Anti Rail Jibes



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Railway Lunatics”

is a web site created by Transwatch in response to my paper which countered unjustified claims in a paper by Transwatch (see & click claims): 

“This topic is devoted to giving air space to those who prefer mud pies to reasoned debate. Currently there is just one entry but we look to more of the same. Meanwhile elsewhere there is fun to be had with Transport 2000” 15th December 2006 Wp. Ref. railloons/Gibbins01.  It goes on:

“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 & operators at an Institution of Civil Engineers Debate in 1955’.  In contradiction 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. From it, it is clear that the railway lobby typically denies that a two way road can exist, whereas those who have seen a road know how effective roads are”.

“Further on Mr Gibbins asserts that our fuel consumption comparisons are based on ‘one hypothetical lorry – fully loaded by weight – with an average for all freight trains’. That is not true. Instead we hypothecated a lorry carrying 30 tonnes on its outbound journey & empty on its return.  Hence the average load was 15 tonnes. Of course not all lorries replacing the rail function may carry the 30 tonnes but (a) it is true to say that the around 60 percent of rail freight is bulk freight (b) many lorries may return with a half load”.

“We conclude that this book should be treasured as an illustration of the extraordinarily inaccurate comment typical of the railway lobby”.[1]


Vehicles conveying bulk rail freight will not return with a load – part or otherwise. Power stations receive about 53m tonnes of coal pa, & despatch about 8% of the residue as fly ash pa. Ash travels in pressurised wagons & moreover could not be in vehicles used to carry coal as it would be contaminated. It does not go to collieries.

There is no scope for return loads of oil tanker trains nor for aggregates, ore & like materials – are all one way traffic.

Cars by rail from manufacturers are one way traffic, & very lightly loading into the bargain.

In short, there would be no return loads for lorries carrying bulk loads outwards – which amounts to over 80% of railfreight (not his 60%) on a converted system.

No evidence is given that any entrepreneur would set up a fleet of thousands of lorries to convey coal from collieries & ports, whose outputs vary. This is not a job to be done by unplanned transport, which conversionists have always envisaged. Cowboy & small outfits would not get a look in. The up-front investment in vehicles, depots, staff & computer control would be colossal. They would find power-generating companies tougher customers when it came to pricing margins than supermarkets!

A comparison between one ‘hypothecated fully loaded freight train” (returning empty) & one analogous ‘hypothecated lorry’ doing likewise is a reasoned argument which will stand the test of debate in a mature assembly. Compare either to a national average of the other, & a mature assembly would jeer. My dictionary defines “hypothecate” as ‘pledging, mortgaging’. It was and remains a hypothetical lorry – with no owner, no registration and no record of loads.


Where is the mud pie?

He did not have ‘an extract from the book’. This was a paper containing material not included in the book, & as a one page paper cannot cover the material in the 212 page book. The criticised paper merely referred readers to the book. Anyone reading the book will not find this mis-named “extract”. NB – Railloons was written before the book had been read.

Railway Conversion – the impractical dream contains a detailed account of Lloyd’s proposals & the Inst of Civil Engineers debate. It reveals that they were demolished by road transport operators & road engineers. Conversionists later claimed that only railway engineers objected, when the Minutes show otherwise. This can be verified by researching the Minutes, which are in the British Library, ICE & elsewhere. Reference to the pages of The Engineer will reveal the debate did notcontinue in the journal until 1958’, but merely re-surfaced in 1958 following a debate on road congestion in November 1957 which ignored railway conversion as an option. The magazine is in Birmingham Central Library (ref BF620.5), and doubtless the British Library and elsewhere. Hence, I also ‘have photo copies of the published correspondence’. My assertion (see above) is therefore precisely accurate. His claims about fuel consumption, being based on seriously erroneous assumptions about rail freight are completely invalid. Like it or not – a hypothetical lorry is compared with a national average of all rail freight which also includes materials for rail maintenance & renewals which are analogous to ignored road construction & repair materials. That national average is related to a figure for national rail freight consumption of fuel, which would – even if accurate – include running to depot, etc., none of which is included for a hypothetical lorry. Click also fuel.

