Chapter 3                                                  Conversion advocated by Lloyd

 

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Since the war, proposals have occasionally been made to reverse the process of replacing roads by railways and convert railways into roads. The first proposal was by Brigadier T.I. Lloyd (He was a soldier, from 20 to 5; in the Royal Engineers chemical warfare company & the bridging company; had no industrial or commercial transport experience - a deficiency exposed on the following pages). He proposed the idea in an article, under the pen name Monstroviam in the Royal Engineers Journal of June 1954. The word means ‘I show the way’. He was showing the way to chaos. Whilst his approach to the task of assessing vehicle needs might have been adequate for the non-commercial basis of military assessments, they were not the basis for any self-respecting road transport operator. In a wartime scenario, the top military brass can probably pressure their political masters to make up deficiencies in their assessments of manpower and resources, without worrying about cost, by giving warnings of impending disaster. Anyone who has read military histories of the two World Wars, will find that they abound with accounts of planning, transport and logistical failures by the British. They do not have to justify a penny spent during a war. Everything that goes wrong and requires more resources and cannon fodder can be attributed to matters beyond the ken of those without military experience. The principle that commercial transport matters may - for like reasons - be beyond the ken of those of a military background, clearly escaped Brigadier Lloyd. 

The period of which Lloyd was critical was when the BTC - which ran railways - was under the direct leadership of a retired general (Sir Brian Robertson also from the Royal Engineers), who brought in others from the military with no commercial railway background. It was marked by increasing deficits. Railway professionals were not allowed to make decisions affecting day to day matters which would have increased net revenue to supplement gains they made in increasing productivity. (See Britains Railways - The Reality).  It is not without significance, that the highly secret Stedeford Committee were particu­larly critical that fares had lagged behind inflation, were especially critical of govern­ment and external interference, and said that railways should be run by professional rail­waymen. (The Committee of 4 top businessmen headed by Sir Ivan Stedeford, Tube Investments Chairman was the Special Advisory Group.  Dr. Beeching - who became chairman of BR was a member. Their secret reports were withheld, even from Parliament, and not released for 30 years). It was eight years later, that Henry Johnson became BR’s first professional chairman - twenty years after nationalisation. Only two (him & Sir Robt Reid) of the ten chairmen throughout the nationalised period, were professionals. Their tenure was marked by sig­nificant improvement in running railways: modernisation, new traffic and more economies. Fares applications to the Tribunal were made by non-railway professionals at the BTC, not BR managers.

In his article, which appeared under the title: ‘BR or BM? (British Railways or British Motorways). An imaginative solution of the Transport Problem’, he argued that, “as the voice of the scientist is heeded increasingly in national affairs, a plea is made for the adding to it, the voice of the engineer”. Whilst the scientist has clearly much to offer to business and industry, and indeed did so on railways, being more than one step removed from contact with the customer, they share the same commercial limitations as engineers.  Railways had their own scientists who made an invaluable contribution to improvements on BR (see Britains Railways - The Reality, Chapter 9). When I was Divisional Operating Superintendent, my colleague, Ken Brown, a highly respected Engineer told me: ‘my role is to help you to run the railway.’

Lloyd let his imagination run away with him, and ignored the realities of conflicting demand and supply from widespread areas, which contrast with military experience of supplying the demands of the front line - if the requirements of cannon fodder at the front can be termed a demand.

In advancing his theory for the conversion of railways to roads, his approach to assessing the number of road vehicles required to replace rail transport was one that will never gain a following in the commercial road transport world. No self-respecting operator would order a fleet on the basis he uses. He began by taking an average attainable speed of a bus on the converted railway route of 60 mph and then related to it, the volume of rail passenger miles - some 20,000, pa. He concluded that 1,250 buses of 30-seat capacity could convey this passenger volume, employing perpetual motion. He then went on to multiply it by 20 to arrive at what he said was a practical fleet of 25,000 buses. He gave no rational explanation for his method, nor did he explain why he selected 20 as a multiplier. It is pertinent to point out that this method of calculating transport fleets is still not in use. (He ignored evidence that when railway lines closed, buses provided in lieu were subsidised by BR, but did not survive. Passengers switched to car as soon as they could. Published data shows that whereas, rail volume fell slightly, bus volume plunged like a stone).

