Chapter 16                                                                         Resolving road delays


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The idiosyncratic proposal to solve road delays advanced by the theorists, namely that 11,000 miles of railway be converted into roads to solve delays occurring on 220,000 miles of road is - to coin their word - risible. The theory is founded on eight assumptions:

‘Single carriageway’ motorways with nine foot wide lanes are adequate.

Accidents on these new lower standard roads will be lower than those experienced on existing roads - including 3-lane motorways.

Passengers displaced from trains will transfer to buses not cars, despite evidence to the contrary following closure of 10,000 miles of railway.

Buses, even if impeded by cars will travel at 60 mph in all conditions and circumstances

There will be limitless capacity on city roads for the inflow of thousands of extra buses and for those who insist on using cars, whether on these new roads or existing roads.

Ample parking will be available for motorists at the end of a converted rail route. None will cross a city - adding to congestion - to get to a new carpark nearer to a workplace.   

Oil* will never run out, nor the country be held to ransom by supplier countries, and forced to pay ever increasing prices.  * It is overlooked by the road lobby that oil imports have a bearing on the balance of payments - as do imports of foreign built road transport of all kinds. The effect of reducing this should be brought into any rail/road equation.

Other European countries are pursuing the wrong course.


Weaknesses in these assumptions are air-brushed out. The average speed of buses on 2/3-lane motorways, which have no flat junctions, is 58 mph. Their speed on existing single carriageway roads with flat junctions is 45 mph. The belief that there would be no frontage access is misplaced. Selfish motorists and selfish professional drivers, will rarely give way to vehicles emerging from premises still on converted routes, nor at junctions. 

The only nine foot lane roads identified by the conversionists are those in tunnels such as the Mersey Tunnel, where the speed limit is 30 mph.

The belief accidents will fall, is speculation. No study has been evaluated - before and after - as is essential. Claims in respect of improved safety on the Southport conversion (see Chapter 7), are in woolly terms which would be thrown out by any Board of Directors.

Passenger mileage by bus has fallen steeply, whilst that by rail fell slightly, and that by car has soared.

Oil is of finite quantity, depends on nature and has taken millennia to create. Reports of over-estimated reserves are a warning. New oilfield discoveries tend to be more costly. Renewable energy sources generally have little effect on global warming, are unsuited to road transport, but ideal for railways: nuclear, wind or water powered electricity.

Conversionists count only the length of motorways and trunk roads in com­parisons with railway mileage, despite no traffic originating on motorways, and little on trunk roads. They ignore that most fatalities occur on those roads, whose existence they en­deavour to air brush out of any comparison with railways, but from which traffic origi­nates. They keep losing the plot and using figures which are chalk and cheese compari­sons.

If full scale conversion of railways into roads went ahead, government would have to enforce transhipment as a means of avoiding heavy costs to repair town damage.

The new railway companies have been paid far more subsidy than BR ever dreamed of - to achieve less. It will lead to more closures, and open the door for pipe-dreamers to hope to ‘convert’ a few more miles to roads, although it will probably create more footpaths.


Effective management of roads & road transport

Misuse of bus lanes by motorists and commercial vehicles is endemic. Other lanes are wastefully used by vehicles hogging middle or outer lanes. As accidents happen on motorways, so they will happen - in spades - on a converted, mainly single carriageway system, and there will be little prospect of squeezing round an accident.

The first step in tackling delays is to manage roads, as there is no system of management worthy of the name. More off-road cycle tracks and bridleways would reduce delays. Many local authorities are alive to this and have acted by converting closed railways to such purposes*. More remains to be done. Some under-utilised roads should be converted. No road should be without pavements. This will keep pedestrians and hikers off the road. These cost money, the burden of which must fall on road transport. Attention needs to be given to the use of roads, especially during peak commuter hours by farm tractors, that use roads without paying for them. They should be barred in peak hours. This would pressure them to create off-road inter field routes, or seek to re-arrange land ownership so that they own fields linked other than by public roads. Purchase of closed sections of railway will continue to help in this direction. Horse riders should be prohibited on roads in peak hours.

*They have discovered unforeseen costs outwith the comprehension of conversionists. Maintenance of viaducts, fences, ditches, culverts, bridges, embankments, sea walls is a heavy, unending burden. Farmers are vociferous in demands for fence repairs & control of weeds. Vandalism is a problem.

