Chapter 4                                               Conversion demolished by road experts


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Brigadier Lloyd delivered a Paper to the Institution of Civil Engineers in April 1955. It had many changes from that in the Royal Engineers’ Journal.

He began by saying that he made no proposals for financing of conversion, since their relevance is a matter for individual judgement! He described the characteristics of new roadways - being on a permanent way, which runs straight and true - which showed how little he knew of UK railways!  He stated that:

Rail gradients seldom exceed 1 in 100, and the steepest is 1 in 38.

Converted railways would be reserved for fast free-running vehicles. (He later decided they would be used by cars and other vehicles).

They would form a reserved toll road with no dangerous bends, having single carriageways, which professionals now favoured as being safer than dual carriageways because drivers would have to remain alert! (He did not identify these professionals).

MoT requirements on new roads are for lane widths of 10ft, or 11ft if on a single carriage-way. Double track railways are never less than 24ft, and often 30ft at formation level. (For Dept of Transport standards – see Chapter 14).The 30 foot tracks would form roads of three lanes, with intermit­tent two lane widths. Often at little extra cost, a fourth lane could be added. Single track railways could be converted to sub-standard roads which would compare favourably with minor public roads. (Obviously, these would not be suitable for his utopian new vehicles). The expense of raising them to a full standard would no doubt be justified in some places. (The facile assumption that routes could easily be widened at unspecified places at low cost demonstrate the superficiality of the paper). See width diagram,

It seemed reasonable to expect that road surfaces can be laid with an evenness comparable to railways - with the added advantage of being without joints.  (Under BR’s 1955 Modernisation Plan, BR began to lay jointless continuous welded rail. Roads and motorways today often have noticeable joints at bridges or where they have been resurfaced).

He could not ‘discern any factor that would impair the theoretical lane capacity, that he estimated at 1,000 vehicles per hour, corresponding to a vehicle spacing of 100 yards, travelling at a minimum acceptable speed of 60 mph, users achieving that voluntarily over the entire system, round the clock and over the four seasons’. (This is incompatible with having no passenger timetable. Buses setting off at will and trying to insert between vehicles having a 100 yard spacing, was a pipe dream. A sophisticated signalling system would be required. Moreover, the acute seasonal peak for coal would prevent evenly balanced seasonal flows).

There would be enough access points: stations, level crossings & junctions, their average distance, he said, was about 3½ miles. The passage through these places would be easily regulated by automatic lights, especially conflicting traffic at existing road level crossings. (Hopefully, without disturbing that nice regular flow of vehicles at 100 yard intervals!)

The most significant factor is that railway alignments often provide the shortest route between places. (That is not borne out by an examination of maps, and a study of the historical records of objections to direct routes by landowners. See example of Bourne End – Chapter 10-II).

The new roads would be used by eight foot wide vehicles.

Roads will never maltreat vehicles, and vice versa.

His plan required that there would be a strict wheel load limit which would be lower than that permitted on existing roads.

Only fast vehicles, regularly inspected for road-worthiness would be allowed. Drivers would have to pass stringent tests, and have special driving licences. (Both would have been a first, now - much less then! He made no allowance for out-of-service time of these vehicles during these regular road worthiness checks).

BRs 20,000m passenger miles and 22,000m freight ton miles can be equated to 10,300 fully laden vehicles at 60 mph for eight hours daily, six days per week. One third would be 40-seater buses and two-thirds 20 ton lorries  supplemented by an abundance of trailers. (Having increased his bus size by a third and doubled his lorry size, he claimed to cut his earlier forecast of fleet size by 86%. He had carefully flattened the daily and seasonal peaks of both freight and passenger to spread the load over 24 hours, six days per week. The 10,300 vehicles split into 6,866 lorries and 3,434 buses. Trailers thrown in as if they came free from manufacturers & incurred zero maintenance & running costs. They would have to be available at every factory, unless lorries always had one attached! It was a catch-all throwaway line to cover up any deficiency in his calculations)

There would be no problem with the Waterloo rush hour daily passengers are no more than 200,000. Sixty-seater bus-trailers at 1½  minute intervals from each of Waterloos 21 platforms [one every 4.2 seconds] - redesignated bus lanes - will be able to carry 50,000 passengers per hour. The rush hour flow of 840 vehicles per hour, would not amount to the capacity of one lane - so there would be no bottlenecks beyond the station due to the great multiplicity of lanes at Clapham Junction. (Overlooking that they were largely on one level. He seemed unaware that there were major rush hours at several other London and Provincial stations).

To reduce injuries in accidents, seats would be rear facing on all vehicles permitted on these roads. (Very unpopular. No one has succeeded in doing so in aircraft, where passengers can’t see where they are going anyway. Rules out existing PSVs and cars).

There would be no timetables, as soon as a bus was 100% full, it would go. (Means long delays for non-peak passengers. Balancing vehicle provision would be chaotic. Without a timetable, the end of a driver’s 8 hour shift could find him at the wrong end).

