(Selective Editing - examples in Chapter 7, some are in other Chapters)


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The Conversion League focuses on subsidies to rail passengers, but air-brush out reference to subsidies for bus passengers. For example, their 1970 book lists quotes from experts - who were nearly all journalists or academics (rather than experienced Transport Managers). In these quotes, an ellipsis is frequently used, apparently to abbreviate a quote. Investigation reveals embarrassing phrases have been left out, which undermine the picture they try to depict of profitable buses competing with subsidised rail. For example, their  quote from the Economist of 22.6.74, inserts an ellipsis in place of

and subsidies for bus fares could cost even more in a few years. More costly and wasteful [than rail subsidies] in the long run, are the operating subsidies provided for buses, just to prevent fares from rising’.

By juxtaposing railways and subsidies, and leaving out the damning reference to bus subsidies in their quote, gives credence to their criticism of rail subsidies, and lends strength to conversion. They also left out a statement from the same article that

building more roads helps the rich more than the poor’.

Their chairman made the same claim with regard to rail travel! (Chapter 8 )


A two page response to a seventy page thoroughly argued Paper by the Civic Trust (Heavy Lorries, 1970) on lorries and their hidden costs.

1. Covering about ½ mile of open and 1½ mile of closed railway against 11,000 open and 7,000 closed at that time. Their photo of one closed line was so distant as to make impossible, an assessment of width, another featured one small car unreal­istically close to a bridge abutment, a third was of an operational line with a train loaded with Minis, not HGVs or 8ft wide containers!

2. They neglected to draw attention to views in the Economist in 1952 which called for BR to be given equal freedom with road transport, (see Blueprints for Bankruptcy, page 35). Long experience as an accountant, banker, architect, engineer, doctor, journalist, or any profession is a definition of expertise. In only one profession is it dismissed, by critics - that of railway manager.

In this ultra- brief response to the Civic Trust, the League claimed ‘most old villages have rail routes which could act as bypasses, keeping lorries away from the awkward corners found in them, and their historic buildings and bridges’. It is a claim entirely without foundation. It is beyond dispute that most villages never had a railway. It should be perfectly obvious that if 220,000 miles of roads are needed to link all villages and towns, the original 20,000 miles of railway had, by definition, left the majority without railways. Any serious study on the subject, would have listed every such village where they proposed a bypass. The League’s report didn’t. They ignored the fact many offending vehicles enter such towns and villages to make deliveries because government allowed the building of juggernauts despite the fact that they would have to leave motorways, to enter towns and villages to make deliveries, as hauliers did not intend to have tranship depots to transfer goods to smaller lorries. The road lobby focused listener’s minds only on the evident capacity of motorways to accept such large vehicles, and concealed the necessity to enter towns. The Civic Trust Report stated that HGVs entering towns for deliveries had increased, causing vibrational damage. The Report over-looked that these vehicles also delay other traffic.

Not content with inaccurate generalisations about village bypasses, they proceed to another: ‘Often rail bridges would require only the decking to be replaced’. Clearly, they have not had tens of thousands of bridges inspected by an engineer, or they would have tabulated fact and figure. Bridges did not have decking but longtitudinal girders with rails on top – as explained by a BR engineer at the ICE debate in 1955 (see Chapter 4).  The absence of any £ sign in this connection merely confirms the superficiality of their proposals. The Civic Trust Paper, in contrast, abounds with financial data, which the League ignored. The Trust draws attention to the underpayment by road haulage for roads and damage and consequent overpayment by motorists.


Edited ‘expert’ opinions

Their selected quotes from the Economist excludes a letter from an academic disputing claimed benefits from conversion set out in an earlier Economist arti­cle* which is exten­sively quoted in the book. They exclude reference to an Economist article (10.5.52) warning against government policy which prevented BR from competing with hauliers on a level playing field, and another (24.11.73), revealing that rail was cheaper than road, (see Chapter 16).

*Anti-conversion letters, which the League ignore, in the media include one challenging the facts in respect of the USA Pennsylvania Turnpike, which had been claimed as proof of the practicability and benefits of conversion, (see Railway Magazine, January 1965 referred to in Chapter 12).

One report claims that there is no transport corridor in Britain where demand would exceed the capacity of a bus lane, and refers to the cost of rural rail subsidies. (Economist, 6.5.72). No entrepreneur put money forward to test the validity of that claim. That report overlooked that when BR closed a line - which were unsubsidised until 1969 - BR had to subsidise an alternative bus service, which invariably raised fares destroying the illusion that bus fares were cheaper. See Blueprints for Bankruptcy, pages 80, 109, The Railway Closure Controversy, pages 37, 75, 95, 109, 134, 179; & Britains Railways - The Reality, page 93. 

Quotes attributed to experts include an extract from Municipal Engineering (2.2.73). It states the ‘turning point was a report by the Countryside Commission, (see Chapter 13), which showed disused rural railway lines could be put to a wide variety of amenity uses ...... however, many authorities are making roads out of disused lines’. This implies the whole article was extolling the practicality and advantages of conversion to roads. In fact, their quote represents 16% of the article. Their prolific use of the ellipsis, air brushes out 84% including: ‘Cheshire CC’s chief landscape architect, like many other planning officers, discourages suggestions lines can be used as roads. He says the track is too narrow’. More damning is the excluded sentence: ‘It [the Commission] encouraged the growth of the planning school of thought which rejected the argument the only thing to do with disused railway lines was to convert them into roads!’ Also left out are references to West Sussex County Council using 26 miles of closed railway to extend footpaths, Cheshire County Council doing likewise with 12½ miles of closed lines, and ‘the exciting footpath scheme in Stoke’ [on Trent]. The latter is 7 miles long. These together exceed the 43 miles of railway converted to roads. The article mentions West Sussex has sold parts to farmers. There were hundreds of others.

