Chapter 14                                                                             Media opinion & reports


Back to Home Page


Comments and criticisms appeared in the media in response to the Hall/Smith Study, (see chapter 10, part II). Other comments were made on earlier proposals, (see chapters 7, 8).

An article (Times, 23.2.76) stated: in Nottingham, deliberate delays are imposed on cars in peak periods to force users onto buses. PSVs can be made more attractive by equipping them with bars, kitchens, toilets and other features. He overlooks that re-design would in­crease costs of building, operating, maintaining and cleaning PSVs, whilst reduced seat­ing would cut income. The fact that it is necessary to restrict cars to force users onto buses, undermines comparisons with trains. He mentions East Anglian lines in advocat­ing conversion on the grounds - which others dispute - that road traffic produces a profit (see Table 1, Chapter 10-III), and railways are under-utilised compared to roads, (see Chapters 7, 8, 14).


A further article (Sir Alfred Sherman, Times, 11.6.81) criticised rail performance, extolled the concept of railway conver­sion, and referred to Prof. Hall’s report.* It stated: ‘BR has been helped to resist change by the MoT [as almost all nationalised work simulation and waste centres are by their departments]. It [BR] has exploited its bureaucratic wiles to this end’. *It will be seen from Chapter 10, Part III that the scheme would not work, nor produce the claimed benefits.

BR audited Annual Reports, which were debated in Parliament, and were not chal­lenged as inaccurate, record the adoption of work study, method study and other man­agement techniques beginning some 50 years ago, long before most of UK’s backward industry. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Chapter 9). Developments included the first labour saving machine in 1948 - BR’s first year of existence, followed, every year, by many more, until hundreds were operated. BR developed new signal­ling systems, later adopted in other countries, which reduced man­power drastically and improved the speed and safety of trains. Every year, managers and engineers throughout the system implemented thousands of their own schemes to improve asset life and utilisa­tion, and reduce manpower. Most changes were implemented without publicity and with little or no industrial dispute, unlike timid attempts in industry. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Chapters 13, 14 & page 145)

It claimed that electrification only increased speeds marginally. When it began on the West Coast in the 1950s, the margin was 11% over new diesels built by UK in­dustry. The claim that railways can be converted to roads ‘without digging up a field or demolish­ing a house’ is not borne out by actual ‘conversions’ nor the Hall/Smith study, (see chapters 10,13)

It said BR had cost the public billions of pounds. This ignores the requirement for BR to subsidise inefficient industry by legally controlled below-inflation freight charges so that ‘work simulation’ - to borrow the phrase - could continue in those indus­tries, until they eventually threw in the towel. It overlooks that fares trailed inflation for 40 years due to the decisions of a unique court of law & min­isterial inter­ference, so the government and the public really owed BR £11.6bn plus interest (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Appendix A), at the time of priva­tisation. It disregarded that, for decades, politicians blocked clo­sure of uneconomic lines - many struggling even in the heyday of railways - which managers wanted to close, but government decided to retain, but not to fund. Objectors to closures mainly argued on their value in winter and wartime. (See The Railway Closure Controversy.). Some industries - which, un­like BR, pre-1969 - were subsi­dised, had the gall to suggest BR in these remote areas should cut costs & operate without subsidy.  (See The Railway Closure Controversy.). BR was not compared with industry1. An analysis of the ratio of rail manpower to workload reveals remark­able improvements from the earliest days, not matched in UK industry. True, the scope for comparing UK industry with BR is limited, because they - unlike BR - have not been required to expose complaints & other damning sta­tistics to public view. The grouping of types of industry by the ONS limits comparisons. Inadvertently, the writer drew attention to industrial apathy by stating that there was no export market for electri­cal equipment, since other countries would manufacture their own. The converse scenario has not prevented other countries from exporting cars and all other goods to the UK!       

1.      The author claims to be the first to make meaningful, non-subjective comparisons between BR and other industry in Blueprints for Bankruptcy and later in Britain’s Railways - The Reality. No one else has done so,

The article refers to the use of non-trunk roads by road traffic, which, it implies ought to be on railways-converted-to-roads. However, 11,000 miles of converted railway could never replace the use of 200,000 miles of non-trunk roads, as they do not cover the same geographical area. Moreover, as the utilisation of rail capacity is higher than the road network, (see Chapters 8 & 12), a converted railway could not cope with rail traffic in road vehicles, much less provide relief to underutilised, and inefficiently managed roads. 

It stated: ‘In a few cases, bridges may cause difficulties, but almost none are insuper­able.’ By definition, that means some are insuperable. The faith in the reliability of the pneumatic tyre is not shared by all. Many have had to block half of a road to change a tyre, have been delayed whilst someone else does so, some have had their vehicle struck by burst lorry tyres, or have seen tyre debris on the side of roads - much of it, clearly, from large vehicles. This contrasts with railways, where broken wheels will not be seen. According to an official source ((PACTS - Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) ‘if higher speeds are maintained there is a greater risk of mechanical failure, e.g., a burst tyre, which has a more serious effect on handling at high speed’. The skid resistance of a wet road decreases as vehicle speeds rise. Hence, if speeds advocated by conversion theorists are implemented, accidents will increase. 