Buses would have one or two trailers, which could be discarded in the non-rush hours and could also be used as slip coaches. (Probably left at the wrong end! Slipping a trailer at 60 mph, with another bus 100 yards behind beggars belief. Unlike rail coaches, they would require steering and power to park clear of other traffic).

With screened drivers, accidents would almost cease. (His table compared rail fatalities in 1952 - the worst year since 1915 - involving the Harrow & Wealdstone crash in thick fog - with road fatalities in August 1954! Government directives blocking modernisation were a major factor in the accident - see Britains Railways - The Reality, pages 52-55. He claimed 1952 rail accidents were the most recent. It is nonsense. The 1953 HMRI Report published October 1954 shows a decrease on 1952. The 1954 Report was published September 1955, but the DoT would have had all data by February. Lloyd, at the War Office, should have been able to get it from HMRI, who were also ex-Royal Engineers. Moreover, the MoT quoted 1954 rail & road fatalities in March 1955, (Hansard vol. 539, col. 27) to which Lloyd and all civil servants had daily access. 1954 rail fatalities had fallen 75% from 1952, road fatalities had risen 6%. Clearly, that was unhelpful. In 1954, no rail fatalities were in collisions, but were at level crossings - as would be likely to happen after conversion - or were falls on stations - which might happen in converted carparks or bus-stations. Had 1954 been worse than 1952, he would, doubtless, have used it).

A hire-car service, including self-drive, would be an equivalent replacement for first class. (These would have to slot into the 100 yard gaps, reducing the headway).


Demurrage on freight trailers would be low, encouraging clients to make up complete trailer loads. (Unless it equated to cost provision, it would be ruinous. It may take weeks to assemble a full load. Given BR experience, clients would detain trailers to suit their convenience).

If drivers slowed excessively at 24 foot bridges and tunnels, the question of widening should be taken up. Most of the interesting engineering problems arise at these points!  (Closing, after conversion, for alterations would be crazy. No professional would entertain it. No estimate was made of costs. Tunnel widths were as little as 11 foot, e.g. Glenfield, near Leicester. Because of their limited clearance, and narrow cess, tunnels had refuges in both walls to enable staff to move to a position of safety when a train approached).See tunnel photo

There would be prompt sanding and snow clearance, and radar would be fitted to all vehicles to enable them to operate safely in fog. (Hauliers will not fit safety devices at their cost).

New traffic rules would apply: keep strictly in lane, except at clearly marked places of transfer to adjacent lanes; no overtaking at all on two lane stretches of roadway; no dawdling; special driving licences would be forfeited for breaking the rules. (There is one indisputable aspect of road transport and that is a tendency for most drivers to ignore the Highway Code today).

A re-named BR would be responsible for mobile traffic police, an efficient breakdown service, maintaining roads, telecommunications, controlling access and ensuring that vehicles and drivers had the required high standards. (This was ingenious. When the system proved unworkable, politicians, the media, comedians & Brig. Lloyd would have a handy whipping boy! Decades later, 100% checks on vehicles could not be achieved on 2,500 miles of motorway - see Juggernaut by John Wardroper).

There would be ample room for toll traffic. Present traffic on BR amounts to one-fifth of the whole, that on public roads to four-fifths. (This ignores that road route mileage was 22 times as much as railway route mileage. The figure quoted was preferable to the road lobby, & ignores distance. Passenger miles & ton miles were about equal on road and rail, despite the greater capacity of roads - see Chapters 8 & 12 . Road traffic data is unreliable, - see Chapter 11)

BR ‘were now to be given an injection of £1200m to modernise’. (This was, and still is, a popular myth. The government made it quite clear BR must raise it from its own sources or interest bearing loans. It did so. Accounts show that BR was repaying the loans and the interest thereon - see Britain’s Railways - The Reality, page 61).

The Lloyd scheme stated that ‘BR will undertake the upkeep of the entire system: patrols, police, breakdown service, telecommunications, control of admission to the system, including initial and periodical testing of authorised drivers and vehicles’. Why this road system - connected to the rest of the network - required a highway authority and had to provide telecommunications, when no such provision existed on any other road, he did not explain. Nor was their purpose defined. No costs were estimated.

He ignored the delay element in gaining access to the system implicit in producing proof of driver and vehicle worthiness, and what happens when a dispute occurs, not least the effect on following vehicles. A breakdown service implies that the nice regimented flow of vehicles at 60 mph, 100 yards apart, coming to an abrupt stand in one direction, whilst they await arrival of the high speed breakdown service from the nearest point. He didn’t say how many the system could afford, hence we cannot work out the distance to the nearest, and therefore the average time to clear the offending obstruction. It will be noted that he had tacitly admitted that his regularly inspected high standard of road worthiness vehicles with their saint-like drivers were not going to be immune to breakdown and accident, in contrast to more recent claims (see chapter 10). 

