hovercraft, workshops, hotels and property; excluding these, leaves 182,695. (BRB 1976 Report). Unlike BR, NBC do not maintain their highway, whereas BR main­tained theirs and thousands of bridges over which NBC buses travel. BR Annual Reports provided far more data than NBC, but did not separate staff em­ployed on BR’s ‘highway’. When infrastructure maintenance transferred to Railtrack, BR Reports show a 17% fall. Applying 17% to 1976 manpower reduces 182,695 to 151,600. One must then de­duct staff devoted to freight, which is not one of hundreds of statis­tics demanded by the MoT - even when they covered an expensive 300 pages! The freight element can be estimated from traction hours on non-passenger duties. Non-passenger traction hours were 38.6% of the total. (BRB 1976 Report). Deducting 38.6% from 151,600 leaves 93,080 rail passenger staff - 0.45% below the realistic NBC figure of 93,500. With this relevant manpower, BR earned 41% more passenger reve­nue than NBC.


The real cost of road haulage

The haulage industry is really subsidised by other road users and government inertia. A major post war study (Transport Research Laboratory Report LR 1132 [1984],) of the effect of heavy axle loads on road wear was undertaken some sixteen years after the War by the USA Army. They drove on a road in different vehicles for two years. Wear caused to the structure of the roads related to the fourth power of the axle weight - if axle weight is twice as much, it will do sixteen times as much damage. Car traffic had little effect. Most road construction costs arise from the weight of lorries. A USA official study of highway wear, 15 years ago, revealed that the damage caused by a 6-ton axle load was 10,000 times as much as a car, and a 12-ton axle load was 160,000 times more. (R Calvert. The Times, 18.6.76). Research shows that ‘HGVs only pay 59-67% of costs they impose on society’. (Transport 2000: Goods without the Bads.).

Transport 2000 state that per tonne carried, rail produces 80% less carbon dioxide than road. HGVs produce 40% of all diesel particulates which can cause or worsen bronchitis or asthma, and half of sulphur dioxide emissions. (Limit the Lorry, and Goods with the Bads.). An increase in road transport will worsen the nation’s health.

Lorries are 7% of vehicles on roads, but responsible for 20% of  deaths. EU figures show that rail is 27 times safer than road. In 80% accidents, the HGV driver is not a casualty. (Transport 2000 Limit the Lorry, and Goods with the Bads. Juggernaut (page 67) by J. Wardroper says HGV drivers are not casualties in 95% accidents)

A letter in the Daily Telegraph (7.6.94), demonstrated that former Ministers are not the only ones to believe in the myth of ‘Just in time’ deliveries. If it existed, there would be no empty spaces on shelves, no instructions to return in three weeks for something needed now and no goods arriving in twelve weeks instead of the promised two. Personal experience is that shops routinely tell customers they are out of stock of something  needed today. Many garage staff tell customers who require repairs on a car, that a part is not available today. However, the task of feeding industry - which would have faced hauliers, had they taken over supply of raw materials to industry in 1955 - has virtually vanished with the decimation of UK industry in the face of efficient foreign competition.


Many examples of the overt and covert subsidy to road haulage may be found in Juggernaut. They include:

A USA study showed that the extra cost of building a motorway for heavy lorries was 28-35% more than envisaged for light vehicles, (page 134), and they have a lower axle load than the UK. Their study envisaged narrower lanes and shoulders, if a road was built solely for cars, unlike a study by the DoT, which envisaged no such change.

DoT data in 1975/6 showed that a 32t lorry underpaid for its share of maintenance of roads by 83%. In 9 years, DoT data showed that heavy lorries were subsidised by other users and the taxpayer by £1.2bn compared to £192m for rail freight, (pages 136-8). (The rail freight subsidy was ended in 1977. The HGV subsidy continues – paid by motorists).

Incredibly, in calculating shares of road maintenance cost, the DoT begin by deducting £139m as attributable to pedestrians! This is made up of 50% of all road cleaning, 50% of all lighting (although most is on motorways), and 35% of some other costs, (page 132)

County Surveyors said that overloading accounts for a 50% increase in damage to roads, in some cases for 100%, (page 61).

Motorways are breaking up halfway through their 20 year design life. The cause is heavier axles, not more traffic. The ROI on the M1, M5 and M6 is negative. (page 126).

An RRL study showed that road damage is double what road builders had been told to plan for, (page 128).

It is overlooked by the conversion and road lobbies that BR costs included maintenance and renewal of bridges - a cost which is really attributable to highways and road transport which passes over them. In the event of conversion, bridge costs, hidden in railway losses, would fall directly onto the roads budget, where they should have been since 1930. In 1949, the MoT agreed responsibility should transfer from railways to road budgets. (See PRO, MT39/671 and “Square Deal Denied”, page 64).