The second step is to adopt as standard, the lane width which conversion theorists say is adequate* for speeds of 50 mph: shorten deceleration lanes to 90m, tarmac up to the boundary fence, dispense with hard shoulders or reduce them to the one metre width mentioned in the Hall/Smith study and elsewhere. Three-lane motorways would then become five lanes. Accompanied by an enforced speed limit of the 50 mph deemed adequate by Hall/Smith, it will ensure that smooth flows are not interrupted by those maddening delays which are probably caused by vastly differing vehicle speeds. Congestion and accidents will decline, further reducing delays. In any future building, the recommended headroom of bridges can be cut to 4.6m from 5.1m with huge savings.

*An RAC 2004 Report on Motoring recommends tackling congestion including variable speed limits on motorways and narrow lanes to improve the use of existing road space.

The third step is to reduce the permitted working hours of road transport drivers and impose effective controls to ensure that they are observed. This would be accompanied by a fourth measure imposing tougher maintenance standards on all road vehicles, especially lorries and PSVs, and to eliminate the cowboy element. An annual MoT test for such vehicles is inadequate. A high mileage vehicle should be tested more frequently than low mileage cars. Garage standards have been recently reported to be unsatisfactory with 25% of vehicle faults remaining unresolved. Firm corrective action is needed by the DfT.

The fifth step should be effective action on illegal hauliers, and unlicensed cars esti­mated by the RAC to be 5%, (see Report on Motoring 2004). These hauliers and motorists are thereby opted out of MoT tests, and more likely to cause accidents, which cause delays.

The next step would be to take penal action with tailgating drivers, who are likely to cause accidents and certainly cause delays to cars seeking to overtake.

Finally, there must be an end to the use of lay-bys as overnight parking for lorries, which is commonplace. They should be parked in safe secure compounds. This should be obvious in normal crime ridden times, and especially in current terror ridden times. ‘LGVs have to be based at authorised centres. There is reason to believe that non- compliance may be a serious problem. Licensing authorities dealt with fifteen operators regularly parked away from authorised centres’. (Plowden & Buchan)

Smith wrote in the Journal of Transport Economics & Policy (September 1973): ‘any railway physically suitable should be considered for conversion to a road’. Any  objective approach would consider the converse. Later, he wrote: ‘I am not advocating that all railways should be converted’, (The Times 30.1.74). The DoE grant to Hall/Smith would have had more value had it been applied to a study of the Better Use of Road-ways, because the network is not managed so as to make best use of them. Such a study is long overdue.


Guided busways

One idea is to replace railways by guided busways. Inquiries about them of MPs, technical press and libraries were unfruitful. Re­search led to a reference in Parlia­ment, (Hansard 2.2.93, col. 231) that mentioned the ‘Oban guided busway’. In­quiries of the librarian at Oban revealed there was no guided busway there, but he found on the Internet, that the O-Bahn guided busway system origi­nated in Essen, Germany. There are guided busways in Brad­ford, Crawley, Edinburgh, Leeds* and Ipswich, but not in Aberdeen where an MP forecast them. Buses are fitted with side guidance wheels. UK routes total 10.4km, most, in short sections - the longest is 1.5km in Edinburgh. They are costly. The Edinburgh scheme cost public authorities £10m. The Crawley scheme was about 50% over budget.   

*The author travelled on Leeds guided buses (see photo). They rattled and were a noisy uncomfortable ride at 30-40 mph. Vehicles like these would replace trains in the Hall/Smith scheme. Transfer to car would be inevitable.

They are only usable by specially designed buses. A breakdown or collision blocks a lane. Access by emergency services will be difficult. If a railway was converted to a two-lane guided busway, a bus could not pass a broken-down vehicle. Changing a wheel could prove difficult. Re­surfacing such roads requires buses to divert to ordinary roads.  

There are many public, farm, private and footpath level crossings on former rail routes. They are not practicable on a guided busway. Railways have a 1.5-2" gap for a rail wheel flange. The 24" gap for twin bus wheels is too wide for a level crossing. A break will be needed in the system for traffic to cross, or bridges provided. Sooner or later, a vehicle or tractor crossing a guided busway will strike a guided bus rail and block or damage the bus system.