Operators would possess vehicles which spent their entire life on the new system, never using existing public roads. They would certainly have been prohibited from existing roads, as he envisaged 63 foot long vehicles with no springing, and a body slung a few inches from the ground, with ‘wheels fore and aft - not under the vehicle’. The consequential problems and cost of transhipment were glossed over. BR would be able, he said, to restore equity of competition by varying its contracts with the tied operators and its scale of toll charges levied on others. In effect, this would have allowed BR - as owners of the new motor road - to discriminate between users - a practice they were specifically forbidden to do in respect of rail customers. It was to be the responsibility of local authorities to encourage motorists to park cars in new carparks, and travel on these new roads using tied buses. Local authorities are still struggling to achieve that end, with buses which are not restricted to a limited route.

As to who would buy the special lorries and buses which would be confined to the converted system, he remained silent. No research was presented at all. There was no evidence that even one operator would do so. Then what? Doubtless, another excuse was ready for when the concept goes belly up.

He claimed that dismantling the track would not be a problem, ‘it would more than pay for itself in scrap value’. Neither, he claimed would the civil engineering task be a problem, because the civil engineering industry was able to do far more. He added that rail engineering staff could easily switch from rail to road construction. He may have been right - but it has become very clear that the reverse - road engineers switching to rail has been fraught with problems. BR engineers would never have tolerated deferment of track renewal for months as applied at Hatfield. The prospect of a railway Operator successfully demanding deferment to avoid delays was unheard of. Operating managers certainly pleaded with engineers for short term relief - a temporary speed restriction for a few days or perhaps a week, or a less severe speed restriction.

Lloyd argued for narrower lanes than the 12 foot envisaged by the DoT, on the grounds that ‘the narrower the lane, the more conscientiously, do drivers observe the lane markings. Traffic will never swing out to overtake’. He must be turning in his grave, at the incidence of overtaking in the most dangerous places which prevails today. He claimed that ‘because railways have no hills, there will be no need to overtake’. Experi­ence shows that the more level, or more straight a road, the greater the incidence of over­taking.

He believed that two cars could pass in a single track rail tunnel - at 60 mph. The author would not be in either of them! Unlike BR, ‘British Motorways would be under no obligation to accept any traffic that does not conform to their own standards’. That would put some firms in difficulty, with no means of moving traffic that road hauliers have previously rejected as uneconomic and left to BR, who still had a common carrier obligation. Conversion of BR to ‘British Motorways’ would end that.

He gave no thought to repairs, when his single carriageway roads had a half of their width closed for a mile or so. He believed that ‘within towns railways are already multi-track’. There were thousands of towns where that did not apply, and there was no room to remedy it. Having said that the railway formation was perfect, he then introduced the need for super-elevation. Overtaking in a centre nine foot lane, with a 60 mph vehicle approaching in daylight, much less with glaring headlights at night, would not be performed by anyone without Formula One experience!

After the Paper had been presented, 22 people spoke.


His proposal was demolished by ten road experts:

Dr. W.H. Glanville, Director of Road Research, Department of Scientific & Industrial Research - forerunner of the Transport Research Laboratory: Could not see how buses could run, fully loaded for eight hours a day, six days a week, and if this did not happen, the financial basis for conversion was affected most seriously. The Minister of Transport had stated that traffic lanes on motorways would be twelve foot wide, further affecting the proposals which were based on ten foot lanes. The vehicles would remain on the concreted ways, with all the terminal difficulties that would involve in the transport of goods and people. Dr. Glanville did not accept, that ‘higher standards of driving, would be sufficient to overcome the dangers of high speed traffic on the same carriageway’.

S. Mehew, County Surveyor, Derbyshire: On road widths and the necessity for dual carriageways, he entirely agreed with Dr. Glanville. He recalled that, during the war, the proprietor of a very large road haulage business, was in charge of coal traffic by road and rail, and was amazed at the ease of moving large quantities of materials such as coal by rail. Rail transport was less affected by fog and snow than road.

Major H.E.Aldington, Technical Adviser, BRF: Knew no one who believed that a single 22 foot or 24 foot carriageway was adequate for heavy volumes of traffic and said it was quite preposterous. He viewed with alarm the prospect of travelling at 60 mph on single carriageways against opposing traffic, particularly at night with glaring headlights. Driving from London to Birmingham, [in 1955], at night was quite terrifying. It was impossible to get a 20 foot carriageway through an ordinary double-line rail tunnel. There was considerable curvature on some lines. He pointed to one route running over a sharply curved viaduct with 25 feet between parapets. It would be costly to alter. (BR 1963 Year Book shows 1,050 tunnels, which included single bore tunnels).

