Chapter 6                                                        Conversion opportunities missed!

 

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Several opportunities to prove conversion theories were missed.

 

Inverness-Wick

Sir David Robertson MP was author of a scheme to replace the Inverness-Wick line by a road, (Hansard 11.7.55, vol. 543, col. 1682). Scottish news­papers reported his plan had been explained to con­stituents, gained wide support and backed by influen­tial MPs, who intend rousing public interest. It was believed that it would open the way to convert­ing unremunerative lines in other parts of Britain, at far less cost than the construction of new roads. (It will be noted that they advocated replacing unremunerative lines by roads, not all lines including busy trunk routes which Brig Lloyd envisaged. His costings are therefore suspect).

He said that civil engineers Balfour, Beatty & Co had estimated that ‘on the assumption that the BTC would lift the rails or permit them to be covered* the cost was estimated at £4.5m.’ It was not explained how they made the esti­mate of £30,000 per mile. Surveying a line needed special arrangements with BR, including lookoutmen for which payment would have been required. It is not said who paid these and the company’s costs.

*(That would include covering wooden sleepers, which would eventually rot and cause subsidence).

It would provide ‘a road 22 foot wide, with existing overbridges altered as necessary to give additional headroom. It was to be an all-weather motorway restricted to fast motor vehicles, entering at existing terminals and stations. Pedestrians, cycles, horse-drawn vehicles and tractors would be excluded. BR would continue to operate passenger and goods services using fast motor coaches and lorries’. He stated that ‘signals and track would be recovered to serve more populous areas,’ (John OGroats Journal 15.7.55). (In the 1970s, objectors to closing the Alston-Haltwhistle branch ridiculed the idea of an “all-weather road”, & that line was 350 miles nearer the equator!. Track & signalling would have been of a minimum [rural] standard, unsuitable for busy routes. It serves to emphasise the superficiality of knowledge of politicians and others on railways).

 He did not explain what would happen to farm traffic - animals, horse drawn vehicles and tractors - which crossed the railway line on farm and public level crossings. Nor did he explain what provision would be made for pedestrians using level crossings and statutory footpaths across the line. Nor did he mention how much land was needed to widen the formation and widen or duplicate under-bridges on this predominantly single line! No mention was made of the cost of drainage raised by experts, (see Chapter 4).

He did not say whether BR delivery drivers would remain the only ones obeying the law on driving hours, as it was widely acknowledged that that law was routinely flouted by lorry and coach drivers. (See Chapters 3, 12 also Square Deal Denied & Britains Railways - The Reality.) If not, BR wouldn’t be competing on cost for very long. The estimated cost covered ‘provision of a 22 foot wide roadway and widening of over bridges’ but ignored the widening of under bridges and other aspects, such as the cost to BR of scrapping rolling stock and buying new motor vehicles to carry traffic which was already known to be uneconomic. Locos and coaches on this line would certainly not be regarded as suitable on ‘more populous areas’, and the number of wagons effectively released for general use would represent an infinitesimal change in availability.

Obviously, the motive for proposing that BR provide a road service was that it was the only way to guarantee that the remote Highlands would still have a transport service. If the traffic had been profitable for private sector road transport, it would long ago have transferred from rail to road, given past and prevailing government policy which was focused on facilitating expansion of road transport to the detriment of railways. (See Square Deal Denied & Britains Railways - The Reality.)  However, the statutory control of fares and charges, coupled with Ministerial interference to keep them below inflation, and the common carrier obligation which applied only to railways, meant that road operators were disinterested. Without the provision for a BR road service, the area would have been deprived of transport for existing rail traffic.

The estimated cost of conversion, did not include the cost of providing new road vehicles to carry displaced rail traffic, nor the costs of diverting the traffic via existing roads whilst conversion took place.

 

1959 - station & branch closures

Details of the proposed closures and the £41,200 pa savings were sent to local authorities and the TUCC, (Inverness Courier 15.5.59). The editorial called for ‘a reduction in fares and freight charges which were prohibitive.’ Both had trailed inflation since 1948.* As inflation was created and fuelled by UK industry, one wonders why the media did not wake up to the need to call for a reduction in prices across the private sector. (*See Britains Railways - The Reality, Tables 4 & 8).       

