Chapter 8 Railway Conversion Campaign
In 1975, the League made a minor change to its title - adding ‘Ltd.’ This limited company [registered No 605059] was dissolved at the end of 1981. It later changed its name again from the Railway Conversion League to the Railway Conversion Campaign.
Other than occasional letters to the media, little was heard from them. Their chairman wrote to The Times occasionally, and his views were invariably demolished by others, (see chapter 15). A search of The Times produced the following from the League’s chairman:
Prof. Hall’s study of expected benefits of conversion at last puts authoritative figure to them. When Lloyd propounded this revolutionary idea, it is doubtful if sufficient information was available on transport economics and busway capacity for a definitive study. (That is not the impression that his predecessors had given – see preceding chapters). It has long been obvious there is no role for railways in a small crowded island surrounded by all-weather ports, (19.12.75). (Ports are not all-weather - see Chapter 11 - the author was on a ship held outside Folkestone in rough seas in 1976).
It is not true, as claimed in a previous letter, heavy lorries were not paying a full share of road costs. They pay more in tax than cost of maintaining & building roads & help subsidise railways. Government received no return on its rail investment, (19.4.77).
wasn’t investing in railways; it made a loan on which interest was paid. It received
a return from keeping open uneconomic lines in rural areas, providing commuting
and other services below cost, holding down wages - especially of its 2.55m
employees - and helping to subsidise inefficient industry and the electorate,
through fares and freight charges held below industry-fuelled inflation.
Plowden & Buchan state that DoT calculations show that lorries account for 43% of the maintenance bill, compared to their 7% share of vehicle mileage. Independent studies including the 1980 Armitage Report prove lorries do not pay their full road costs. The road lobby never relates lorry taxes to the extra cost of building & maintaining roads suited to HGVs. BR freight was not subsidised from 1977, (see Hansard 2.2.93, vol. 218; col. 165/7).
The Transport Studies Group (See page Chapter 10-II) took costings mainly
from one scheme to build a wide new road on poor subsoil on a disused line.
This is not conversion as the Conversion League defines it.* We advocate using
formations as they stand. Transferring traffic to routes with no pedestrians
& no frontage access (see below) will
cut accidents by a factor of 20. He referred to railways being fenced off, road
transport has to operate without
fencing. Transferring long distance traffic to a segregated route will save
3,000 lives pa, (4.5.77). * This was news. There was no previous
definition. They were not slow to criticise if subsoil was favourable. Tovey’s
Report on the
Collieries & industries had private siding (= “frontage” - access directly on main lines). Conversion will not eliminate thousands of pedestrians - trespassers - using level crossings or taking short cuts.
All motorways & many A roads are fenced. Many other roads are fenced-off by adjoining landowners. These deaths could be slashed by fencing roads now!
No basis was quoted for this reduction in road deaths. In 1977, 6,614 were killed on 220,000 miles of roads, of whom 2,313 were pedestrians. If pedestrian deaths were cut by diverting road traffic to converted railways, given that the railway route is only available for 10% of existing traffic flows, at best, perhaps 10% of 2,313 might be claimed. Even this would, in the absence of case studies, be speculative. Moreover, it might be swamped by an increase in deaths from pedestrians continuing to cross between more closely spaced road vehicles at traditional points: level crossings, and unauthorised trespassing points.
The solution to our problems (?)
In 1979, Dalgleish issued a new paper to solve road problems. He claimed mechanical road transport - steam carriages – was discouraged by penal road tolls, and many main roads had scarcely changed since horse days. He was wrong. Horse traffic had modest effect on road surfaces, steam carriages ruined them, and alarmed horses, needing an extra man to warn riders and waggoners of their approach. They were slow and needed frequent water and fuel supplies. From then to 1979, there were vast improvements in roads:
Loose stone and cobbled surfaces had largely disappeared.
Bridges replaced thousands of level crossings for which road transport did not pay.
Hundreds of railway over-bridges were strengthened at railway expense.
Many bends were eased to improve safety and permit higher speeds.
Thousands of miles had been made into dual carriageways.