J.B. Burnell, London Transport Buses: It was totally impracticable to ask staff to drive on a road 22-24 feet wide at such speeds. They would rightly refuse. He postulated a driver handing over to a relief driver saying: Engine pulling well, there is ice and snow and fog, but the radar is all right. In the USA, there was a tremendous number of head-on collisions on roads below 15 foot width.

Brigadier C.C. Parkman, partner in a firm of Consulting Engineers: The incidence of accidents was bound to increase, especially when visibility was impaired by rain, fog or darkness. He forecast a reduction in signal boxes by modernisation which would enhance railway safety. Two causes of accidents were human and mechanical failure; both would be magnified by using a smaller trackless vehicle. Where unremunerative and redundant lines closed, they may be suitable for conversion. Retention of railways would offer the prospect of using electric power. (He was far sighted. There were 9,800 signalboxes in 1955, & 900 when BR was privatised).

Lt-Col S.M. Lovell, County Engineer & Surveyor, Yorkshire West Riding: suggested building roads above railways was the best solution to co-ordinate road and rail transport.

A.A. Osborne, Resident Engineer, Wilson & Mason: Highway width must be 88-93 foot with dual 22 foot carriageways and 15 foot verges. Double track rail formation is 39 foot reduced to 19-22 foot in tunnels and deep cuttings with retaining walls; quadruple track was only 55 foot wide. Gradients are a serious problem; less than 1 in 200 is inadequate for water drainage on roads, hence a completely new drainage system would be necessary. (Quadruple tracks had the heaviest flows, gradients of less than 1 in 200 are commonplace). He contradicted Brigadier Lloyd who said there were no dangerous bends, pointing out that railways had curves of 660-1,320 foot radius* often on viaducts, bridges or through tunnels, against a motorway standard of 2,865 foot, and said conversion had no potential and was economically impossible. Rail services would be completely withdrawn long before roads were laid on which replacement services would operate. 

* Hall-Smith’s report claimed that they were rarely less than 800m (2500 ft). See also Chapter 12.

Dr. A.W.T. Daniel, Lecturer in Civil Engineering, London University: Proposed speeds were a step back. Rail speeds were above those envisaged, and the world stood on the threshold of another great railway era. (He displayed uncanny foresight).

N. Seymer, Editor of International Road Safety & Traffic Review, opposed abandon­ment of railways and suggested that in some cities, railways should be put underground and roads built on the rail route.

W.K. Taylor, City Engineer’s Dept., Exeter: Tracks could not provide the required dimensions for motorways carrying traffic at minimum speeds of 60 mph. Some 500 trains carried 300,000 passengers on the Southern Region in London’s rush hour, requiring about 5,000 buses - about a half of the proposed 10,300 for the whole country. Only 840 buses were allowed for Waterloo traffic. 

He misunderstood. Of 10,300 vehicles for the whole country, only one third were buses: 3,433; two-thirds - 6,867 - were lorries. Moving every bus from and to rural extremities for Londons morning and evening peaks would be an interesting logistical problem. Noticeably, his error was not corrected by Brigadier Lloyd. Later, Lloyd postulated a line of buses waiting at a station for the morning commuters. As there were nearly 5,600 passenger stations, there would not be enough buses to provide each station with one!


The proposal was opposed by four railway experts:-

D. Blee, Traffic Advisor, who, ‘not being an engineer’ expressed no opinion on technical matters, but was sufficiently experienced in traffic matters to argue that the proposed vehicle numbers would be totally inadequate, and suggested near half a million would be required. He pointed out that Lloyd had ignored the problem of peaks. No vehicular provision would be available for seasonal peaks, nor for sporting events. (See Author’s assessmets Chapters 3 & 5)

J. Ratter, Technical Advisor: 30,000 bridges would need new floors to make them suitable for road vehicles, because rails were laid on longitudinal girders which could not carry a roadway. Driving a vehicle at 60 mph would certainly require the driver to be alert on a 24 foot road - he would also be frightened. Roads would then have to be widened at great cost, as railways were built on embankments and viaducts. Heavy earthworks would result. Trains would soon be travelling at 100 mph on jointless track. Converted terminal stations would need a huge area for turning buses.

R.C. Bond, Chief Mechanical Engineer: Nearly all principal junctions were laid out on one level, and flyovers and a very elaborate form of cloverleaf constructions would be essential to allow traffic to keep moving.

S.B. Warder, Chief Electrical Engineer drew attention to the higher speeds and lower costs which would accrue from electrification.


Five gave qualified support for conversion:

Professor Bondi, London: A twin tracked railway was wide enough for one carriageway, without a parking strip. A ten foot lane was adequate, more than eleven was positively dangerous in encouraging small cars to pass. The Marylebone-Sheffield line could be made a north-bound road, and Sheffield-St. Pancras a southbound road. (He assumed that there would be capacity for them. He wrote to The Times -7.7.54 - the railway was generally wide enough for four lanes, but where widening was expensive it could narrow to two - a recipe for delay & accidents). Contraflows would be difficult. Wisely, he did not mention Birmingham-Norwich, London-Scotland, York-Manchester, Sheffield-Manchester or other routes. Commuters would be inconvenienced by routes converted to a one-way system.