When buses leave the system, they are often delayed at round­abouts by traffic from the right (due to the Highway Code requirement – to give way to traffic from the right)... Replacement of rural trains is being encouraged by government to try to limit out-of-control subsidies*. It is unlikely that bus opera­tors will pay all infrastructure costs of busways, just as they do not pay for bus shelters, bus lanes, red routes, raised pavements and lay-bys. Guided busways do not apply the Hall/Smith concept of operating without timetables. Nor do they fit the profile envisaged by the Conversion League/Campaign, which wanted converted railways to be used by all forms of road transport. Repairs to sur­faces were required twice in the first year of operation in Edinburgh, which was on the route of a former rail­way. ‘Ever since it opened, it has been one disaster after an­other. It was closed twice for repairs, following complaints of bumpy rides, once for a week, and once for ten days.’ (Evening News, 15.11.05). It cost £10m to build, plus £4m for special buses.  

*Which eclipse those given to BR, which were to support rural or secondary operations, but have been granted for main line services, which under BR received no subsidy, (see Britain’s Railways - The Reality, page 183).


Weeds will need attention as they do now, and drains will be required. Prof. Huxley states: ‘Authorities in Essen were surprised to find the busway paralysed by snow because it could not be cleared by ploughs. Teething troubles of the system have been pro­longed’. Snow had to be cleared by hand. Electric under-surface heating has been provided

Under original Enabling Acts, which gave compulsory purchase powers, current owners of land crossed by railways may still have legal powers to seek restoration of land, when it ceases to be used for its original purpose. Those owning land bordering railways would be well advised to research land and Parliamentary records and lodge objections and claims.


Alternative strategies

Super juggernauts, 33m long, which may tailgate, are not an answer. Trials on disused airfields may confirm suitability for the Sahara desert, not the M6 or M1. Lay-bys, funded by hauliers, would be needed on motorways, ahead & beyond all junctions to attach or drop trailers. They could be dropped off when a motorway is blocked, as well as at the journey end. Without lay-bys, they would have to split after leaving a motorway. It would be unacceptable to negotiate roundabouts or 900 junctions alongside one, as they leave a motorway. Anyone intimidated by ordinary jugger­nauts pulling out in front, must avoid motorways if these appear. If they are introduced, and one motorist is delayed, they should be banned without com­pensation, as advocates claim they will not cause delay. Second tractors would have to travel on motorways between two junctions to function.


Planning studies

Road traffic could be cut* by planning controls on the location of supermarket and retail distribution centres - forcing them to build near railways, and by enforcing distribution in vehicles more environmentally friendly than juggernauts. Delivery in towns should be in small units. If building slip roads, etc., to connect existing roads to converted railways could be ‘financed’ on the basis of time saved by motorists - there is no better way to save such time in the national interest, than by slip roads to rail-served distribution centres. *RAC studies show that 25% of car mileage is to shops.

In its 1970 Report, the League called for investigation of the best national use of railways but ignored the converse – obvious to an unbiased academic – to investigate roads to find to what other use, they could be put. The author’s statistics show road utilisation* is worse than railways, (see Chapter 8 & 12), and hence should be studied to improve it by closing excess road mileage. The debate should look at gains to be made by converting roads to railways. The conversion campaign has claimed railways could be widened at little cost. They are adamant improved bridge headroom can be achieved at low cost by excavating formations or raising decks, & some bridges could be closed. Such changes would benefit railways   allowing wider, higher loads. This would include piggy-back for juggernaut trailers. Get­ting these off roads would increase traffic flow, reduce road maintenance costs and slash accidents. Fewer accidents would cut costs of emergency services & NHS whose waiting lists would fall. Fewer contraflows would lead to more constant speeds & fewer accidents. Fuel use would fall. Lay-bys used as cost free night or weekend lorry parking should close.

*These comparative statistics were based on data which inflates road transport volume (see Table 2, Chapter 11)

Public Inquiries into road building

John Wardroper argues (pages 37-39) that the public should be given total freedom to object to new roads, a right to access to, and to dispute traffic forecasts used to justify road building. This would be consistent with rights in respect of new railways and closures.

Transfer traffic to

‘Heavy lorry mileage on journeys over 150 km represents 50% of all mileage and 20% of all goods. Transferring this to rail would cut total lorry mileage by a half, (“Goods without the Bads”, Transport 2000 Booklet). If trunk haulage was by rail, using smaller containers, haulage into towns and villages on shorter vehicles would slash congestion, reduce damage to buildings, and end damage to pavements and verges - some of which compare unfavourably with ploughed fields.