Bypasses had been built around many towns. (“New by-passes have increased mileage. Average length of haul has increased since 1970” see Plowden & Buchan)
He stated that
BR freight track costs were charged to passenger services, when they were not. In contrast, extra costs created by heavy
lorries are effectively charged to motorists, who pay more than their fair
share. He claimed that those who travel by rail are mainly the well-off. (The League quoted the Economist, but left
out a reference to road users being rich see Chapter 7.). He added a third being business travellers
who don’t pay their own fares. He
provides no source. If it was true, it would be precisely analogous to
motorists in company cars. Only since 1980, have they paid tax on motoring as a
benefit in kind. He tried to make a big deal about the time taken to get to or
from a station. He should, of course, compare it with the time required to find
parking space in
He referred to the legal power for BR to object to the provision of new bus licences. He completely ignores the equal legal power of existing bus operators to object to new applications, and they were doing so on a much bigger scale. He would be oblivious of the classic case in which the independent Licensing Authority rejected an application for a licence for a new operator who had mischievously accepted bookings from holidaymakers before getting a licence, to which BR and bus operators objected. Churchill personally called for the licence to be granted, (Cabinet minutes, 7.4.52).
He said that the HGV is regarded as a villain, but only as it is forced to run on unsuitable roads. That is complete nonsense. Motorists frequently curse HGVs for pulling out with inadequate warning, only to grind along 0.5mph faster than the preceding HGV.
He reiterated the claim that a PSV would take people from residential areas direct to city centre destinations. It is nonsense. If they went round every street, it would take for ever to get a full load to the same street in the same city. If the vehicle went around the destination city - or worse, around several cities - the journey time for some would be quite intolerable.
He claimed that the problem of overtaking is insoluble on railways. He overlooks doing so at stations, or where there is multi track, and the provision for one train to propel a failed train to a suitable passing point ahead. The comparable facility on roads is provided for by lay-bys, which are funded by non-users, and by manhandling broken down vehicles clear, assuming that other drivers are willing to risk cardiac arrest. He stated that the breakdown of a motor vehicle would not - ‘as it does on railways’ - cause long delays, revealing his ignorance of the aforementioned railway practice, which is especially surprising as the Royal Engineers were responsible for railway operations in war zones.
He claimed a gain from fewer accidents, as pedestrians and cyclists - who account for a high proportion of fatal injuries - would not be allowed to use converted routes. He claimed transfer of traffic could well halve the total number of deaths, giving no reason for selecting this fraction. Perhaps it wouldn’t cut deaths. It all depends on the fallibility of a crystal ball. The reality is that if traffic fell on existing roads as a result of diversion to converted routes, remaining traffic would travel faster, and there is a strong possibility that this would more than wipe out the theoretical assumption of fewer deaths.
He argued: ‘that now is the time to start trial conversions* to demonstrate the benefits of converted railways with necessary priority for high occupancy vehicles including car-pools, where appropriate. PSVs will never take up more than a small proportion of the available capacity.’ He makes no reference to endless convoys to carry coal to power stations. If PSVs did take up a small proportion of capacity, it would be because new roads were packed solid with nose-to-tail cars, whose owners turned up their noses at PSVs. Those cars are not likely to be the pools, of which the League has dreamed since 1955. They are still largely conspicuous by their absence, as the average load in cars has not changed in decades. Incredibly for a soldier (He was in the Royal Engineers) , who would be taught to consider the possibility Plan A may not work, he has no plan B if the trial proves a disaster which experienced road engineers and operators have forecast. The concept of trials in business leaves open the option to revert to previous practice. Reverting to railway would prove extremely costly, if not impossible.
A proving trial should convert a dual carriageway road to the modest dimensions envisaged for a converted railway: reduced bridge headroom, shorter deceleration lanes and more right turns. It would be easily reversed when it proved unpopular, caused deaths and bridge bashing. It should, of course, be funded by the conversion campaign.
The truth about transport (?)
