Chapter 14 Media opinion & reports
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
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 Britain’s 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 Britain’s Railways - The Reality, Chapters 13, 14 & page 145)
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
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 Britain’s 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
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!).
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
*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).
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!
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.