Major Carter of the School of Military Engineering said that conversion would start at the coast, taking out a section of 30 miles. A transfer station would be created at the change point for passengers  and freight. 

They would involve track and signalling alterations to enable trains to turn back. Some would require carriage cleaning, fuelling and maintenance facilities. Dust from coal and aggregates being transferred between rail and road would be unpopular.

A. Goode, Deputy Director of Works, Air Ministry: double handling would be eliminated. (Not with 63 ft 20-40 ton lorries which were confined to the converted network) He favoured the development of steam powered road vehicles. ‘The comparatively few tunnels  (There were 1050) would have to be enlarged or uncovered’. He advanced a theory on the cost of conversion - but not for tunnels. (Not with 63 ft 20-40 ton lorries which were confined to the converted network)

F.W. Davey, Consulting Engineer, even if the proposals were not adopted in their entirety, railways around London, and other large cities might be made suitable for electric traction, and main railway terminals sited thereon, leaving railways within the ring to be replaced by roads.

F.P. Dath, CEA Engineer, referred to the problems raised by transport needs in war. He thought passengers would approve of motorisation. (Transport needs were almost wholly met by railways, with huge diversions to rail from coastwise ships & road transport, to add to vastly increased imports & output of mines & industry, and the needs of the military, see Chapter 2)


Logistical reservations:

Lt-Col. H. Cartwright-Taylor, School of Military Engineering: nervousness was no more likely to attack drivers of trucks and buses than drivers of French trains approaching at [a combined speed] of 400 mph. (French train drivers were confident that an oncoming train would not swerve into it. How bus passengers on the converted system would react should have been of more concern!).


Two were non-committal, neither for, nor against:

W.P. Andrews, Roads Consultant, spoke only of the standards required for road surfaces, but expressed no opinion on the scheme.

H.J.B. Harding, Director of John Mowlem: believed that the railway tunnels were likely to fall down as most were 100 years old. (Events have proved him hopelessly wrong). A simple by-pass could be built allowing cars on the converted system, to climb out of cuttings and skirt the tunnels. (The cost could be horrendous, as experience in the USA reveals- see Chapter 12). In 30 years’ time, locos built under the Modernisation Plan would be obsolete. (Events again proved him wrong. Moreover the life of a loco totally eclipses that of a lorry or PSV). The railways had killed the canals for gain, and the country had suffered in time of war. (Canals lost to rail without help. They were too narrow and locks too short & too frequent to make a contribution to the war. Railways had to cope with diversion from road, canal and coastwise shipping - and gained not a penny from it -see Square Deal Denied).

Having been warned of the impracticability and dangers of vehicles at 60 mph on single carriageways, especially in the dark, Lloyd, after the debate, said that 60 mph was an es­timate of the average speed that would be achieved, but 40 mph might render it worth­while. (Elsewhere, he had envisaged standard 60 mph and minimum 60 mph). He overlooked the increase in vehicles, manpower and road occupancy by 50%  


Other Weaknesses & Problem Areas

Surprisingly, no attention focused, in the debate, on level crossings. Weaknesses listed in this book would have been highlighted by a BR Operating Manager, had one been present. .Brigadier Lloyd claimed that ‘junctions and level crossings were relatively infrequent’. In the Royal Engineers Journal, he had said that the 20,000 miles of railway are ‘free of cross-roads’. (His theory - based on spreading rail traffic, mostly, carried on main lines across all lines including 1000s of miles of rural branch lines going to the wrong places - was ludicrous). He overlooked over 24,000 level crossings, not including public footpaths across railways. He had not said how many crossings there were, although the statistic was publicly available. In addition to 4,670 public level crossings, there were 19,700 unmanned Accommodation and Occupation crossings providing access to farmer’s fields or other property, plus 2,500 public footpath crossings. (Report to the MoT on the Safety of BR for 1957 by HMRI. Level crossing data can also be found in Facts & Figures about BR, which Lloyd’s paper records that he had seen).

The attendant dangers and delays from slow moving tractors and animals on farm crossings would be a very serious problem, which he had completely overlooked. The opportunity for them to cross between vehicles travelling 100 yards apart at 60 mph would be virtually zero. Their speed of crossing would be much slower than that for cars at a public crossing. New bridges would be necessary at all such points.