The closures of stations and changes to train working on the Inverness-Wick line would make 120 staff redundant, (Inverness Courier 30.6.59). Staff redundancy always affected attitudes of local authorities and local MPs to proposed railway economies. At other times, they would be calling on BR to cut costs. When it fell on local labour - which was 66% of costs - critics shouted foul !

‘Local authorities and others were urged to object to closure of stations and lines north of Inverness. A deputation of 8 authorities was to put the case against closure to the TUCC in Edinburgh on 17th July. A letter from the MoT to a local MP does not suggest any appreciation in Government of the anxiety in the Highlands. It was claimed the BTC had no right to say that the public must do without a railway because it doesn’t pay! The closure would conflict with Government policy in protecting industry and employment in the North. The MoT said TUCC conclusions will be sent to him and BTC, and he could not anticipate their findings. The facts had been set out in a Parliamentary debate on 17th June. (There had been a debate on the services on 3rd June - see Hansard, vol. 624, col. 1786). Objectors said regard must be paid to the White Paper Review of Highland Policy recently issued. The BTC say there is no case for northern railway lines and bus companies say that they could not run economic services on that route’, (Inverness Courier 21.7.59). (This unwelcome truth was ignored by Lloyd and other BR critics).

Councillor Mr. Thompson said we all realise that railways north of Perth are uneco­nomic, but they are socially necessary, (Inverness Courier 10.7.59). 

When BR announced its station closure plans, there should have been dancing in the streets, and demands to close the line completely, thereby opening the door for the conversion to a road which was said to be so keenly supported by MPs, constituents and others. This was the time for Sir David Robertson, the road construction lobby and the conversion theorists to seize the opportunity. They did not even poke their heads above the parapet. Instead it was ‘to the barricades.’

The TUCC for Scotland approved the station closures and reorganisation of the railway services at a meeting on 17th July. However, some members of the TUCC expressed concern about the possible effect on the economic and social effects of the changes.

A press conference was told that the TUCC had recommended acceptance of the closure proposals. Caithness County Council is objecting to the decision, (Inverness Courier 11.8.59). A plan was put forward for a summit meeting between Inverness Town council and the Prime Minister, and a deputation to the MoT, (Inverness Courier 18.8.59).  

The TUCC for Scotland again reviewed the proposal in September 1959 following further objections, relating specifically to an apparent contradiction between Government policy for the Highlands and the railway station closures, (Hansard, vol. 624, col. 1812).

A reader’s letter (Inverness Courier 25.9.59) argued that as trains were ill-used, what was needed was road improvements. This was the first such view in the newspaper since closures were first disclosed in the paper. It fell on deaf ears.

The MoT said that there will be no closures until he has met a deputa­tion of Inverness Town councillors, (Inverness Courier 9.10.59). The deputation met the MoT on 3rd December, and were told that he had no power to act, as closures were a matter for the BTC to decide. The editor asked why the MoT had not told them that, when they asked for a meeting, instead of wasting the time of twelve representatives? (Inverness Courier 4.12.59). 

The Town council had noted that the BTC expected to save £40,000 pa by closing 22 of the 39 stations, and save £20,000 pa by intro­ducing diesels. They were concerned about unemployment. The editor regarded it as ‘shocking that forty staff were being made redundant at Aviemore as a result of diesel modernisation,’ (Inverness Courier 8.12.59). This is incredible. Critics had opposed closure and called for modernisa­tion - the objective of which must be to cut costs, whilst, hopefully, increasing business. Clearly what they sought was infinite capital to mod­ernise beyond the wildest dreams, whilst not reducing employment!  

A reader, who claimed to be a trained railway engineer, had a plan - presumably to avoid closures and redundancies - details of which were not revealed, (Inverness Courier 15.12.59). The precise nature and extent of knowledge of this engineer was not disclosed. Even an anonymous reader could have summarised his CV.  

Lord Forbes attacked the BTC plan in the Lords last week, (Inverness Courier 22.12.59). 