Transwatch Director, P. Withrington wrote elsewhere: ‘the people who produced it [width & headroom data] were engineers, ex-army’. ‘Ex-army officers’ in the Railway Conversion League/Campaign from the Royal Engineers: Brigadier Lloyd, Major Watt & Major Dalgleish. In fact they did not claim in their published writings to have measured railways – a challenging and costly task for a small army never mind three retired officers. Indeed when the editor of The Engineer called  for this data to be supplied by Brig Lloyd, alone supporter said it was government’s job to ascertain it.


Where is the mud pie? Not from this quarter. They were certainly thrown at British Rail & its managers by Lloyd, Douglass, Dalgleish & Co., as my book reveals. Their generalisations & anecdotes abounded. A claim by Dalgleish that BR had a corps of 500 letter writers responding to criticism is an example of mud slinging totally without foundation. Letters to the media were restricted by BRB policy to a handful of Divisional PR officers & a few very senior Managers. Many of their letters were not published. (see Blueprints for Bankruptcy, chapter 6 – Media Influence). My catalogue of unpublished letters began after retirement, and is now in triple figures. (see  then letters)

The so-called ‘railway lobby’ – invariably ignored by the media – does not deny ‘that a two way road can exist’ – aridiculous assertion, we mostly all live on one. However, we deny – with factual evidence - that a safe two way road without verges can exist on double track formations. To envisage a useable road surface of a few mm of asphalt laid up to a fence (i.e. without verges) is patently absurd. Moreover, drivers are not competent to drive at 60 mph within inches of a fence.

We certainly deny that the land outside the compacted formation: the cess, ditches, embankments, cuttings etc. up to the fence – is capable of bearing LGVs & PSVs on a few mm of asphalt.

We deny that double track tunnels can be converted to two way roads &, if any were converted, 60 mph buses & lorries would be a licence to kill & be killed. Tunnels would not accept LGVs or high PSVs. The cost of converting, ventilating & lighting tunnels would be horrendous. Not one penny has ever been allocated to a study of this element of conversion, much less to its construction. Tunnels were built to minimum 19th century standards, with recesses in the walls at intervals for use by track maintenance staff who could be in a tunnel when a train announced its approach by the compulsory sounding of its whistle or horn..

Single track tunnels, which are ignored by the conversionist mini-lobby, would only be usable by cars & light vans with traffic lights to control opposing movements. Light controlled tunnels would be a recipe for accidents as impatient drivers continue to pass red lights in the hope of beating those starting from the other end, as occurs daily with every light controlled road works site or under narrow bridges & aqueducts.


Despite having pointed out to Transwatch that some rail traffic fills wagons to maximum by volume long before it reaches maximum weight capacity – & would do likewise in lorries – the Transwatch web-site still retained the claim that all traffic would be loaded to maximum by weight. A car transporter would be full by volume when carrying as little as 5-6 tons. They would have no return loads. Some traffic fills lorries by volume, long before weight capacity is reached. Even road haulage boss Sir Dan Pettit – partially quoted by Transwatch – would not have denied that.


A so-called ‘Commentary on Railway Conversion the impractical dream’ (which suggests that he has now read it) on the Transwatch web site on 6.8.07: WP ref, Gibbins02  ignores:

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

  • 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 analogy lovingly advanced by conversionists, confident it was so far away in distance & time as to not be at risk of exposure;
  • 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’;
  • & sundry other pages demolishing other aspects;

&, instead focuses on the Preface – the section setting out how the book came to be written. Even then Transwatch scores a massive own goal, writing :-

‘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 & Sunderland. The proposal was “That it is in the national interest to restrict the carriage of passengers & 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, & concludes that  ‘We (who we?) comment, fortunately for the nation that railway group’s vote was not reflected with any force at the national level.  Instead it provides a glimpse into the unreal world that the railway enthusiast inhabits’.  ‘Railway enthusiast’ is another term he uses without knowing its meaning – see below.