It has been claimed that heavier goods vehicles reduce the cost of goods to the consumer. No account has been taken of the increased costs borne by motorists who are delayed behind heavy vehicles on A, B and other roads, or accident damage and road repairs caused by HGVs. Most road mileage is on routes that are not paralleled by railways. If 11,000 miles of existing railway were converted to roads, it would not benefit one jot, millions of delayed journeys on 210,000 miles of roads remote from a railway.

Converting railways into roads will have no real impact on the trillions of minutes delay caused to other traffic by double parking of HGVs to load and unload, or shunt to and fro to gain access to the back door of retail and business premises. The road haulage industry and the DoT ignored the problem of huge vehicles needing to enter towns, villages and farms to collect or deliver, when they authorised bigger HGVs.


Fall-out from Conversion

An assumption - that replacement road services would slash travel costs - was rudely dashed by experience. ‘No sooner had a rail service closed, than bus fares rose to heights which made it difficult for constituents to go about their business at reasonable prices,’ (Hansard, vol. 590, col. 202).  Bus fares and haulage rates were held down by the level of rail fares and freight charges. If all railways closed, road charges would be free to rise, allowing shorter drivers’ hours and higher wages. Pressures for improved safety would lead to higher vehicle building costs. Road construction and maintenance costs will rise with more lanes, traffic signals, traffic police etc.

Converting railways into roads would produce an unending and inescapable burden, far in excess of the subsidy paid to BR. An inability of the Exchequer to swallow the increasing burden of road costs would focus economies on other public expenditure. The burden on the State would rise due to more fatalities and injuries. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph in 1991, the author pointed out that rail accidents from 1952 - which the Telegraph had used as a base line1 to criticise BR - had killed an average of eight p.a. compared to an average of nearly 5,000 p.a. on roads. The number injured by accidents in both modes is equally disparate. The cost of this excessive number of road casualties is a hidden cost of road transport. If there was about ten times as much traffic on roads as railways in 1991 - as was claimed2 - conversion would have increased fatalities of those hitherto using rail by one-tenth of total road fatalities - about 500 p.a. If conversion did increase fatalities, would those who proposed conversion be charged with manslaughter?

1. Daily Telegraph, 9.1.91. This was the year of BR’s worst accident. The death toll should be laid at the door of government that had prevented BR from using their own money to provide new signalling and steel coaches. (See Britain’s Railways - The Reality, page 190).

2. This figure is now revealed to be unreliable - see Table 2, Chapter 11).

BR was burdened with the cost of preserving historic structures, a task not faced by competitors. In 1985, 1256 were listed, it is now over 2,000, including 128 via­ducts, one being at Bishopsgate, which Hall/Smith plan to alter by creating a slip road from it. This may not be permitted. Who would pick up the tab for preserving these structures is never mentioned in any conversion. The East Anglian scheme has six listed structures.

The BRB Annual Report for 1976 compared the disparity in energy use between rail and road transport. In terms of consumption per passenger, compared to a passenger in a suburban train, a car commuter used eight times as much, and a bus commuter used two thirds as much.1 In terms of consumption per tonne of freight, an HGV load used three times as much as a freight train load. The Report mentioned noise pollution caused by road transport on people compared to rail. Those dissatisfied with noise from roads was 11m, from trunk roads 4.8m, & rail 0.1m.2 Even allowing for a lower traffic volume on rail, there is a serious disparity. John Wardroper revealed (Juggernaut, pages 82-83,90,95) a survey by consultants for the DoT showed people say noise when a train is passing3 is less than lorries. Those living by a line are less disturbed by noise than on roads. The problem can be alleviated - at a cost, which hauliers will not pay, and government will not enforce: Rolls Royce designed a quieter 320hp engine in 1981. In 1979, the estimated cost of building a 3-mile motorway with walls and banks to muffle noise was £55m.

1. In comparison with rail, each passenger on a BA domestic services used four times as much as BR InterCity).

2. In respect of air noise, it was 3.4m people.

3. Based on subjective opinion, promoters of conversion claim that rail noise only appears to be less, because there is less freight on rail than road. This survey focuses on when a train – or lorry - is passing.

Staff required to run an infrastructure corporation: managers, supervisors & maintenance staff was not mentioned by Lloyd or his successors. Conversion plans ignore admin staff, managers & supervisors needed. Freight operators need staff to calculate haulage charges & issue invoices. All operators need staff for vehicle servicing and maintenance. Hauliers would require even more staff - clerical and maintenance - if government took effective enforcement action on standards. Staff are needed to cover holidays, sickness & staff working the five day week which originated in the private sector. These manpower needs would further increase, due to the fall in working hours which would follow conversion. Union power would see to that! Fares & freight charges would soar to pay those costs.