 

In March 1960, the Highland Fund offered to fund retention of a short branch line off the Inverness-Wick line and may be able to help financially in other directions, if need be, (Inverness Courier 18.3.60). Closure of 24 stations north of Inverness was approved by the TUCC, and were to take effect from 13th June, (Inverness Courier 3.5.60).

In May 1960, Sir David Robertson asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he was aware that government policy for development of Highland tourism conflicts with the decision to close, and asked if he will consult with the BTC to remove the difficulty. The response was: ‘No’. He then asked what was government policy with regard to subsidising railways in the Highlands as an essential public service. The MoT replied that the future of railways as a whole were under study, and that he could not add to the statement of the Prime Minister: “services would be cut to the size of current demands”, but named no routes (The Times, 11.3.60). Robertson asked in view of representations from a Highlands deputation, will the Minister postpone closure of stations and services north of Inverness for three months. The Minister refused, neither would he ask the TUCC to re-consider the matter, (Hansard vol. 624, cols. 30,47,73). It is astonishing that the man who had advocated replacing the tracks on this railway line with tarmac was objecting to rail closure on any grounds - much less that they were essential !

On 3rd June 1960, the proposed closure of some stations on the Inverness to Wick line was debated at length in Parliament, (Hansard, vol. 624, cols. 1786-1815). Sir David Robertson was the lead speaker calling for the proposal to be postponed. He spoke for half an hour. He literally begged the House to support him in securing a three months deferment, (col. 1797). He was very critical of the composition of the Transport Users Consultative Committee - which had conducted the public hearing into the closure. In accordance with the 1953 Act - passed by his Party - the members of these Committees were selected by the MoT from names submitted by various industrial, trade, voluntary and consumer bodies. Neither he, nor any other MP, had objected to the composition of this Committee prior to the Hearing. He was critical of the presence at the Committee meetings of BR representatives, suggesting that they would have been an effective bloc on that Committee - overlooking that they had no vote, and could be asked to retire whilst a vote was taken.

He was confused by the appointment of a member of this Committee to the BR Area Board, which he thought ‘should not be a natural ground for promotion of that kind.’ Members of the Committee and Area Board were from similar non railway backgrounds - the former in order to be independent, and the latter, ostensibly, to bring external expertise to railways. Appointments to both were for fixed periods. (Dr. Beeching - a member of the Stedeford Committee - argued that railways should be run by professionals, and on becoming Chairman, sacked most external members of Area Boards & replaced them with career railway executives. All Board chairmen were replaced by managers, see Britains Railways - The Reality.) 

He was con­cerned about the loss of employment for 79 railwaymen. Converting the line - his original plan would have sacked many more. This tendency of MPs to object to clo­sures in their own backyard, whilst applauding economies elsewhere, had been remarked on by another MP on a previous occasion. (See Hansard vol. 547, col. 711). He admitted he had supported the gen­eral plan to cut services - until it became clear it was going to hit this line’s handful of passengers. He said the way to make the line profitable was cut prices - a policy noticeably ignored by British industry as it went into terminal decline by failing to match the lower prices of foreign competitors. Of course, with the private sector, it was different - their policy was to charge as much as they could get away with. He went on to call for the line to be subsidised, indicating that he accepted - as other MPs accepted - that the line was bound to be uneconomic, (Hansard col. 1804). He foresaw replacement buses would lose money. This was from an arch-priest of conversion, and advo­cate of road transport - which would not have to pay for conversion. He was impressed by the savings which could accrue from diesels, but lost sight of the source of the capital required. He reminded MPs that railways were managed ‘in other days - in competition.’ What he had lost sight of, was that his Party had been driving pre-war privately owned railways towards bankruptcy by anti-rail, pro-road policies which left road free to compete but tied railways to archaic rates structures controlled by a court of law, which were relevant to an era when there was no competition. (See Square Deal Denied, Chapter 7). Those rates were designed and controlled to protect inefficient UK industry from imports. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Pages 6,7.)  When railways sought equality to compete, the pre-war Tory Government rejected it. In 1952, a Tory Government decided railways should not be free to pursue ‘cut-throat competition, which might drive hauliers out of business.’ It was happy to permit the converse situation in which railways could be driven out of business by hauliers, and ignored media warnings to that effect. (See Economist, 10.5.52. This article was seen by the MoT who told the PM of it, - PRO: MT62/138).

