I came across
the idea of converting railways into roads in 1958, whilst researching for
material to use in a debate between the Station Masters & Goods Agents
Discussion Groups based at Sunderland and
The debate was
attended by Norman Payton, the Divisional Operating Superintendent covering
The impression that I gained of many critics of railways, was that they were trying to demonstrate the railway skills that they had learned on the playroom floor. It was my belief then, and still is, that had railways been treated on a comparable basis as road transport, no special favours were needed for railways to be successful. However, I was to learn that politicians had never had any intention of giving railways equal commercial freedom as that enjoyed by other businesses, including other transport and nationalised industries. The evidence of this is recorded in my books Square Deal Denied and Britain’s Railways - The Reality. Ministers claimed that they knew how to run businesses, but enforced policies on BR which would have bankrupted any company, however skilled their management. However, playing to the gallery, by interfering in pricing and other management decisions, had major electoral advantages. Anyone who reads recent critiques by leading historians, of political blundering in other fields, over the last 90 years or so, should see how railways came to be decimated by political incompetence. Had that not happened, the basic premise for conversion would never have arisen.
My book Blueprints for Bankruptcy - which demonstrated how government policies had bankrupted BR - included a Chapter on the subject of conversion. This included the text of an unpublished letter to the Daily Telegraph which - using publicly available data - destroyed the basis of an advert by the Railway Conversion Campaign. Material from that book and some new sources was used for an article for Focus - journal of the Institute of Transport & Logistics - in October 2001, which was prompted by an article in the Sunday Telegraph urging conversion. I wrote to tell the editor that it had been put forward 50 years ago and demolished by road experts. He thanked me, but made no correction, but pursued the idea again in two subsequent articles.
The article in Focus prompted Frank Paterson, (former General Manager, Eastern Region, BR), to suggest to me that the subject required a wider audience. Hence this book, which contains a few facts and statistics included in my original draft article - but which being too long for publication, were left out by - together with a wealth of new material. When I began to research for this book, I discovered that Brigadier Lloyd’s proposal had first appeared in the Royal Engineers Journal in June 1954, under the pen name Monstroviam, literally, I show the way. I fear that he was showing the way to catastrophe in terms of finance, fatalities and congestion. He certainly demonstrated that he knew precious little about commercial road transport - never mind railways! Having managed cartage operations at three railway goods depots, my experience embraced both road and rail transport. My job entailed a good knowledge of the law of inland transport relating to both rail and road following Institute of Transport examinations and practical experience - the principles of which we, in BR, adhered to, in marked contrast to the attitude and behaviour of our competitors. Little has changed, in that regard, since then.
This discovery led me to investigate what had been written or published since Brigadier Lloyd’s book. This turned up a number of other papers, reports, media articles, etc., which are covered in this book. All have something in common with the Lloyd thinking - all are impractical and, where they venture into finance, it is proved - with their own figures, that they would be disastrous.
researching for a previous book: The
Railway Closure Controversy, I visited the offices of the Transport Users
Consultative Committees in
In my first book on railways, published in 1993, on the eve of the privatisation, in a Chapter on the external misinterpretation of complaints statistics, I coined the phrase: If you are criticised on statistical grounds you must first check the source data. That proved even more relevant and important for this study. This book reveals that statistics quoted to prove the alleged cheapness of conversion have no basis in fact, as costs claimed have been dismissed by the local authorities involved in ‘conversion’ of invariably small lengths of railway into part of a much longer section of new road. No separate costs were prepared for the railway section, since there was no need to do so. All other statistical claims made by the conversion campaign have been closely examined and shown to be wrong.
My investigation into conversion theory led to the discovery of the unreliability of road traffic statistics used (see2, Chapter 11) by the road and conversion lobbies. I have learned that the impressive volumes of traffic: billions of tonne miles/km and billions of passenger miles/km prepared by the DfT - copied dutifully by ONS and freely quoted by the road and conversion lobbies - are really valueless, when making comparisons between road and rail. They may be adequate for other less accuracy sensitive matters. The second discovery is to find how different are the objectives of the road and conversion lobbies. The true self-centred road lobby counts every tonne and every passenger originating on every road whether rural or residential. Conversion campaigners count only motorways and trunk roads in comparisons of highway mileage and accidents. Perversely, they then seek to count all road traffic wherever it flows, including that originating on rural and residential roads. They ignore that no traffic originates on motorways, and relatively little on trunk roads. Most fatalities occur on those roads, whose existence the conversion campaign endeavours to air brush out of any comparison with railways, but including every mile of minor branch line. Thus claims that using converted railways for express buses would cut accidents caused by buses, overlooks that those causing most accidents - i.e. in residential and business areas - will remain there because otherwise they will be virtually empty! They keep losing the plot. Their endeavours to beef up road traffic volumes, and downplay rail volumes, led me to research the reliability of their data. It opened a can of worms. Road traffic volume is based on little more than crude estimates.
So obsessed are the conversion theorists with the desire to prove that railways can be converted to good roads, they are willing to accept sub-standard width roads - really no better than tens of thousands of miles of existing roads (see). At the same time, they decry the inadequacy of those tens of thousands of miles of similar width roads as having been built in the horse era, and air-brush them out of any comparison with rail.
What is particularly incredible is that having claimed all railway track is suitable for immediate conversion to good motor roads, the Hall/Smith plan for converting the route from Liverpool Street to East Anglia includes the abandonment of about 25 miles of double track formation,. Brig Lloyd must be turning in his grave.
When Transwatch Director, Mr. P. Withrington, became aware of the publication of the first edition of this book, he wrote to his informant, Mr. N. Bradbury of Railfuture, that he would acquire the book, so that he could rebut it - having not read or seen the book! This is incredible. How can anyone know, without studying entirely new data and research that it can be rebutted? It serves to underline that the anti-rail lobby are unwilling to consider an alternative argument objectively.