Conversion was advocated in the Sunday Telegraph (3.12.00). It spoke of railways as straight lines. Records show that many routes went round hills to avoid tunnelling and due to early locomotive power limitations.  Some were forced to circumvent private estates.  The editor was referred to Blueprints for Bankruptcy (The Daily Telegraph purchased it in 1995) which summarised the first con­version proposal and views of experts - road engineers and operators  (meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers, see Chapter 4) - who stated, inter alia:

lines were not straight,

major clearance problems would restrict their use to light vehicles,

bridges, tunnels, viaducts and drainage would pose serious problems, which could only be resolved at formidable cost.


The experts included one from the BRF. This book refers to a letter from the author in 1989 to the Daily Telegraph, (see Chapters 8 & 12), in response to an advert advocating conversion. Statistics in that letter exposed the weaknesses in the idea. Like the 1989 letter, that to the Sunday Telegraph was acknowledged, but not published, nor was it embraced in an article. 

A second article (17.12.00) reports on copies of booklets - supplied by the widow of Angus Dalgleish - with photos of road traffic using converted railways, (see Chapter 8), stating ‘as, so often, our readers know much more than the editor!’ (See above!).

A third article (24.12.00), highlighted longer gaps between trains compared to road vehicles. It quoted a former minister who, whilst flying to Northern Ireland, had observed a stretch of the M6 close to the main London to North West railway that ‘was jammed solid* while the rail line which was slightly wider than the M6, had almost no traffic on it’. The actual location was not specified. Inquiries of Air Traffic Control as to the flight path revealed that the location was probably Crewe. There, four routes: from South Wales/Shrewsbury, Derby/Stoke, North Wales and Manchester - join the London-Scotland main line. The width occupied by platforms and tracks is about 190 yards, some in a cutting. To the south of Crewe lies Basford Hall sidings, which covers a wider area, about a half mile in length. The next comparable location is 150 miles further south! These areas are of no value in creating motorway width for the 158 miles London-Crewe, and might well be on the far side of the moon for its potential value as road lanes. 

*Hold-ups are mostly due to the higher incidence of accidents. They would be reduced by better driving, improved vehicle design and better maintenance, (see Juggernaut by John Wardroper). Photos taken by the author reveal seriously under-utilised roads in Cheshire, Staffordshire and North Wales, including the M6. (see photo pages).


The rail junction at Crewe, has four diverging routes. The M1/M6 junction has twelve parallel road lanes plus hard shoulders - for only one diverging route, which together occupy a land area around 1200 yards by 1200 yards! The mind boggles at the number of parallel lanes and flyovers necessary to provide for around twenty different traffic flows travelling through a converted system at Crewe, at Lloyd’s 60 mph - much less the cur­rent, often exceeded, 70 mph legal speeds. It would be completely impossible without costly grade separa­tion, and substantial acquisition of adjoining land. To convey existing rail passen­gers through the Crewe area by bus or car and rail freight by lorry would require so many vehicles on so many conflicting routes that the term ‘road congestion’ would take on a new meaning. Road traffic would, often be stationary through this area.


According to the Highways Agency, the width required for a motorway, with three lanes each side, is 35.6 metres. The DoT requires an overall width of 16.5 metres for a four- track railway and 8.08 metres for a two-track route. (Dept of Transport Railway Construction & Operation Requirements). The London-Glasgow west coast main line has two tracks for over half of its length. The railway is wider at stations, but these must be compared to nine motorway service areas south of Crewe that occupy far more land, and to the huge clover leaf junctions on motorways. Junctions on the M1/M6 and M6/M5, M1/M25 etc., are in a league on their own. The requirements for motorways and railways are depicted in a diagram (see below). The outer box represents the land width and bridge height required for a three-lane motorway; the larger hatched box that required for a four-track railway; the smaller hatched box for a double-track railway. The space between would take a further three-track railway. It will be seen that the width required for a three lane motorway is wide enough for three main lines!

Diagram 7



The headway comparison, made in the article, between rail and road, overlooks relevant facts. Cars have an average load of 1.6 persons. (Annual Abstract of Statistics 199, Tables 14.1 & 14.4).  A passenger train carries as much as 300 cars, at almost twice their speed. As the safe headroom between vehicles is one metre for every one mph (Highway Code & LGV School Instructors) the aggregate headroom for 300 cars, at 70 mph, on one track/lane, would be 21,000 metres, ten times the long gap maintained, for safety reasons, ahead of a 125mph passenger train, (Railway Signalling Standards). If cars travelled 50% faster, their headroom would need to equate to 15 times the long gap between trains. 


The average load of a lorry being 5 tons (Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1998, Tables 14.1 & 14.4) a freight train can convey as much as 200 lorries, and travels 25% faster. At 60 mph, with a braking distance of one metre for every one mph, lorries require an aggregate 12,000 metres headroom, seven times that of a 75 mph freightliner (Railway Signalling Standards).  At 75 mph, 200 vehicles would need 15,000 metres aggregate head­room - ten times as much as a freightliner.


Diagram 8 illustrates headroom disparities:





If, the railways - hitherto owned by the State - are under used, whilst State owned roads are over used, it is evidence of mismanagement by the owners! Road utilisation is poor. Much road congestion is caused by bad driving and accidents. We are as far away as ever from the utopian standards of driving which Brig. Lloyd saw as crucial to conversion.


An RAC Report (Motoring Facts, 2004, page 31), shows that drivers who exceed speed limits frequently, are three times as likely to have accidents, as those who exceed it infrequently.

What conversionists fail to appreciate, is that if railways are closed, the daily hours of road drivers will fall like a stone and their wages will rise to compensate, like money was going out of fashion. The consumer: public, industry, state, et al, will pick up the tab.


Top of Page