No one observed that his plan for traffic lights at public level crossings meant that his concept of traffic flowing at 60 mph with 100 yard intervals, would be subject to frequent stoppages. Vehicles travelling on his new road system at 60 mph, 100 yard apart would leave a maximum ‘window’ of only 3.4 seconds - if vehicles from opposite directions passed each other precisely on a level crossing. This would reduce to 1.7 seconds in the more probable scenario of vehicles in opposite directions passing over the level crossing, at an aggregate opposing gap of 50 yards. A car on an existing road, starting over the level crossing; from a stand would take 4 seconds, lorries and tractor drawn trailers much longer. Even if the headway on the converted road could be doubled, the synchronisation of conflicting movements would put the RAF Regiment Colour Squadron or the Royal Signals motor cycle display team to shame! At a typical ‘B’ road over a level crossing, in the morning peak, and, in some cases, throughout the day, the backlog of waiting traffic on the existing road would never clear. An even worse situation would arise at the many locations where an ‘A’ road crossed a line on a level crossing, of which there were many in 1955, and still some in 1970.      

His 100 yard intervals was, of course, an average. Given that there was much more traffic on some lines than others, meant some would have a wider gap, and some none at all. It was a nonsensical and naive approach, when what was needed was a route by route analysis. If he had persuaded the MoT that such a study was merited, BR would have been told to provide it, and it would not have cost the conversion league a penny.

There were thousands of junctions on the flat, and, worse, railway routes crossing each other at right angles on the flat, such as at Retford, Newark, Darlington. Negotiating flat junctions in and around cities, against conflicting flows would demand skills far in excess of those prevailing then, or now. Traffic signals would be essential at these locations

The concept of lorries and buses travelling at 100 yard headways at 60 mph would also have been shattered by the existence of swing bridges over rivers, canals and estuaries, at several locations on BR.

All these would pose serious problems for road vehicles having to maintain a minimum speed of 60 mph. The inevitable increase in accidents would keep garages, hospitals, emergency services and lawyers very busy. Delays would be horrendous.  

There was no challenge to the idea of 60 mph buses slipping trailers without stopping on a single carriageway - with another vehicle 100 yards behind. 

Attention had been drawn to inadequate clearance in tunnels, but the is­sue was not pur­sued with sufficient vigour. The BR Yearbook shows 1050 tunnels. Brit­ish Railway Tun­nels by Alan Blower lists 52 over a mile long, including 8 over 3 miles, 5 of 2-3 miles; and 56 between half and one mile long. (UK's longest road tunnel is 0.9 miles and has costly ventilation and lighting). The book mentions tunnels of less than 15 feet wide, down to just over 11 feet. Even where a tunnel was 24 feet wide, which some were, it would be very dangerous having vehicles hurtling through at 60 mph with a tun­nel wall inches away from road vehicles. Costly ventilation was ig­nored, as was lighting, which would be costly to provide in their mostly remote rural lo­cations. Nei­ther this, nor other conversion proposals allocated a penny for this purpose. He had not con­sidered the implications of a vehicle that was too wide or too high to pass through a tun­nel or, too wide or too heavy to pass over a viaduct or bridge, having to stop, turn round and return to a diversionary point - with hundreds of vehicles pressing closely behind.

The debate overlooked that collieries, quarries, industry, docks and ports - de­pendent on a large pool of wagons would have to turn to three shift working from single or double shifts and a six-day instead of five-day week. The flow of imports from ports was irregular and unpredictable in the 1950s, and little improved even twenty years later. The arrival of ships was affected by weather, different routes, ship types, cargoes, etc. Se­rious problems would arise in making deliveries round the clock to wholesalers and retailers.

No one drew attention to the special needs of collieries, coke ovens, quarries and ports, which were unable to function without a pool of wagons - the first three required them in hundreds per location and the latter in thousands. In 1955, there were 850 collieries. Collieries loaded coal of different grades by gravity from screens above the sidings. A colliery with six screens had to have a wagon standing under each screen as coal was poured non-stop into it, and wagons immediately behind ready to lower by gravity from empty wagon sidings, down the gradient of the sidings as each wagon under a screen became full. Each wagon was then lowered by gravity down over the weighbridge into loaded wagon sidings to await labelling and allocation to a customer. With 850 collieries needing at least twelve lorries, even with the most expeditious weighing, invoicing, etc., arrangements, and lorry turnround, collieries alone would need 10,200 lorries, working a five day week. Lloyd envisaged 6,867 lorries to move all existing rail freight! (See page 26). Any failure to replace a lorry on each road beneath the screens, after it was loaded, would result in costly diversion of coal to stock. Prolonged failure would stop production.

Conversionists may argue collieries would be served by that ‘abundance of trailers’. That would require the collieries to work three shifts - instead of one or two per weekday, which was then, and remained, the norm. They would also have to invest in tractor units and drivers to move trailers under the screens, and from screens to weighbridge and thence to a lorry park to await allocation of load to a customer. Some form of control would be needed to enable lorry drivers to be told where to find a trailer with the requisite consignment in a constantly changing parking area.

The Coal Board would have been faced by mass resignations of colliery managers who were expected to meet production targets. There may have been one or two who would carry on, if given a personal guarantee by Brigadier Lloyd of financial recompense if the concept failed.     