What he fails to grasp is that if road transport had been subject to the same legislative controls, legal control of rates & charges, limitations on working hours, political interference, safety standards & compelled to be common carriers, it would never have achieved the levels of traffic which it claims. He does not grasp that within that volume of road traffic every household commodity was counted: local coal deliveries, furniture removals, etc., etc. Neither does he grasp the scale of inaccuracy arising from estimation. Without justifying his view, he chooses to dismiss a statement in the book that records – for the first time – & obtained from the DfT – the unreliability of road data. Any business which was compelled, as railways were to publicly publish & charge fixed rates to all without preference & without secrecy - would have been wound up. Road transport competitors were free to undercut & give secret preferential rates at will. Incredibly, during WW2, they flouted government by raising charges to levels criticised by a Select Committee and industry[2], whilst rail charges were frozen virtually for the duration and government war traffic carried at government imposed discount rates! Anyone who claims not to see this inequitable treatment of railways as fundamental to the issue, is not approaching the subject with an open mind.


Transwatch claims, that with conversion, ‘lorries, along with other vehicles, would divert in tens of thousands from unsuitable city streets they currently clog & from unsuitable roads they currently burden’. Not one single vehicle would disappear from the residential streets of my town nor many others which I have visited. The effect on the town centre would be imperceptible, as their delay inducing deliveries in unsuitably large vehicles continues unabated. That would be mirrored in most towns. There are only 11,000 miles of railways to desert to from 220,000 miles of road. Arithmetic & geography render the transfer implausible. He loses his plot again by, elsewhere, trying to advance the hopeless case for conversion by quoting an American Report (see below) - unavailable in the UK – said to claim that a bus-only road would have greater capacity than rail. If it is bus only, there would be no room for displaced rail freight, much less diverted lorries, nor for rail passengers who would divert to cars, nor for the millions of cars deserting existing ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads forecast by the only route-specific study of conversion in order to claim time saving benefits with which conversion is to be ‘funded’!


He then pursues another red herring: ‘consider what would happen if the nation paved the motorway & Trunk Road system with rails’ No one has made such a ridiculous suggestion. My book illustrates my arguments with an indication of what conversion to rail of one lane of one motorway could achieve to prove how the motorways are wastefully used.


‘Mr Gibbins goes on to say: Perversely, they then seek to count all traffic wherever it flows, including on rural & residential roads”.  Withrington ignores that no traffic originates on motorways & relatively little on trunk roads. Most fatalities occur on those roads, whose existence the conversion campaign endeavours to air brush out of any comparisons with railways. Claims that using converted railways for express buses would cut accidents caused by buses overlooks that those causing most accidents – i.e. in residential & business areas – will remain there because otherwise they will be empty! They keep losing the plot’.

He goes on:

‘We are bound to say that statement seems to be complete nonsense.  For clarification, supposing any is needed, - we are interested in comparing the casualty rates on the strategic road network with those by rail & that is all. There are two constituencies, namely (a) passengers & (b) system wide rates. Since the casualties per passenger-km on the strategic road network suffered by those travelling by express coach are less than suffered by train we conclude that if the rail network were converted to a reserved road system & if passengers had transferred to express coaches then those passengers would suffer a lower death rate than previously. We also found that if ordinary traffic, void of pedestrians, cyclists & bikers transferred to a reserved system, such as the railways offer, then the system wide casualty rate would be less than currently imposed on society by rail after the inclusion of staff, postal workers, people on railway business &, crucially, trespassers but not suicides[3]. Of course converting one to the other would not alter casualty rates on other roads but then that is scarcely part of the plot. Later we may extend this commentary but, if view of the above, is it worth the effort?’

Elsewhere to overcome the problem of huge numbers of buses using converted rail terminals he belatedly threw in the idea that they would have three-storey bus stations on the site. I demonstrate elsewhere that most such terminals would be higher than three levels,

Here again he has lost his plot, because he has claimed that avoidance of injuries/fatalities on station stairways would be avoided – but now plans to replace the busiest level-graded terminals with multi-storey staircases (see below)!


Notice how the argument flips from ignoring 220,000 miles of road to counting the traffic on it in a generalised comparison of rail & road?

Whilst suicides are ignored now, conversionists originally counted them as railway deaths in written evidence to the MoT’s Special Advisory Group because they were ‘an evil characteristic of railways’. Suicides are not counted now, because conversionists had to bow to reality (when I pointed it out) – they would use other means.