‘A fresh study on conversion was prepared by A. Dalgleish, chairman of the conversion league, claiming political objection to conversion springs from ignorance. He claims road carries 9/10ths of UK freight and passengers on 2,500 km of custom built roads compared to 18,000 km of railway* and that other roads were a network of centuries old paths. He argued asphalted railways would make good roads. The Centre for Policy Studies - which circulated his report - said “it was not committed to the conclusions”.
* This is a desperate attempt to prove the unprovable - that roads are more intensively used than rail. See pages Chapter 12 for a meaningful comparison of road and rail productivity. For validity of traffic share, see Chapter 11.
His report claimed £1bn pa could be saved immediately, 2,500 lives would be saved and juggernauts would be removed from residential streets’, (The Times, 24.3.82). (The saving in lives has fallen, but is still above actual pedestrian deaths which numbered 1869 in 1982).
By no stretch
of imagination can it be claimed that 90% of
Principal claims in the Dalgleish Study
The 43 page booklet entitled The Truth about Transport, by Angus Dalgleish, was published March 1982, by the Centre for Policy Studies [CPS], who distanced themselves from it, (see above). It was peppered with inaccuracies and assumptions, which destroy the claims and conclusions. The booklet begins with what is described as the historical background, ostensibly to lead to a clear understanding of the present position. As it contains errors and assumptions, it could only lead to false conclusions.
He must have foreseen two World Wars, in
which government would siphon-off billions of railway revenue, whilst allowing
industry and other transport to profit handsomely; that government would impose
a unique limit on rail profits; would create courts of law to hold only railway
prices below inflation; and would deliberately prevent them from competing with
road haulage. (See Square Deal Denied and
Promoters realised that railways would give monopoly control on routes and traffic.
They were quickly disabused. Early railways were built to break a canal monopoly, which delayed traffic and charged high rates. That canals would fail to modernise to compete was not foreseen; they had to cut rates. Railway Acts enforced companies to provide junctions with other railways, to allow through traffic from other lines, and controlled rates and tolls.
Because of cheap labour, double handling of rail traffic [in the 1800s] was not a problem.
Except over short distance, road transport did not then carry throughout, but only to rivers, ports, canals, so that traffic was already being double and triple handled.
The explosion in road transport was not matched by road improvements.
For decades, road transport did not pay for roads. There were many improvements: by-passes, dual carriageways, easier bends, safer junctions, bridges strengthened, (see below).
Having got basic claims on railway history wrong, he then proceeded to do so with the current position.
Bridges and viaducts are crumbling due to inadequate attention.
Not a scrap of evidence was advanced to support this wild claim. Reduction in expenditure on the infrastructure by Railtrack after privatisation shows that is nonsense.
He refers to BR’s monopoly position as supplier of one mode of transport.
As the road lobby has sought to prove that road handles more traffic than rail, obviously, there is no monopoly. Ministers repeatedly said that BR had no monopoly (See Blueprints for Bankruptcy, pages 48, 50, 84) Any company could create a railway by promoting an Act of Parliament as others have done, or could have bought up closed lines.
By road it is possible to make a journey without change.
No bus route caters for every direct journey. Only by car is it possible, and he tries to put cars out of the equation - except for using its volume to ‘pay’ for conversion. People walk, from their homes, or go by car, to bus-stops as to stations. He ignores a steep decline in bus travel, whilst rail share fell only slightly.
A rail traveller cannot go when or where he wishes, but must join others.
The same is true of bus travel, with the added inconvenience that buses are cancelled, and those at bus stops remain uninformed. No data is published - unlike railways - to show the incidence of cancellation.
Roads without traffic on routes crossing at flat junctions can provide flow-type transport. This flow, provided that the traffic stream consists mainly of high occupancy vehicles [from a car with three in, to an articulated bus with 80], will have no difficulty matching flows of seated passengers carried by railways provided an appropriate vehicle is used. He envisaged an important role for car-pools.
Converted railways will have thousands of flat junctions at which traffic crosses. The premise depends on assumption and if. The car load will have to almost double. It would be unwise to try to pass an articulated bus turning at a junction. There will still be standing commuters - left behind at the bus stop! Car pools are still a rarity.