Tory MP John MacLeod supported Sir David and was critical that BR had made up its mind to close this [grossly uneconomic, very ultra-rural] line. What he ignored was that any losses had to be made good from elsewhere - main line passengers’ fares or cuts in staff costs on other lines - not from taxpayers. He said closure was a negative approach. This contrasts with private sector industry which is presumably positive when it throws in the towel. (Thousands of companies are wound up annually - none due to political interference. For statistics on industrial decline see The Railway Closure Controversy, page 49 and Britain’s Railways - The Reality, Chapter 14).  He said that BR had failed to make services more attractive, overlooking that post-war governments of both Parties had prevented BR from restoring the system to pre-war standards for ten years, much less modernising whilst free rein was given to road transport to increase and modernise their fleets. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, Pages 54-55).      

MP, G.M. Thomas chided that it was unreasonable to criticise BR for making losses and simultaneously attack it for not running services at a loss to meet local needs. He blamed the government.

On 13th June 1960, passenger services were withdrawn between Inverness and Bonar Bridge except for Dingwall, Invergordon, Feran, and Tain. On the north part of the line, 7 stations closed. The elimination of a total of twenty stops permitted a substan­tial saving in journey time between Inverness and Wick. In April 1961, another station closed.

1963 - total closure of the line

Complete closure of the Inverness-Wick line was included in the Reshaping Plan in 1963. This should have brought the advocates of conversion onto the streets. It didn’t. Again it was to the barricades. Lord Cameron, Chairman of the Highland Panel and the Highlands & Islands Development Consultative Council said that the Highland Transport Board could not develop a plan if there was a possibility of rail closures, (The Times 29.2.64). 

A TUCC hearing began in Inverness on 9th March into the proposed closure of Inverness-Wick/Thurso. There were 1000 objections from local authorities and others, (The Times 10.3.64). Objectors included Inverness Town Council, County and other Councils involved, some of whom were represented by QCs, organisations and individuals. One objector travelled four times a year from Dingwall to Inverness. One objecting business­man said that rail was the only all-weather transport link in north Scotland. They all stressed the hardship that would be caused by closure. The TUCC Annual Report for 1964 said that the proposal aroused heated public criticism. Neither the TUCC Report, nor media reports mention any support for closure by the Conversion League. (Local authorities could find cash for legal fees to oppose closures, but none to support uneconomic lines).

Sir David Robertson MP, wrote to the TUCC that the “gravest hardship would beset the people in the northern counties if the line was closed. Industries could not be introduced to the towns and villages without railways. New light industry, land reclamation and other things had to go hand-in-hand with the retention of railway services”. (He had advocated ripping the route up in 1955. His plan was praised by Lloyd & used by him as the basis for costing conversion. An opportunity to realise his dream).

Any government that insisted on closing down a life-line used in both world wars would have a short life’. MP Neil McLean was present at the TUCC Hearing and spoke of the great hardship that would be caused by closure.

The TUCC also held a Hearing into the BR proposal to close the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line. It heard that objectors would face severe hardship if this line closed. MPs and councillors were prominent in making objections to closure. One councillor said ‘I tremble to think what will happen if there is no rail service.’ The county road surveyor said that improving the [55 mile] road from Garve to Kyle of Lochalsh up to a suitable standard would cost £5-6m, (Inverness Courier 10.3.64). On that basis, to create a new road using the formation of the 161 mile Inverness-Wick line, (of which less than ten miles was double track), would cost considerably more than the £4.5m envisaged by Sir David Robertson. There would also be a need to lay road foundations and drainage. Well over the pro rata £15-18m would be needed. Noticeably, there was no call to replace either railway formation by a road.