He then turned to railway freight traffic - some 22,400m ton miles - and said that this could be transported by 4,250 lorries of 10-ton capacity travelling at 60 mph. This was then turned into a practical fleet of 85,000 lorries. Having made these calculations, which will never be used by road operators as a basis for capital investment, he compared his 110,000 road fleet with BR’s rolling stock: locos, coaches, wagons, road vehicles. (Within a year, his fleet had fallen to 10,300, with little change in traffic level!).  From this, he claimed, the case was made at once for converting British Railways into British Motorways - and dismissed any argument that railway traffic could not be handled by his miniature fleet operating without schedules.

It is unfortunate that he did not really study BR statistics properly, nor worse to study road transport statistics at all. In the first place, he would have discovered wagons and locos involved in renewal and maintenance of track and infrastructure. These should be excluded in any comparison, in common with the vehicles required for highway maintenance, as neither are involved in moving revenue earning business.

He would also have discovered that BR had to maintain a fleet of some 6,000 coaches (see The Reshaping of British Railways, page 15) plus locos, to carry industrial workers on their annual holidays. He was clearly unaware - as he spread freight and passengers around the 24 hours and across the four seasons - that entire industries shut down for two weeks each summer, and that their workers went by train en masse to traditional holiday resorts. In effect, a big percentage of the population of many industrial towns went on holiday at the same time. Dr. Beeching argued that the large number of coaches devoted to industrial holidays was uneconomic. Prior to that, it was always expected that BR would handle this peak seasonal traffic as a matter of public duty. It would have been uneconomic for any road operator. Of course, UK industry has obligingly removed the comparable problem which would have arisen for road operators, because they have shut down, and transferred to the Far East!

BR ton miles were the miles that freight was moved by rail. They exclude traffic moved by BR road vehicles. Hence 44,000 BR owned road vehicles were completely irrelevant to ton mile comparisons for a start. Moreover, he would have found that the bulk of BR’s freight traffic was one-direction with no prospect at all for a return load. (Particularly with millions of tons of coal to power stations, gasworks, ports and steelworks; ore & aggregates). Even lorries conveying merchandise would not all have return loads. Those delivering to wholesalers would not - except possibly returned empty crates, which take up a lot of space for negligible weight - as wholesalers use their own vehicles for distribution. In addition, he would have found - had he studied published data - that a large proportion of BR merchandise traffic consisted of consignments of under one ton each - Sundries traffic. Depots - and manpower - would be needed to combine these into 10 ton lots to one similar depot elsewhere. By definition, they did not go to one consignee. These depots would have to have a separate fleet of vehicles to collect and distribute this traffic in surrounding areas.  

Why he took this convoluted route via a completely theoretical and dubious calculation, and then clutched an adjustment figure from thin air, defies comprehension. There was data available from which to assess the relationship between theoretical capacity of road vehicles and the volume of traffic actually moved.

MoT studies (The Transport of Goods by Road.) revealed that 1,271,340 lorries moved 23,000m ton miles. True, this may include deliveries of coal, etc., in towns. However, he and the road lobby have never shirked from counting every last ton carried by road to prove it was much more than that carried by rail. They cannot, now, have it both ways. Elsewhere, Lloyd stated that four fifths of traffic is by road. He neglected to convert originating tonnage into ton miles when the volumes by road and rail became almost the same, and much less did he con­sider the much greater road mileage capacity needed for this equal volume of traffic. Moreover, of the 22,000m ton miles by rail, over 70% was mineral and coal traffic (see BR Annual Accounts) that had no return load, and no possible return load. In contrast, most road vehicles probably had a return load, even if not fully loaded. He ignores the reality that senders of freight traffic will not - indeed cannot - always provide a consignment to a single cus­tomer in nice round lots of 10 tons weight, much less one that will always fit into one lorry. (This problem is exacerbated when he later changed his lorry size to 20 tons, then 40 tons - see Chapters 4 & 5).