On railways, one disabled vehicle disrupts the whole line; on road a broken down vehicle can be pulled onto a verge. If a bus breaks down, it can be pushed to the side.
As conversion envisages no verges to create the required road width, there will be nowhere to move it. A disabled train is pushed forward by the next train. A broken down road vehicle may block both lanes if a bus or lorry is involved. Any pulling or pushing of a bus would have to be done by the passengers. On rail, they never have to do that.
Claims that fuel duty paid for buses more than covers their track costs.
His historical review forgot to mention buses and coaches had been paying the same road tax as a mini for decades. Bus track costs have never been established, so it is impossible to say whether they pay their share or not. Clearly their effect on road wear will be substantially greater than a car, and they should have paid far more.
Park and ride [by train] is a wasteful and expensive use of a car.
Obviously, motorists disagree, and in the absence of a change in the law, they will continue to do so. If park and ride by train is wasteful, so it must be by bus.
Reference was made to the rapidly rising cost of rail travel.
Fares had just caught up with the RPI for
the first time since 1948, having been 47 points behind. By 1982, passengers
had benefited by £11bn. (See
Rail supporters claim that heavy lorries do not pay a proper share of road costs. This argument should be used with caution. If they pay too little, it means that cars pay too much. BR would not wish to see car taxes cut thus increasing competition.
Rail supporters quote TRL figures. The Highways Agency states (letter to the author).that the costs of building a motorway for cars only would be 35% less than one allowing heavy vehicles. Car tax has little bearing on competition. Competitive use is based on the marginal cost of fuel or convenience.
The lorry has come to the rescue of towns.
That is not the opinion of residents nor of motorists when lorries double park, take up the whole road when turning a corner, and damage pavements or verges.
He compares the alleged average energy consumption of a train: 410 kcal per passenger km; with 430 kcal average for all cars.
No source is quoted. This is a typical chalk and cheese comparison used by the road lobby. 73% of cars make journeys of under five miles, where speed is unlikely to be high, often in the 30 mph zone, against a train at 100-125mph.
There is nowhere on the railway system where present passenger loadings in express buses on a converted route will use more than fraction of the capacity.
He did not take the busiest route and prove it with fact and figure based on a timetable which all operators would require. He spread all traffic, including the peak over 16 hours and over the whole system. These valueless global estimates have always been used by the League.
Delays caused by points, signals and train failures will end.
Daily experience shows that they would be replaced by longer delays caused by traffic light failures, accidents, jack-knifed lorries, shed loads and slow lorries preventing overtaking.
A £775m electrification project may save 9,600 barrels of oil daily, but for the same cost, plants could make 38,000 barrels oil daily from coal.
No source was given for the cost of building plants, nor is it said how much coal would be required, nor whether that tonnage would be available. A few years later, coal production fell as hundreds of mines were closed.
Trains were only allowed to run on fenced-off property for safety reasons. Entry is prohibited to the public.
Fences were not enforced for safety reasons but to prevent trespass from railroads to adjoining land. Roads could be fenced-off, costs being paid by transport operators. Many European rail- ways are not fenced-off. Entry to stations, goods depots or level crossings is not prohibited.
He claimed that, to prove rail was safer, BR splits train deaths from others which are due, he theorises ‘to the stupidity of passengers’.
The split is made - not by BR - but by HMRI, in their Annual Reports for their own reasons. (These Reports contain a synopsis of HMRI Inquiries into railway accidents. If a similar body carried out detailed investigations into road accidents, the death toll may fall). No BR manager ever called a dead passenger stupid. Pedestrians killed trying to cross busy roads are more likely to be called stupid by selfish car, HGV and PSV drivers
He states that a misty morning means fog with half of trains cancelled, whilst road traffic moves with extra care!
Where has he been? Massive pile-ups on roads are clear evidence of lack of care. When road users exercise care in fog, road accidents will plummet, and the diligent will see the proverbial animal flying. Fog has caused no cancellations on railways since the 1960s and the advent of new signalling. The only impact of fog on train running arises when railway staff are delayed on fog-bound roads en route to work !