The Tourist Board said that hoteliers would suffer enormously from closure. Inverness County Council pointed out that closure negated government’s own plan as set out in a White Paper: Review of Highland Policy, which stated that government would promote economic growth and provide suitable amenities and social services. Other objectors said that a bus, having no toilets nor room for luggage, from Thurso to Inverness would be unacceptable. It was unrealistic to expect children to remain seated for a nine hour bus journey, without access to toilets. Others focused on the closure of roads by snowdrifts, and the even greater danger of accidents caused by black ice. If railways closed, there will be no further development in North Scotland. There were fears of staffing problems at Dounreay power station if rail services were removed. Many communities would become unviable, and depopulation would accelerate. 70% of patients travelling long distances to hospitals go by rail rather than ambulance which leave them sick and exhausted. A proposed new boarding school near Dunrobin would not proceed if the line closed. A supplier of poultry, who supplied the House of Commons said there would be hardship there [at the House of Commons] if the rail service was withdrawn! (Inverness Courier 10.3.64, 13.3.64).

BR’s representative at the TUCC Inquiry said that if all objectors used rail there would be no need for closure. Objectors who asked the TUCC for an early decision to end anxiety were told that their MPs had quicker access to the Minister, (Inverness Courier 10.3.64).

Mr. E. Popplewell, MP had no doubt that the line could not be made to pay, but closure would leave many people hundreds of miles from a railhead, (Hansard vol. 621, col. 1261). He made no suggestion as to the source of funds to cover deficits. Government did not begin to do so for such lines until 1969. (See Britains Railways - The Reality, page 178).

Young Scottish Tories called for subsidies for uneconomic railway lines in Scotland, (The Times 4.3.63). The Tory government ignored them. 

1964 - the line is reprieved

MoT, Ernest Marples* reprieved lines north of Inverness: the line to Kyle of Lochalsh was losing £120,000 and that to Wick £240,000, (Times 17.4.64). He said the TUCC had reported closures would cause extreme hardship, (Hansard, 16.4.64 vol. 693 col. 687, and vol. 688 col. 169). The Inverness Courier stated the TUCC had stated ‘closure would cause extreme and widespread hardship.’ The paper added ‘there was great satisfaction throughout the North when news of the reprieve became known.’ A Scottish Unionist conference earlier in the day had passed a resolution expressing anxiety at the threat of the proposed closure. (This body had supported the Robertson plan to convert the line to a road!).

*(Marples was a partner in Marples, Ridgeway, a road construction company. The Great Railway Conspiracy claimed

Marples pursued railway closures whilst facilitating road construction, because he favoured road transport).

In common with other loss making services which BR had been prevented from closing over the past sixteen years, no subsidy was to be paid by Government or local authorities to retain the services. (See The Railway Closure Controversy & Britains Railways - The Reality.).

Mr. Marples did not undertake to provide Government funds to keep these lines open. The continuing losses would appear in the Accounts - as hitherto - to be due to BR inefficiency, rather than Government interference in business decisions for political reasons and a failure to fund its own social policies.

Dr. Beeching, BR Chairman said that the figures quoted by the Minister were the minimum savings expected. BR called on objectors to make full use of the services. This was a reasonable request, in view of the low level of existing user.

A TUCC meeting on 15th May, responded to a request by the MoT to examine the effect of closing some intermediate stations and agreed that no hardship would arise from closing five, including Dunrobin, the location for the proposed new school, (TUCC 1964 Report). It had earlier been said that the school would not be viable without a station.

Objectors had emphasised the effect on tourism

Objectors to closures - of either selected stations as in 1960 or complete closure as in 1964 - stressed the effect on tourism and hence the economy of the area. It did no harm to their case that the Loch Ness monster was seen round about the time of each closure announcement, and when TUCC Hearings, to consider objections, were taking place.

The Inverness Courier reported ‘two sightings of the monster’ and ‘Objections made to railway closures,’ (7.7.59). ‘The monster was seen again on Wednesday by more than 40 tourists, and was visible for fifteen minutes,’ (Inverness Courier 24.7.59). A reader has put forward a plan to capture the Loch Ness monster, (Inverness Courier 25.8.59).

The newspaper carried a further report of a ‘hunt for the monster,’ (Inverness Courier 13.10.59). At the most crucial time - when closure was threatened, they carried another report that the monster had been seen, (Inverness Courier, 20.3.64). Whether these reports led to more tourists is not known, much less whether more tourists used the railway.

 

Other good opportunities for conversion theorists

The proposed closure of the Inverness-Wick line was the golden opportunity for the advocates of conversion to stand up and be counted, there were other opportunities.