The presumption that rail passengers would transfer to bus after line closures, is not backed by experience. Passengers turned to cars. Dept of Transport statistics revealed that rail travel declined slightly, car usage soared, and bus travel declined quite steeply.* The reality is that road congestion would become much worse as many more travellers switched to cars after railway conversion. Conversion means many thousands of additional road vehicles - especially cars - entering towns and creating new congestion on routes not designed to take them.

*Transport Statistics Bulletin, by DETR in 1999, shows that, comparing 1954 & 1970, rail travel declined by 7%, bus by 35%, whilst car rose by 312%. By 1995, compared to 1970, rail travel was unchanged, bus had declined a further 27%, whilst car travel had doubled.

Conversion without lifting all overbridges to the DoT standard would increase the scale of bridge bashing from the current 2,000 cases pa, which cost £10m pa. There would be many blockages of converted railways as juggernauts came into contact with low bridges and tunnels* including some raised to the 4.6m envisaged by Hall/Smith. A study last year for the DfT defined low bridges as those with a clearance of less than 5.03 metres - well above the 4.6m height considered adequate in the Hall/Smith study.

*See photo of Longton (Staffs) bridge which is 14 ft 6 ins (about 4.5m) high, and has advance warnings. Goods and fuel were discharged onto the road and pavements, putting lives of pedestrians and other road users at risk.

A DfT 2004 report shows that a principal cause of lorries striking low bridges - despite low clearance signs, with a 3 inch safety margin - is that drivers did not know the height of their vehicles. The most common cause of double-deck PSVs striking bridges is that drivers forgot that they were driving double-deckers. These problems will continue at under-bridges and cause delay to traffic above on a converted system. It will occur on a converted system if all railway over-bridges are not lifted to the required DfT height. Signs, ‘warning devices’, nor assurances by conversionists will not prevent it. The DfT report says that sensors are expensive and not 100% reliable. They are useless unless a driver reacts. The consequence will be injuries, fatalities and serious delays to traffic

A claim by local authorities (The Times 14.6.87), that it is BR’s job to replace low bridges by higher bridges to meet safety standards, is out of touch with reality. No other company would spend a penny to provide greater facility for competitors who have imprudently increased the size of vehicles to poach traffic, without ensuring the infrastructure was able to take them. Local authorities should practice what they preach, by widening every junction where lorries mount pavements, creating separate lanes for cyclists and provid­ing fenced off, well-lit pavements along both sides of every road to improve safety.

Defending drivers, the RHA blamed government for not introducing rules to display vehicle height in cabs, when self-interest of operators should have brought action. Moreover, the DfT report shows that many drivers did not know their vehicle height even when it was so displayed. A bus operator claimed the problem was ‘a failure of signs’ in a case where a driver had ignored a no-right turn sign and low bridge signs. The bus height was displayed in his cab, and it was 2 feet higher than that on the sign for the bridge! 

Where a converted railway crosses an existing road, it would need to have costly protective ‘Selby’ barriers fitted. The already narrow traffic lanes arising from conversion would be further reduced as a consequence.

DfT statistics show that the average speeds on dual carriageways and motorways are PSVs: 58mph, cars: 69mph, and HGVs: 52mph. On single carriageway roads, they are PSVs: 45mph, cars: 44mph and HGVs: 42-46mph [dependent on axle configuration]. The ever optimistic conversion theorists forecast all travelling at a constant 60mph on con­verted railways with nine foot lanes. PSVs and HGVs would be faster on these econ­omy sized roads than on dual carriageways! It defies belief. They overlook that the width of a lorry is commonly 8ft 5ins. DfT regulations specify that an overhanging load, up to 9ft 6ins [2.9m] wide requires no special arrangements, and could be met any­where. Loads wider than that have to be notified to the police. Given the higher speeds and the risk of meeting loads exceeding the nine foot lane width, delays and an increase in acci­dents would be inevitable. Conversion to economy sized roads, will cause more deaths as motorists, who are behind HGVs and unable to safely overtake, take risks to do so.

Increases in the cost of oil imports is an inflationary factor which pushes everything up. More demand will increase fuel prices, hence, importing more oil to feed road trans­port replacing trains will create a cost to the economy that is being ignored. More im­ported lorries would have a similar effect. On the other hand electric power can be pro­duced without burning oil, and will not adversely affect the balance of payments.


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