Back to Home Page

My book was reviewed by Paul Faucet F.C.I.T. in Focus – the monthly journal of the prestigious Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport in April 2007

Paul Fawcett MPhil, FCIT, CertEd is a semi-retired Senior Lecturer in Transport Studies and now Honorary Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, and external examiner for the Chartered Institute of Transport (now IOLT). Two of his books are Managing Passenger Logistics (Air, Rail, Road, Sea) and The Road to Transport Management  (Road Transport)

 

CILTreview

Railway Gazette Nov 2006

Railway Conversion — the impractical dream by E A Gjbbins, (Leisure Products)

IF YOU are criticised on statistical grounds you must first check the source data’, states Gibbins, who provides a detailed riposte to claims by the Railway Conversion League and Transwatch that much of the UK rail network could, and should, be removed to provide rights-of- way for new roads. He shows that the lobbyists’ examples of conversions are almost all short lengths of former trackbed which have disappeared beneath much wider roads; including part of a single-track branch which was swallowed by a motorway. The story of the Pennsylvania Turnpike is traced, showing that claims of a successful US conversion are false.

Misleading comparisons of different types of roads and railways are reviewed, including the distortions caused by focusing solely on motorways. Restricted formation width is shown to be an obstacle to road use, Gibbins finding that ‘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. Meanwhile ‘they decry the inadequacy of those tens of thousands of miles of similar width roads as having being built in the horse era, and air-brush them out of any comparison with rail

 

Railwatch 2007

Railway Conversion - the impractical Dream by E A Gibbins

Review by Norman Bradbury

Most Railfuture members will be familiar with campaigns to convert railways into roads for use by buses and heavy goods vehicles. The first such campaign was the work of Brigadier Lloyd and dates from 1954. This was followed by the Railway Conversion League which survived until the death of its chairman Angus Dalgleish in 1994.More recently, Paul Withrington has revived the idea under the banner, Transport Watch. Mr Gibbins’ book has thoroughly researched the conversionist’s proposals, explaining difficulties and analysing the costs involved and systematically deals in great detail with the technical issues.

It becomes clear the conversion of rail into road is far from a simple matter of laying tarmac on the formation and the conversionist’s claims seriously under-estimate the costs and difficulties, while at the same time grossly over-estimate the benefits, if indeed there are any. Also explained are the real reasons for the railways’ economic plight due to governmental interference and mismanagement from the First World War to the present day. This book is to be highly recommended and should be on every rail campaigner’s bookshelf.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The three reviews above follow conventional lines – a review initiated by an editor who selects a reviewer from a Panel.  “Reviewer” (Mr. Withrington) told a third party – who then told me: “that he will acquire my book ‘so that I may rebut it’”. No self-respecting reviewer would condemn an unread book. Any editor who commissioned a review  would delete the offender from his Panel.  He then created a web site using nursery school language to “rebut” my book – demonstrating that he had read the first three pages. I assume that the use of the royal “we” really means him

 We have before us an extract from the book ‘Railway Conversion – the Impractical Dream’ by E A Gibbins.  It starts with the assertion that the ‘Railway Conversion idea’ (initiated by Brigadier Lloyd) was ‘demolished by road engineers and operators at an Institution of Civil Engineers Debate in 1955”.  In contradiction (sic) we point out that the debate following the original discussion lasted until 1958.  Most of that occurred in the pages of the then prestigious magazine ‘The Engineer’.  We have that correspondence. 

Unfortunately for him, I also have the correspondence. Anyone interested in the facts should refer to the pages of that still prestigious magazine, when they will confirm that the debate did not continue in the journal until 1958, but merely re-surfaced then following announcement of a Conference on road congestion in November 1957 which pointedly ignored railway conversion as a practical option.  Anyone who thought that back copies of the magazine were unavailable,  would be a surprised to learn that it was held by Birmingham Central Library (ref BF620.5), and doubtless many other major libraries.

Transwatch (aka P. Withrington) scores a massive own goal:-

‘The Preface - In the first paragraph we read that in 1958 Mr Gibbins was researching material for a debate between the Station Masters & Goods Agents based at Newcastle on Tyne and Sunderland. The proposal was “That it is in the national interest to restrict the carriage of passengers and freight by road”.  Nobody could be found to oppose the motion so Mr Gibbins was pressed into  that role.  He reports that despite being congratulated on his performance the motion was carried’.

Transwatch then quotes the ostensibly higher volume of freight carried by road than by rail. (road statistics that I demonstrated in my book are not worth the paper they are written on). He does not grasp that within that alleged volume of road traffic every household commodity was counted: coal deliveries, furniture removals, etc., etc. Neither does he grasp the degree of estimation. He chooses to ignore a statement in my book that reveals – for the first time – and from an identified source – the unreliability of road data.

He then pursues another red herring: ‘consider what would happen if the nation paved the motorway and Trunk Road system with rails’ I did not suggest that, but did illustrate my arguments with an indication of what the conversion to rail of one lane of a motorway would achieve – something he would have discovered if, like any other book reviewer, he had read through to the end. He may think that by reading the preface, he had learned enough. In contrast, I have read every word of his web-site, being incredulous with every new claim. Only one MP proposed a line conversion in Parliament , but when that line was submitted for closure – he changed his mind and opposed rail closure!  Ministers of Transport, including Ernest Marples – joint partner of a major road construction company – were unconvinced and said so.  About 2% of closed railways were “converted” into roads, having been widened by a factor of up to eight in the process!  Local Authorities who had first call, after the central Government, found they were unsuited for conversion into anything but footpaths, cycleways and bridlepaths. The Conversion lobby could not persuade a member to attend a closure Public Hearing of the top 10 closures which I examined -. to support  closure and propose conversion. 

Having apparently read the book - A ‘Commentary on Railway Conversion the impractical dream’ appeared later on the web on 6.8.07: WP ref, Gibbins02

The ‘commentary’ ignores

the challenging facts set out in the 15 page chapter demolishing the Transwatch case,

the 55 pages of the 3 chapters demolishing the Liverpool Street study which Transwatch praises,

the 78 pages demolishing the original Railway Conversion League/Campaign case

the demolition of the American turnpike so lovingly advanced by conversionists as a protoyype

the 11 pages setting out the paucity of ‘conversion’ – 250 miles out of 10,000 closed, even using the most liberal meaning of the word ‘conversion’

and sundry other pages demolishing conversion claims

and, instead focuses on the Preface – the section of a book setting out how the book came to be written, containing not one word on the argumemts on the proosal. Even then