BR adverts in 1981 on the benefit of electrification ignored essential costs of improving track and signalling.
In fact all main line track was relatively new by 1981, and signalling on main lines had been largely modernised to meet speeds of 100-125 mph.
His most pathetic claim was that ‘BR has a corps of 500 letter writers protesting to editors against criticism of railways’.
The reality is that most letters or articles in the national media are anti-rail. It is impossible to take seriously a ‘Study’ which descends to such trivia which clearly is without foundation. Over 90 letters from the author to the national media (pre 2006) replying - with researched fact and figure - to inaccuracies in anti-rail letters or articles were not published, including one demolishing the 97% spare capacity claim originated in Dalgleish’s book and repeated in an advert, (see Chapter 12).
A claim is made that many of those working in the road transport field - as economists, planners or highway engineers - had worked for, and had a sentimental attachment to railways’.
This is an own goal, showing up a lack of management skills in the road transport industry.
Segregating cyclists and pedestrians could save 2,500 lives.
There were 2153 deaths in 1982, so 2500 could not be saved, not least as they were spread over 200,000 miles of road, most of which could not possibly lose traffic to an 11,000 mile system.
Refers to short distance road traffic: milk, furniture, building materials, post, domestic rubbish.
This lets the cat out of bag and undermines claims as to the disparity between rail and road traffic, and cuts road traffic in competition with rail at a stroke.
He says that existing roads are blocked by people stopping to pick blackberries, inferring that on converted roads this would not happen.
This is clutching at straws. If converted roads can have laws to stop this - so can existing roads. The road lobby hasn’t tried to improve traffic flow.
Figure 1 in the booklet claims to split traffic between road types - tonne km; passenger km.
The DfT say that such data does not exist. Moreover, even tonnes carried by road transport is of questionable reliability, (see Chapter 11).
It is claimed that juggernauts cause less vibration than trains.
Not a word of proof, nor a reference to an independent study is made. Where railways are separated from property by verges, juggernauts will be close as converted railways would be tarmacked up to the fence.
He states that two-track railways should not be converted into dual carriageway roads as the cost would make it impractical.
This is a complete reversal of long standing Conversion League claims. They have repeatedly claimed that there is plenty of space to convert both two-track and single track railways into dual carriageways, and even into motorways! This destroys the whole basis of the claims made, in the past and since.
Under-powered vehicles and standing vehicles would be banned.
Vehicles waiting to make right turns would have to be banned. Under powered vehicles would need to be legally defined. It would end daily cross-railway movement of tens of thousands of farm tractors. These measures could be taken now on existing roads.
Additional land would only be essential at junctions to which no valid objections could be made.
It is usually claimed that no extra land is required. It defies belief to suggest that no objections would come from those whose land is to be taken.
The plan depends on assuming reasonable average loadings for buses and trucks.
Yet another assumption is made. The whole concept is built on assumptions, for which no independent justification is advanced.
A 300 day year is taken to allow for low weekend & holiday loads giving 11m vehicle-km daily, 3.3% of capacity of a converted network. As much rail freight moves by night, 3% is probably a truer figure. 97% capacity is available for traffic on local roads
Except on commuter routes, passengers are not lower at weekends or holidays, and on some routes are higher. He spread peak, weekend and holiday traffic when passengers don’t want to travel and customers do not want freight to move. Most coal - the biggest flow - moved by day, when collieries were manned. The theory assumed no empty return lorries and none under loaded due to cubic capacity limitations. With 220,000 miles of roads, and 11,000 miles of railway, traffic on 210,000 of them will have to stay exactly where it is.
97% appeared in an advert in 1989. As it was unchallenged, the figure would be assumed to be accurate. My letter – quoting audited statistic - would have demolished it - had it been published.