In the real transport world, operators know that weight and volume rarely synchronise to produce economical loads. True, he expected his new roads would permit higher speeds - although this would be constrained by the retention of the contra flows of road traffic at thousands of level crossings. He should have started his calculations from available not imaginary data. Even so, assumed higher speeds would have no effect on average loads. His calculations ignore empty, and part-loaded journeys between customers to get a full load.

Likewise, there was available data to show what was being achieved by road passenger transport. In 1954, 80,643 PSVs handled 50,000m passenger miles. On that basis, to handle 20,712m rail passenger miles by PSV would require 33,400 PSVs. This contrasts with Lloyd’s figure of 25,000 vehicles required.

He claimed that converted railways would be free of cross roads & accident black spots. He went on to say that the railway permanent way was consolidated by a century of rail traffic. (Inquiries of local authorities involved in using the formation of closed railway lines, reveal that the railway foundations were not all so sound - see Chapter 13. More importantly, see my diagram that shows he was unaware of the small area that was compacted). BR’s civil engineers were constantly engaged in renewal and maintenance of the permanent way - restoration of landslips, replacement of ballast, maintenance of earthworks, bridges, cutting walls, embankments etc. - to maintain a good standard. One can only marvel that an engineer could be unaware of the ongoing magnitude of the railway engineer’s task, not least because one would have expected a Royal Engineer officer to have had close contact with railway engineering staff called into the armed forces and serving in the Royal Engineers’ own railway and transportation companies.

He expected that fares would fall, but the evidence is when branch lines closed, hitherto competing bus fares rose. (See Hansard, vol 590, col. 202).  Moreover, at the time of his paper and for the ensuing decades, the evidence is that BR fares were held below inflation. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Appendix A) whilst bus fares were not. Both rail fares and rail freight charges were controlled at that time by a court of law, which both delayed increases and held them below inflation. It is not without irony, that he wrote in his article: ‘This article must not be overloaded with known and knowable facts’. It was not!

An example of the naiveté of his thinking is contained in his perception of how commuters would travel. To cater for those used to catching the 8.21, he imagined a number of buses lined up in station A ready to depart for station B at 8.21. Passengers would fill the front bus first, and it would probably move off at 8.18, when full, without objection. This is a misconception of commuter practice. They time their journey to a station to the second, and will not arrive 3-4 minutes early. Moreover, their door to door journey is based on the timetable. They allow themselves the minimum time possible to embrace their different modes of travel - including walking - for the throughout journey. If a train was late, they blamed BR. Indeed, commuters were masters at blaming BR when trains were not late, but they had arisen late after a bad night.  (I replied to a letter in the Liverpool Echo which attributed lateness at work to unpunctual trains inviting employers to check with BR as to the record of any train blamed by employees. No letters were received, nor were there further letters in the Echo - see Blueprints for Bankruptcy, page 177).He went on to postulate a late passenger arriving at 8.22, finding the last bus had left full at 8.21. This assumes a utopian world in which the number of passengers for a given train is divisible precisely by 60 - or 20, 40, or such other number as represents the size of his buses - so that every bus will depart full, without a prolonged wait for the last bus of a group to fill to 100%.

He said that there would be no timetables, buses would be employed as required, hence a full load factor of 100%. He ignores that not all passengers would be going to B, but to C, D, etc. in the same direction as B, and sundry destinations in the opposite direction. How many buses would be needed at any one time at this one station, is a matter that he ignores. Elsewhere, he dispenses with the need for signal boxes and sees no requirement for staff other than bus and lorry drivers. He ignores those who are to liaise and control his 25,000 buses to make sure that they are at the bus stations that need them today, which may well be vastly different from yesterday’s requirements.

He saw traffic standing in wagons as something not wanted by the sender or consignee. Unfortunately, the century old habit of using wagons as warehouses to avoid double handling, and to provide a buffer against the all too frequent occurrence of a suspension of production due to strikes, manufacturing breakdowns, goods produced in blocks, will not be ended merely to make this theorist happy.