The Economist stated [April 1973]: government is sitting on a Report advo­cating switch­ing road freight to rail. It will not be published by the DoE which commissioned it and should have laid all evidence for and against rail before deciding on the railways’ fu­ture. From evidence of three studies cov­ering large freight flows, the Report argues that the net benefit by switching to rail is about 2p for every mile trav­elled by HGVs. That is after calculating rail sub­sidies and environmental costs of road and rail in terms of noise, pol­lution and accidents. A household survey suggests that those living beside a railway are less disturbed by traffic than those living next to a busy road. The Report is the work of Consultants. The current minimum charge for using a heavy lorry is 25p per mile, (Economist 24.11.73). This Report (The Economist, 24.11.73), did not catch the eye of the Conversion League, when it trawled the pages of The Economist for ‘expert views’ in support of its campaign.


Converting road lanes to railways

In view of poor road utilisation, an option is to convert some roads to railways. The es­timated annual goods vehicle km of 10.8bn on motorways (Transport Statistics of Great Britain, Table 4.9) equates to only 185 vehicles per hour in each direction. Their average five ton load, is less than one train load, which would not tax one lane converted to a railway. Less oil and fewer lorries would be imported*, improving the bal­ance of payments. Converting some roads to railways would not face the transi­tional problems caused by the converse. Random observations indicate that there is spare capacity on freightliner trains. Secondly, the under-utilisation of roads, which is referred to earlier, allows scope for re-routing road traffic during the changeover period. Much cross empty mileage would be eliminated by central control of containers. Motorway lanes converted to railways would not need widening, nor bridges need to be lifted. With freight trains thundering by at faster speed than cars, there would be an influence to steer straight and pay attention. Such trains would wake up tired motorists! * (Only 5% of HGV operated by UK companies are made in the UK).


Build new railways with enhanced clearances

Three factors will compel the UK to develop railways, based on electricity produced from nuclear fuel or non-fossil sources: global warming, escalating demand for petroleum, with countries like China boosting car sales, and a fall in oil reserves (e.g. Shell’s revised estimation). Air travel will have to be curtailed because of its heavy consumption of oil, and its effect on global warming. Short haul air services within Europe will be the first to be hit, the beneficiary being rail. The price of oil will rise as a ‘normal’ market force to hold down demand to equate more nearly to supply. The effect will be to cut road transport - the beneficiary will again be rail. The countries that get onto the electric bandwagon first, will be in the forefront of selling materials and know-how to those that don’t.

In view of the higher cost of privatised railways, which ought to be returned to the State sector, to cut the subsidy - but as politicians never seem to admit a mistake, have not been - any new railway built in place of motorways, should be run by the public sector. (For evidence that railways were better managed under BR - see Britains Railways - The Reality.).

Using principles advocated by conversion theorists and practised by the DoT, the cost of a fast new railway could be offset by time savings expected to be achieved by motorists.

Other benefits from a reversion to rail transport

As 95% lorries are bought abroad - using a phrase beloved by the League - it may pos­sibly give a shot in the arm to UK industry who may find it easier to compete in building smaller vehicles for town deliveries. This should improve the balance of payments

Environmental benefits would arise from replacing road by rail transport - using home produced electricity instead of imported oil, which has so many bad side effects.

Provision of distribution depots at railway locations for transhipping containers to vehicles suitable for towns would cut damage to buildings, pavements, road furniture, water mains, gas mains, and sewers. They would cut hidden subsidies and reduce traffic delays arising from road works. Distribution into towns by small lorries would reduce traffic delays and congestion, as well as environmental and structural damage. They may even breathe new life into town centres by facilitating the re-opening of High Street shops. The whole subject needs a comprehensive study by independent consultants, which would look at the big picture and take account of reductions in road wear and tear, oil imports, savings from reduced damage and delay, and all other cost elements.

Rail-roads : joint use of formations

A new proposal is to convert railways to dual use of train and motor by infilling tracks with rubber. The common speed enforced by the braking distance of trains, the width of formations and the inability of road vehicles to overtake a train, renders it impractical.

An American reader wrote* to The Economist (26.8.74): ‘a concrete and rubber tyre solution is costly and consumes vast quantities of land, is energy intensive, pollutes the air, creates the urban sprawl life style made famous by Southern California. It ultimately becomes so congested that consumer preferences switch back from car to train. I believe that is beginning to happen in the USA. Disillusioned Americans long for the day they can get from Boston to New York by train’. The conversion theorists overlooked this view in their references to the USA, and their selected quotations from The Economist.

*Another view in the Economist overlooked by the League. It should be considered as an alternative to those who focus on the New York bus terminal.


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