Figure 2 claims to show the spare capacity of railways converted to motor roads (the diagram is clearly dual carriageway throughout, with bridges & no junctions. (By definition, means building thousands of new bridges). It claims the system ‘could carry 219bn passenger km + 50bn tonne km. All-purpose roads would then need only to carry 178bn passenger km + 41bn tonne km’.
The reality is that the rail system did not have that spare capacity, and moreover, the idea that 220,000 miles of road could transfer 40% of its traffic to an 11,000 mile network is patently absurd. It is noticeable that no one offered to back these wild ideas with their own money.
He claimed few villages are not near a railway. It ignores the geographical reality outlined above. Railway staff had a gazetteer listing tens of thousands of villages having no railway station, and indicating which was the nearest. Many were several miles distant from a station.
Drivers would transfer from old roads, linked with converted roads at stations. Motorists may even desert motorways which are longer routes. The two systems must be connected at as many points as possible.
By definition, 210,000 miles of old roads have no railway anywhere near. It would create flat junctions at stations, which do not have level crossings. Hitherto, conversionists had envisaged fewer, not more, junctions. It was absurd to claim that motorists would desert motorways.
Figure 3 claims to illustrate the likely effect of conversion on accidents.
It has no foundation in serious study. It assumes much and proves nothing. It ignores the reality that most existing road traffic is on roads remote from railways and travelling very short distances, (see Chapter 7). Plowden & Buchan quote ‘that 35% of those treated for minor road accident injuries in hospitals do not appear in official road statistics’. (From a comparison of police and hospital information by Ball & Roberts). This indicates that road accidents are understated, hence Dalgleish was starting from the wrong premise.
The plan invents single carriageway motorways with flat junctions, claiming they would have the same accident rate as 3-lane motorways, and quotes the A465 Heads of the Valleys road ‘built along the line of an old railway.’
The A465 is unsafe (see Chapter 10). Only part of the road was built on a railway, (see Chapter 12)
He concedes that private capital is required, and advocates toll roads for which government would pay road owners, based on axle counts.
Why have there been no offers to fund roads? Doubtless, because owners would demand government guarantees of a good return on capital.
Conversion must start in the cities.
The rest of the system would be useless & all traffic diverted to roads. Operators will have to buy vehicles in advance of moving traffic. The previous idea was start at the coast, (see Chapter 4). Angus Dalgleish had already written to The Times that: ‘There would be difficulty if railways closed, and traffic was thrown onto existing roads, but no problem if government changed its attitude and permitted closed railways to be converted into roads’ - see Chapter 7. The government did permit closed railways to be converted if practicable.
He claims that land sold to local authorities for roads was at a high value, and claims that railway land is already owned by nation.
Land is sold before a use is decided. BR needed to get rid of liabilities: bridges, fences, drainage. There was an option to use closed lines as roads, but most have become footpaths. The nation hadn’t then repaid previous owners, (see Chapter 7).
Mention is made of a book which alleges that members of the BTC were either
fools or knaves, and tries to make a big deal out of the absence of any
consequential libel actions against him. (“The train that ran away”, by Stewart
Joy. His criticisms were demolished in Blueprints
for Bankruptcy & also
No libel action ensued because he named no one. The matter is irrelevant to railways or to conversion. It is yet another straw which desperate people will cling to, when other arguments fail. Senior civil servants at the DoT should have sued that author, (see Chapter 11).
It is claimed the DoT specification for converted roads is needlessly elaborate, as they can be paved as they stand. However, after experience, improvement may be needed!
By inference, motorways are needlessly elaborate with hard shoulders, verges, huge junctions, vast services areas and expensive signalling equipment. Inevitably, experience will prove a need for hard shoulders, extra lanes and improved junctions. Only someone out of touch with reality would claim otherwise, and plan to close those roads after conversion, to make improvements, creating massive delays. Motorists would soon vote with their feet - or wheels.
There is no reason to insist on 5m height initially, as existing roads are littered with sub standard bridges; 4.5m would be adequate initially.