 

M&GN

The earliest long line conversion opportunity was that of the M&GN, which was proposed for closure in 1958, and closed in 1959. This line from the East Midlands across to Norwich and the East Anglian coast, was 174 miles long. As with all closures, there was a deathly silence from the conversion league. One or two minor sections much later formed part of a new road after, as was, invariably the case, being substantially widened to give the minimum width adequate for a modest road. The costs of widening were  concealed in the total cost of building the new section of road. The M&GN was basically single line, and had a level crossing about every 11/2 miles to accommodate hundreds of main and minor roads and farm level crossings. The cross flow at these crossings would have hampered the free flow envisaged by Brigadier Lloyd.

Barnard Castle-Penrith/Tebay

Closure of the Barnard Castle-Penrith & Tebay line was proposed in 1959. It was 55 miles long, of which half was double and half single track. It had some high bridges and viaducts, the widening of which would not have been practical. They would have to have been duplicated to give required road widths. It ran over the Pennines through some inhospitable terrain. Weather could be very bad in the winter. The line closed in 1962.

Somerset & Dorset Railway

The S&DR - from Bath to Poole, some 100 miles, of which less than half was double track, the rest was single - was proposed for closure in 1962. The terrain was hilly, but  gradients would not be a serious challenge to motor vehicles. Widening throughout to give a reasonable road width would have been a costly challenge. It closed in 1966.

Great Central line

The closure of the GCR, from Nottingham to London Marylebone, which took place in sections, in the mid/late 1960s was a great opportunity for conversion. It was about 125 miles long, largely double track. However, it had some daunting viaducts, tunnels and embankments. Where it passed through towns, and especially the outskirts of London and into the terminus at Marylebone, widening would have been costly, as houses and business premises hemmed the line in. Its construction in the late 19th century proved very costly due to the volume of closely built workmens’ houses and workshops or factories. The railway company was obliged to build replacement housing in London. Widening to create a decent road would have been equally costly. The London end of the line was subject to a financial and technical appraisal by an independent body some twenty years later. (Consultants, Coopers & Lybrand examined 10 routes - including Marylebone-Northolt - 200 km of rail route. “In all cases, it proved uneconomic to meet design standards laid down by the DoT highway engineers because of the very large capital sums needed to reconstruct bridges, enlarge tunnels & widen rights of way. The Marylebone-Northolt line would have been 5.9 to 6.7 metres in width compared to the 7.3 metres required by the DoT. It would have been suitable only for cars and would have fed into the already heavily congested Baker Street.’).

Waverley line

The closure of the 98 mile long double track Waverley route in 1969, was another superb opportunity. The route is largely still intact today, and there are vigorous moves to, at least, partially re-open it as a rail route, so the opportunity to convert to road has not yet vanished. But the conversionists have wasted 35 years. It would have been a difficult task - narrow viaducts, embankments, and difficult terrain.

 

Isle of Wight

An early opportunity was on the Isle of Wight, some 56 miles of railway, mostly single line. The inhabitants of the Isle of Wight were not enthusiastic about the prospect of losing their railways, and none voiced the idea of conversion. All routes except one were closed over a period of years in the early 1950s, after being delayed by objectors.

Wensleydale line

Another chance for glory was the Wensleydale line, about 40 miles long from Northallerton to Garsdale, which closed in the mid-1950s. Helpfully, the route passed outside most of the towns and villages, making it an ideal route for a road. Part has now been re-opened for a rail service of sorts, although it cannot be regarded as a commercial railway, being dependent on free labour. It may yet be abandoned a second time, when reality sets in, when the conversion theorists may have a second chance.

Hull & Barnsley

Still another opportunity was the Hull & Barnsley, which had 71 miles of route, excluding joint lines. It could have been converted and creamed off traffic from the coalfields to the docks at Hull. The line closed in sections over several years, with the final closure being in 1964.  