Nevertheless, he was certain that his new system would end the practice of BR providing free warehousing for industry, holding wagons in sidings and yards for days. To achieve that, UK industry would certainly have to change dramatically. It would need additional warehouses, machinery and staff to unload arriving traffic without delay. Loudest among the complaints would be that from UK’s tens of thousands of coal merchants who could not function economically if they had to unload coal and coke at once. The ensuing double handling would cause the cost of solid fuel to soar, and would ensure that the political party which presided over this change would never enjoy government office again. The effect on UK industry would also be a sharp rise in prices which would have accelerated their evacuation to the Far East. UK industry was production led, which meant that materials were produced in volume runs that kept down production costs, whilst leaving customers to double handle and store as materials arrived, mitigated only by the extent to which they could coerce BR to provide free storage for them, to call in as required.   

He casually notes that railways are fenced in throughout, but was unaware - or ignored - the reality that BR paid for the fencing and the frequent repairs resulting from vandalism and general wear and tear.

His scheme specifies that there will be no [common carrier] obligation to accept any traffic. This would be a major change and restraint on trade, as BR was the only form of transport that could not refuse to carry any freight - with the exception of dangerous goods, which were subject to stringent packing conditions. BR still carried large volumes of dangerous goods, but under stringent safety conditions. The article notes that nowhere does there exist well-disciplined traffic, such as he expected would be that which would use the new roads. It is a matter of record, that, even with the current motorways - whose constructional and design eclipse those of the converted railways into roads that he envisaged - that well-disciplined is the last phrase that springs to mind when observing driver conduct in action today.

It was his belief that widening the railway to provide lanes to match MoT standards was unnecessary, even given greater speeds. There would be a few simple rules:-

No dawdling - a standard minimum speed of perhaps 60 mph

No halting, except in a lay-by, or shunt lane in a station.

No overtaking at all on a two lane motorway.

Only uni-directional overtaking on a three-lane motorway, e.g. for 5 miles in one direction, then for the next 5 miles in the other direction, or varied throughout the day to suit rush-hour traffic.

On multi-lane motorways, a strict keep in lane rule, except at clearly marked places where transfer to the adjacent lane is permitted.

 

Finally, he stated that if the motorway were formed from a double track railway, probably no very great engineering problem would be met in adding a fourth lane. (He is supposing that he can get three road lanes out of one double track railway. Their comparative widths are set out in Chapter 14. His successor - Angus Dalgleish disagreed with him, see Chapter 8).He totally ignores the cost, which may prove to be a major problem, especially where compulsory purchase of adjoining property arises. As proof of the adequate width of rail routes to convert to roads, he instanced the Mersey Tunnel - 36 foot wide between kerbs, but did not mention its 30 mph speed limit! Later, he and his successors dispensed with kerbs or verges - a standard part of road construction - to prove railways were wide enough!

One benefit claimed was that tons of exportable coal would be replaced by a few gallons of imported petrol. Clearly, he had not seen the poor quality of coal being supplied to BR, since the post-war spread of coal cutting machinery. Export markets for this would have been hard to find, even for skilled marketing experts - of which, even he, could not have claimed to be one. In contrast, export markets for motor vehicles - even of the basic quality of those produced in the UK - abounded after the war. Modernising railways to effectively reduce home market demand for motor vehicles was a simple option that Ministers overlooked, when they directed that BR must not restore railways to pre-war standards for ten years, and burdened the nationalised industry with the clapped out coal wagons of the pre-war wagon owning companies. Those companies gained from nationalisation, being given cash with which some of them created very profitable hire purchase companies, which helped to fund motor vehicle purchases. 

One or two throwaway lines in his article include: there would be heating of roads to deal with frost, lighting of roads, and ‘the cost - forget it.’ That may be a policy that the army could follow, but railways and industry had to follow strict principles to determine the financial viability of investment. Heating of roads can now be discounted as even a long term possibility. As a general rule, lighting of roads may be said to be uncommon, especially on single carriageway roads which Brigadier Lloyd saw as being the norm of converted railways.

 A year later, he had modified his proposal to try to make it sound credible, followed by further modifications in the book that he published thereafter. Events proved that he failed to convince road engineers, commercial road transport operators, parliament and the public.

 

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