A substantial volume of coal was conveyed by rail from collieries in Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire and the Midlands to ports to go by coastwise shipping to London and south coast power stations, built to receive coal by sea. Some coal went to ports for export. Much of this was carried in hopper wagons which were unsuitable for any imports, hence they returned empty. Many docks were designed for discharging coal from hopper wagons on high level staithes direct to ships’ holds. The staithes would require complete reconstruction to render them usable by lorries. Ports and docks, therefore, had a two way flow of empty wagons of varying kinds for which there was no suitable load.

The coking industry presented another problem. In 1955, some 84 locations received 30m tons of coal for converting to coke. (Coke Oven Managers’ Association Year Book). Wagons in which coal was received at coking ovens were not suitable for despatching coke. Coke is lighter than coal, and filled wagons to their cubic capacity, with a tonnage less than the plated weight capacity. Therefore, it was despatched in higher sided wagons. Hence, there were two one-way flows of loaded wagons inward and outward, with balancing movements of empty wagons.

Brigadier Lloyd and his friends could have learned of the existence and nature of these problems by reading a few good books on railway operating and commercial practice.

Bus Company conditions of service suggest they would have had difficulty complying with his standards, typically reserving the right to alter, cancel or withdraw services without notice.  (National Express Timetable 1996/7 - see also Chapter 12).

Converting Waterloo station into a bus station based on Lloyds figures, required a bus departing every four seconds to move the evening peak. One ignition key turned twice and the peak would be in chaos. His estimated 50,000 rush-hour commuters finding their way to the correct bus would be a sight to behold. One ticket-less passenger lacking change to pay would risk lynching by impatient season ticket holders, as the plan was based on buses without conductors. A driver attending a call of nature would create a riot.

The conversion process was virtually ignored, except for a suggestion of using transfer stations. Using transfer stations on commuter lines, whilst conversion progressed, each one for many months, would create chaos. To build one every 30 miles would be a significant cost factor, requiring 700 for the 20,000 mile system, and their use - and staffing - would extend over the ten years envisaged for conversion.   

His quaint method of calculating vehicle fleets overlook that lorries and buses working eight hours nonstop - include provision for re-fuelling, meal breaks, empty running from garage to loading point and back. His figures depended on every sender having 20 ton loads (later revised to 40 ton consignments) and these vehicles would never leave the special roads, so they would need tranship depots and smaller vehicles to enter towns.

He dismissed fears that fatalities would increase by setting out to prove that the entire community was at risk on roads, whilst only passengers and staff were at risk on railways. This theory is deeply flawed, (see pages 46,62,63).



The cost of his mobile police and efficient breakdown service was not brought into the equation.  Indeed many costs were not brought into the equation: the capital cost of vehicles, the unquantified number of trailers, and the cost of 20,000 new bridges for agricultural use. Despite advancing no capital costs for building the yet-to-be-designed super lorries and buses, nor, therefore, to know what their working life would be, he felt able to quote depreciation figures for them, which he used to ‘calculate’ the viability of his proposals! This specialised fleet would all have to be built before the railways were closed down, to enable the displaced rail traffic to be moved. Thereafter, the manufacturers could mothball their production line, and lay off their workforce, until, at the end of the yet-to-be-established working life, vehicles needed to be replaced. Among other unspecified expenditure, he planned telecommunications to control the vehicle fleets. No manpower was envisaged for this purpose. Mechanical handling of freight and radar were both stated to be essential, but again no cost came into the equation!

During the debate, A. Goode [Deputy Director of Works, Air Ministry], came to his rescue on costs, by relating railway track mileage to the area of 300 airfields. How he arrived at the ground area occupied by Britains railways, he did not state - it was not a published figure. He took recent costs of building airfields and, then, reduced them on the grounds that axle loads would be less and arrived at a cost of £1,000m spread over ten years. He ignored the fact that construction costs for 300 sites would, acre for acre, be less than when spread over 20,000 miles, and that the former were built on land clear of activity, whilst the latter involved the temporary displacement of existing traffic. The financial consequences of temporary diversion would not be insignificant. Brigadier Lloyd seized on this life-line and promptly set about reducing it to £600m by arguing that existing railway ballast would be incorporated into the road structure. Mr. Goode advocated the development of steam powered road vehicles for use on the converted system. It is highly improbable that steam powered road vehicles, stopping for water, would achieve the 60 mph that was essential for conversion to be, even theoretically, practical in logistical terms. Surprisingly, no one pointed this out, least of all Lloyd, who could not afford to alienate one of his few supporters!      

Following the debate, Brigadier Lloyd conceded the use of the new roads by private transport - i.e. existing non-specially designed vehicles, but ignored the mechanics and costs of proving they conformed to his reliability standards, and that their drivers held special driving licences. He said that ‘possibly, tolls would cover the cost of upkeep, and make some contribution towards interest on capital’. 