Roads are littered with damage caused by lorries bashing into them - a problem so widespread it led to a special investigation by HMRI. Warning signs are often ignored, (see Chapter 12 & photos). Lorries would be diverted back to old roads. His inference is that - after experience - bridges would be lifted. This unprofessional approach would create horrendous delays
Refers to BR’s propaganda machine which influences the DoT, which merely rubber stamps BR plans and passes them to the Cabinet. He claims there is no road lobby to counter the powerful rail lobby!
No DoT source is mentioned. Propaganda is information issued by the opposing side, information is propaganda issued by your own side. The road lobby was headed - according to John Wardroper - by the DoT, which was opposed to transfer of traffic to rail. There was also the BRF, comprising 100 industrial and commercial bodies. It is ridiculous to claim there is no road lobby, which is the most powerful transport lobby. The rail lobby was powerless to prevent closure of half of the system, nor prevent outside interference in its management. No comparable interference of road transport has ever existed. (See his book Juggernaut & Chapter 12).
Professor Alan Day (The Times, 17.6.81) said BR schemes are laundered until they give the ‘right’ answers.
The conversion league manipulated figures until they got a better answer, as changes of figures by Lloyd reveal, (see Chapters 3 & 4). Assumptions by Dalgleish are a way of laundering. An answer which was published in The Times (18.6.81) to Professor Day (see Chapter 15) was ignored by Mr Dalgleish.
A 1984 study, ignored by the conversion theorists shows that the cost of road accidents was £2.4 bn pa, and refers to £1.5 bn of other hidden subsidies. Another by the same body draws attention to £2.8 bn for sound-proofing against HGV noise which is going to have to be funded, and a further £100m for damage to gas mains, whilst the cost of damage to sewers by HGVs delivering in towns had yet to be quantified. A further £100m for repairs to bridges caused by heavy lorries is not funded by road transport.
In 1989, the Railway Conversion Campaign took out a full page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph (26.7.89) to reiterate the discredited conversion theory:
‘The railway system is only working at 3% of its potential. A Department with such poor utilisation ought to be sacked’ and expressed concern for ‘our precious green land’. Conversion would keep heavy freight away from people and homes.
The advert called on readers who agree with their theories, to send this advert to their MP. It must have fallen on stony ground, because Parliament took no action.
The author’s unpublished response to the Daily Telegraph pointed out:-
Due to the poor utilisation achieved on roads, converted railways would not accommodate existing rail traffic, leaving no space for traffic to be transferred from existing roads. In addition to converting 10,400 miles of railway, it would be necessary to build 10,000 miles of new roads merely to cope with traffic displaced from rail. Based on the common practice of adding freight tonne miles/km to passenger miles/km to produce total traffic, and comparing the totals to road & rail route mileage. (See CSO Annual Abstract of Statistics for traffic data and route length). On the basis of published DoT road traffic data in 1986 - the author’s last year with BR - road transport required 22 times as much road mileage, and vastly more acreage, for 10 times the traffic. The disparity is really likely to be much worse, due to the unreliability of road traffic data, (see page 153). Studies published by Transport 2000 and others reveal a substantial element of empty running by road haulage, further wasting road space
If the League is concerned about ‘our precious green land’, 60% of roads should be closed to bring road utilisation up to British Rail’s level.
Under-utilised lines are mainly in rural areas, kept open by government, without subsidy for the first 20 years of nationalisation. BR had to fund them from interest bearing Treasury loans which, with fares held below inflation, caused the deficit. (See The Railway Closure Controversy)
6,940 miles closed since the 1960s was available for conversion, but remained unused.
To be proved fatally wrong, anyone believing that rail utilisation is 3%, need only sit on a main line for a few minutes, not 58 minutes in an hour, which is the 97% that they claim is unused.
Rail track widths were almost invariably inadequate even for single carriageway roads, whilst limited bridge heights would restrict use to cars and small commercial vehicles.
Roads are built on the basis of social benefit, an ingenuous formula based on the time road users may save by using new roads. British Rail in contrast, had to justify investment in cash terms with reduced costs or higher revenue.
They said that a Department with such poor utilisation ought to be sacked. On the contrary, anyone who produced such mis-aimed, error-ridden statistics as theirs, should be sacked.