 

Opportunities on shorter routes

Some short lines longer than the average 1.5 miles achieved, (see Chapter 7) were:-

Potteries Loop line

The Potteries Loop ran 7.25 miles from Kidsgrove via Hanley to Stoke on Trent. Con­struction required over 1,000 properties being bought. When it closed, the area was densely packed with housing, workshops and other premises close to the line. Over-bridges had noticeably tight widths and headroom. The cost of land and property acquisi­tion to provide a reasonable width would have been high. This situation was a common factor to be faced with railway lines in urban areas, so as to preclude scope for widening to accommodate suitable roads. It closed in 1964. Most has been converted to footpaths.

Haltwhistle to Alston

The 13 mile single Haltwhistle to Alston line, with its daunting Lambton viaduct, near the Scottish border, would have been particularly difficult to convert. Closure was opposed by residents and infrequent users, who knew there would be serious problems in winter. That was when users of road transport turned to railways in this area as in many others. Objectors scoffed at promises of the provision of ‘an all-weather road.’ That was the prospect held out by Sir David Robertson for the conversion of the Inverness-Wick line to a new fast road. The Alston branch was 350 miles nearer the equator than the Inverness line! No conversionist dared to voice support for closure. It closed in 1976.

Yelverton-Princetown

The branch in Dartmoor was about 400 miles further south than Alston and objectors there were opposed to losing their infrequently used railway, because the existing roads became impassable during winter. This was also a single line, about six miles long. The terrain was inhospitable and would have proved a challenge to convert.

Wivenhoe-Brightlingsea

This route was closed in 1952 as a result of severe damage by the sea. It was re-opened, despite there being no financial justification nor economic demand for it, and at BR expense. This increased deficits for which government’s brilliant solution was not a subsidy for this line to a fishing-village-cum-minor-seaside-resort which enjoyed fishing subsidies, but interest bearing loans! Regrettably, this was in 1952 before Brigadier Lloyd had his brainstorm. He might have had the support of BR management, but not that of the local community, who were convinced that the line could be made viable and sat back waiting for others to pay for it, whilst making occasional use when other transport was unavailable. It closed after a delay of ten years. It is not without significance that among objections was included evidence that bus fares were higher than rail!  (See The Railway Closure Controversy, Chapter 6).

 

Among other lines closed, there have been hundreds of miles which were taken over by amateurs, to run an infrequent tourist attraction service for periods varying from a few bank holidays to half the year, or, in isolated cases, longer. They do not operate at night, and are under no pressure to run trains, if the unforeseen happens. Why the road lobby did not jump in quickly in these cases, and put some quick cash on the table, whilst enthusiasts were trying to drum up funds, is a mystery. In all, to date, about ten thousand miles of railway routes have been closed. By 1980, the total was already about 7,000. For all practical purposes, the conversion league did not seize the initiative and get these routes converted to roads. The league - in its publication, (see Chapter 7), extolling the success of conversions - tabulated only 43 miles ‘converted’, and these were in lengths varying from 109 yards to six miles, with an average of 1.5 miles. Whilst the conversionists have been dithering, several railway routes that had been closed, have been re-opened as part of BR, in recent years, invariably with local authority funds.

 

A favourable political climate

From 1954 to 1964, when the conversion campaign was at its height, Britain was governed by the Tories who were firmly anti-rail. They favoured road transport between the wars, ignored the failure of hauliers to conform to wartime pricing Acts, and protected them from open competition from BR. (See Britains Railways - The Reality). With such open support for road transport, if the league could not convince Ministers (including road-biased Transport Minister, Ernest Marples) of the practicality of conversion, it must have been seen to be deeply flawed. During this period, hundreds of miles closed, offering opportunities for trials. If Lloyd could have persuaded some in the City to put up the cash, his scheme could have been tested.

Further opportunities arose when Tories were in power in 1970 - when the League published a new plan. What stopped them from funding a trial scheme to convert one full length line? They claimed to have massive support. After 1969, when the State began for the first time to subsidise loss making routes, they could have asked the anti-rail Tory government to give them the proposed subsidy for a line less say 10%, even 50% given their arrogant boasts. Putting their money where their mouth was would have convinced all doubters. They could have negotiated a deal to charge tolls to use their new roads.

An opportunity for the League to convince the Tory government recurred from 1979 to 1992. Another thirteen wasted years. In 1993, the unconvinced Tories opted to keep railways, and to privatise them.

 

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