He made a new claim that a converted two track railway could cope with 20 times as much traffic as railway trains. He argued that if any piece of a converted double track railway was overtaxed, it ought to have been triple track originally, and it would no doubt have been scheduled for tripling under the railway modernisation plan! This was an incredible argument. (The author was deeply involved in modernisation on the West Coast main line in the 1960s, and recalls no location where this happened. Indeed, the reverse was more often the case, when it was realised that multiple aspect colour light signals and faster trains so increased line capacity, that sections of track could be removed).

His naive belief in the capacity of roads ignores the reality that 22 times as much road length was required to handle 10 times as much traffic, (see pages 88,173).

The crude and unsupported figures - masquerading as statistics - used by Brigadier Lloyd to justify his theory, were subject to frequent change, and appear to have been clutched out of thin air. 

The following pages will reveal how ‘facts’ have been ‘interpreted’ to try to prove the conversionist case. The founding father of the pipe dream was especially guilty in this respect. In 1968, he wrote an article for Municipal Engineering. In it, he made the aston­ishing claim that, when his scheme was debated at the ICE, ‘BR took part, and now, 13 years later, its successful opposition reads as amusingly as the opposition to the construc­tion of railways a century or so earlier’. This falsely implies that the only opposition was from BR representatives who were, in fact, a minority of those present. Secondly, as will be seen from the preceding pages, most opposition was from those in the road transport camp: operators, engineers and the BRF itself. He went on to refer to ‘the, by no means negligible support for the proposition’. Ten non-BR speakers were opposed to his plan, and highlighted its weaknesses. Of four BR representatives, one would not express an engineering opinion, as he was not an engineer, but drew attention to errors in assessing the number of road vehicles required. Three BR engineers expressed engineering opin­ions, pointing to impending modernisation which would undermine his comparisons and to the problems of converting bridges, etc., which non-BR engineers also highlighted. Of the five who supported Lloyd, one envisaged using some railways as one-way roads and one wished to introduce steam powered road vehicles. One was partly in favour, but said that vehicle numbers were under-estimated, and two were completely non-committal. By no stretch of imagination could it be said that his scheme was opposed by BR alone - the main opposition was from road experts! Of all the misrepresentations, the greatest was the remark that he attributed to Dr, Glanville (see page 25), who he claimed had merely said that the economics of the matter deserved detailed examination. Lloyd had air brushed out, the first part of the sentence, which read: ‘the Paper did not prove that people would be saved time and money, but ....’. Moreover, Dr. Glanville had said that ‘the costs, were at the least, very optimistic, that it did not seem to him likely that buses would run 100% full, 8 hours per day [round the clock], 6 days per week, and if not, the whole argument was affected most seriously.’ Finally, Dr. Glanville said that ‘the proposed road lane widths were inadequate, which higher driving standards would not overcome’ (see page 25).

Lloyd - being in Whitehall - should have known that the opinions of BR’s professionals as to such matters counted for nought. The main decisions were taken by Government and its appointed Agents, to guard against electoral disaster which may be expected if BR were free to act like a private sector business. (See Britains Railways - The Reality)  BR fares and charges were decided by a court of law acting under Government directions, and were often subject to further direct interference by Ministers. Disposal of dead wood - in the form of uneconomic branch lines - was in the hands of Government appointed Committees, with the last word being with Ministers. Investment plans were second - and third guessed - by the DoT and Treasury, who knew zilch about railway operating, marketing, engineering and technol­ogy. The top decisions, within the industry, were taken by imported chiefs: retired Generals, and retired Civil Servants, at the British Transport Commission.

Lloyd’s article was published as the 1955 Rail Modernisation Plan was bearing fruit. London-Birmingham-Manchester/Liverpool 100mph electric trains had increased reve­nue by 66%, without fare increases. Other main lines had good traffic increases as new 100 mph trains and jointless track (even today only pipe-dreams on roads) came into operation. MGR 1,000 ton coal trains were running, whilst freightliner and HST were just around the corner. Had he returned to the ICE to make these announcements in a new pitch for glory, he would have been laughed out of court.  

He also moaned in his article, the inability of the conversion league to get its hands on railways to convert to roads. But, BR was obliged by government directive to give first refusal on closed lines and surplus land to them or local authorities for the very purpose of using them as roads and carparks. The land often stood empty and increas­ingly derelict waiting a use. Many hundreds of miles had been closed by 1968, and Lloyd must - like anyone else who read a newspaper - have been aware of it. All this was hap­pening in the watch of the most road minded MoT to hold office - and that is saying something, when one realises that there had only been one rail minded MoT, and that was in 1919!((

Another of Lloyd’s throw-away lines was that economists had concluded that buses can pay given the same kind of route, but failed to identify the source of this statement, nor note the significance of the words ‘given the same route’, i.e. infrastructure free of cost. Almost anyone could make a profit on any project, given assets free of cost!


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