The League book says that the Commission’s Report (see Chapter 13), recognises that ‘it is difficult to put railway land to other uses’. The League claim it is ‘ideal for transport purposes, provided that the necessary adaptation can be carried out’. The inference is that there is no other realistic use, except roads, whereas the Commission’s Report itemises several other uses, which significantly outnumber conversions to roads.

An ell ipsis in another article they pray in aid (Economist, 18.5.74), air brushes out the words: ‘the railway route is not ideal’, and ‘the benefit may not justify the cost’.

An extract of the views of another of the League’s experts was stated to be in The Times of 15.4.74, but was found after much effort to be in the edition of 29.4.74. It made no reference at all to conversion, but was merely a letter about relative fuel consumption of bus and train, which are but one element in costs. An important cost is the depreciation of vehicles. The life of rail coaches is much longer than buses.


Another highly selective extract from an article (17.10.72), by The Times transport correspondent, leaves out the statement by a road haulage operator: ‘Nothing I have said should be taken to mean that I am against railways - which I am not’. The extract also judiciously ignores a comment by the transport correspondent, regarding a government plan to slash the railways: ‘It has been difficult to find anyone speaking out intelligently and openly against the view that railways should be retained at their present size, even if that means a large and growing contribution from the taxpayer’.    

Experts’ views includes one by academic Peter Hall1 (New Society, 23.11.72), on the use of railways as roads - but he was advocating replacing lightly used rural lines by roads – not the conversion of main lines & commuter routes. He envisages reserving a new road for buses if it becomes congested. No figures are quoted in this article, except to repeat the erroneous claim that hundreds of lines had been con­verted. In praying the opinion of this academic in aid of their campaign, the League airbrushes out from its book anything inconvenient: ‘though many of these conversions are short’, ‘in these areas, traffic densities are seldom high’; ‘overbridges pose a minor problem, either they can be raised2 or be replaced by grade [i.e. level] crossings’; ‘where a new road met the remain­ing track system, buses would run into the railway station. Rural areas would get an inte­grated system’.

1. Professor Peter Hall was co-author of the East Anglian main line conversion study, (see chapter 10).

2. A requirement consistently dismissed by the League.

The League ignores an article on the same page of New Society which points out that rural bus services are declining, and that even urban bus services frequently fail to generate an adequate surplus. This article states that the NBC has instructed abandon­ment or drastic reduction of buses, including on routes of closed railways. ‘A public service confers benefits to car users in event of breakdown or bad weather. A bus service provides insurance to car users. Is it not reasonable to ask society to pay a premium for such services? The premium will be paid either by the state or regular bus users, not solely by motorists who gain the benefit.’ It is an incredible proposition and analogous to the attitude of objectors to proposed rail closures. 

They also ignore letters in the next edition of New Society which rubbish the idea: ‘A slightly more detailed examination of his [Hall’s] argument will reveal many absurdities. Most of the rural routes he envisages disappeared years ago, What remains are provincial urban commuter with loads that labour intensive buses cannot cope with, and Inter City lines with freight and local services on them’. ‘Hall’s scheme has validity for lines already closed, but for existing lines it would be wasteful and futile. As an example, the East Suffolk line has fifty level crossings to replace by bridges in a flat landscape or by dangerous grade-crossings which constitute a mild problem for Hall’. Jointly with Edward Smith, he produced a later plan to convert a railway route, (see Chapter 10).


It is not without significance that the League comments on selected parts of the Civic Trust Report. These relate to seven Sections of the Report, namely: IV, V, VI, IX, XIII, XIV, XV. Without explanation, they ignore the intervening eight sections, namely: I, II, III, VII. VIII, X, XI, XII. 


They highlight conversion of 4.5 miles of closed railway into a 24 foot motor road at Southport1 and quote a recent statement2 by N.E. Tovey, the Borough Engineer responsible for the task. It states that ‘the road has a very good safety record’. It doesn’t now, according to the media.3 They go on: ‘the roads previously used by this traffic did not have a good safety record, which means that there are people alive today who would not have been but for the conversion of this stretch of railway’. It doesn’t mean that, at all. It is pure conjecture. There is not one statistic to prove that there were fewer fatalities. There is no evidence that the roads previously used by motorists were identified so that a comparison could be made. Their lack of skill in making valid comparisons, is exposed in the book. An example is that ‘it is interesting to note that the length of six-lane motorway, which could have been built elsewhere for the same cost as this 4.5 mile road is roughly 125 yards’. It is uninteresting and irrelevant, given the different speeds and capacities. In stressing the cheapness of this conversion, the League neglected to mention its’ construction benefited from ‘free tipped material’, a fact revealed in a report of the retirement of Mr. Tovey (Southport Visitor, 26.7.78).. They neglect to mention that the majority of the 20 mile closed Southport railway route was converted to form part of a long distance Walkway, rather than a road.

1.The use of this term motor road, appears frequently throughout conversion proposals from 1955 onwards. It seems to be trying to imply that a 24 foot wide road is just one step below a six lane motorway. Of course, it isn’t. Without a central reservation and barriers, collisions are as likely as ever.

2.They do not quote the location of this statement, in which they insert an ellipsis, which experience shows excludes facts which undermine their claims. None of the professional bodies of which he was a member, can trace this statement in a Paper, Lecture or letter. Reports in the technical media, including his address to the League, do not refer to safety, (Municipal Engineering 20.12.68; Civil Engineering & Public Works Review April 1968).

3. e.g., see Daily Post 7.4.04, which refers to ‘a notorious blackspot on Southport’s coast road. This is believed to be the seventh death in three years on the coast road’.



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