The author asked for the source of the ‘published statistics which claim only 3% utilisation’. There was no response, other than another acknowledgement card to add to a growing collection. It is now apparent that the source was not independent as implied, but some creative arithmetic by the chairman of the Conversion Campaign. (See “97%” below).
How to get the roads we need
An undated leaflet entitled How to get the roads we need - and keep traffic away from people by RM Bale was published by the Railway Conversion Campaign. It begins by asserting that ‘almost every village had a passenger and goods station’. Not so. In 1946, BR staff used a gazetteer listing thousands of locations with no station. A reference is made to lorries in villages, but ignores that many must start, end or call there. The author states ‘we need a road system that separates lorries from people’. If a road system is created purely for lorries, taxes they currently pay will not scratch the surface of the cost, and haulage prices would soar. They are not paying a fair share of road costs now, but hide behind car taxes. Fenced-off pavements would achieve separation of people and lorries. (The Hall/Smith study envisages that conversion costs would be funded mainly by motorists (see Chapter 10).
It refers to BR still being allowed to sell off land.
They were obliged to do so, to re-pay
loans, when government refused a subsidy for an uneconomic service, despite BR
being required to subsidise replacement bus services. (See BTC/BRB Annual Accounts and
It claims that rail freight is uneconomic for short hauls. That cannot include 1,000 ton MGR trains. It stated that the ‘outcome of the miners’ strike showed that even bulk mineral traffic by road is cheaper’. Power stations were over-stocking for a year to prepare for this strike, hence less transport was needed during the strike. In the year before the strike, BR carried 77% of total coal production, in the strike year, 88%, and the year after the strike, 83%. Coal by sea - coastwise and export - was 8%, 9.7% and 8.9% respectively. Coal by canal was 1.6%, 1.3% and 1.6% respectively. (These statistics are drawn from audited records published by BR and the Office of National Statistics). In the strike year, that left 1%, of which some was on direct conveyor belts from collieries to adjacent power stations, and some was sold to local merchants or delivered to miners’ homes. The road element didn’t register on the Richter scale. Post-strike, the non-rail share was lower than pre-strike! The average distance of railfreight in 1974 - strike year - was 79.5 miles, above 1973. Rail traffic is based on paid invoices, unlike road traffic, which is based on estimates.
A photo of an
under-used road with one lorry and two
cars is captioned ‘
A reference is
made to the conversion of a closed railway line near
included a photo of the closed GC line to illustrate the width of a skewed arch
overbridge in relation to a small
car. The implication on height restriction of this skewed arch for lorries and
double-deck PSVs is overlooked. Replace the car with two trucks similar to the
one passing under a 9 foot 9 inch arch bridge, in the adjoining photo, and a
different impression is gained. The road under this latter bridge leads to a
trading estate. The bridge has a railway on it, so conversion to road would
leave the tight arch unaltered. If there was an attempt to build a new road
link from the top of the high embankment, after conversion, it would take up
valuable space occupied by industrial premises. The trading estate has been
identified as the
One can equally find railway overbridges with similar restrictions as the latter, and far more road overbridges as wide and even higher than that on the closed GC railway line.
of a second photo shows
contains quotes by two experts. One
is Professor Hall, a geographer at
The leaflet conclusion that ‘the DoT recognises the great value of disused railways in providing land for new roads’, is not borne out by the reality of 10,000 miles closed in relation to the 200 miles used as part of a road. It claims that the ‘DoT has refused to carry out studies’, that would lead, by inference, to converting all railways to roads. This seems to overlook the study carried out at DoE expense in 1975, (see chapter 10), but goes on to mention it, without asking why that study did not lead to conversion. The reason claimed for DoT inaction, is that ‘BR is the sole judge as to whether it should continue to operate a service on a rail route and the DoT claims to be powerless to change it’. Whoever made that claim in the DoT, must be unaware that government decides whether to subsidise. If they pull the plug, railway routes are closed. Unlike the conversion theorists, the road dominated DoT clearly recognises that there is a vital role for railways