Lloyd did not claim trespassing would cease with conversion, but could be dealt with by uncosted ‘motor patrols’. Other uncosted measures would be necessary to prevent cyclists & pedestrians using the converted roads. Despite this, Transwatch cannot see that trespassing will not disappear. Unlike on railways, they will not be logged as fatalities caused by buses. Trespassers are taking a short cut, & will continue to do so, being at increased risk. Transwatch cannot air brush out the reality that every single railway closure led mostly to transfer to cars, & such transfer to bus as occurred initially, ceased after operators found that they could not make a profit without a bigger subsidy (BR had to subsidise replacement buses by up to £1m pa, see BRB Accounts). Neither can he airbrush out the reality that converted railways with thousands of level crossings, & right turns bear no similarity to m-ways & dual carriageways & are a huge danger. Thus the experience on such roads is not a standard to be expected on converted railways. Their argument becomes more ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with each new argument brought forward to counter unassailable logic & resourced statistics.


Transwatch cannot possibly claim that accidents to postal workers will disappear. Postal workers killed on roads are not identified as postal worker deaths. With conversion, it cannot be assumed that they will be protected by some supernatural power. Likewise, rail staff engaged on track maintenance will be replaced by analogous highway staff, who will be subject to accidents more accidents because  unlike trains, motor vehicles can swerve into them. They would not be linked to particular forms of transport, due to the inadequacies of highway statistics.


In quoting from the Preface, the Transwatch web-site ignores other paragraphs. ‘Among hundreds of files on closure cases examined by me, not one contained a representation that closure be approved & the line converted to a road. Why these opportunities were missed, when every case was advertised in the media, with the address of the Consultative Committee which would conduct a public hearing, was never explained by conversionists. It may have been a fear of public ridicule or worse’.

‘So obsessed are conversionists to prove railways can be converted to good roads, they will accept sub-standard width roads - no better than tens of thousands of miles of existing roads. At the same time, they decry the inadequacy of those similar width roads as having been built in the horse era, & air-brush them out of any comparison with rail’.

‘When Transwatch Director, Mr. P. Withrington, became aware of the publication of my 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, without studying entirely new data & research, decide that it can be rebutted? It suggests that the anti-rail lobby are unwilling to consider any argument objectively’.


The claim that bus travel is safer than rail is transparent nonsense. Transwatch envisages replacing one-level city terminals with three-storey bus stations, whose staircases or escalators will pose a new hazard, especially to hundreds of thousands of commuters. Hopefully, the inevitable increase in terminal accidents would be counted as bus travel accidents unlike those occurring on bus stations today. Accidents from any cause on railway property are counted as railway accidents, even if no train is involved. Accidents on level crossings which are part of the road are catalogued as rail accidents, when independent authorities: DfT’s Railway Inspectors & Coroners record most of them as due to negligence of vehicle drivers & pedestrians. A person injured whilst running to catch a train is a railway accident, the same person doing likewise whilst trying to catch a bus is not a bus accident.


It is worth mentioning that whilst additions were made to Transwatch web-sites: The childish “Railloons” item dated 15 December 2006; a new “climate change” dated November 2006; “train delays” updated January 2007; & “Snippets from the Times”, on which the last item is 6 February 2009; inaccuracies continued in the Transwatch web site which had been pointed out two years earlier. These were from a RailFuture publication; & his “fact-sheet 3” which stated: “The source for the railway widths cited above is British Railways”. They were belatedly corrected March 2009, when the web-site was amended to delete the latter & amend the former.


Why were the opportunities to convert closed railways of 100+ miles length not grabbed decades ago, instead of making a song & a dance about the “conversion” of lengths as little as 109 yards, or something that was “near the closed railway”! Highway Authorities had first refusal. Any subsequent offer by an entrepreneur putting up the money to fund a toll road would have been snapped up by the all-powerful Treasury. If conversionist theory is to be believed it would have been a licence to print money, & would have given the proof that their ideas were feasible. The reality is that they want the taxpayer to pick up the tab to test an unproven theory - based on vague generalisations - which cannot be reversed, except at more expense to the taxpayer. The nonsense advanced by conversionists about railway subsidies versus road taxes is addressed in my book.


Before 1993, conversionists had not created ‘ghost’ roads. Lloyd, Watt, Douglass, Dalgleish, etc., had not rumbled the flaw in their claim that railways were poorly utilised. They hadn’t realised that road utilisation was so much worse! In 1993, my first book (Blueprints for Bankruptcy) was published. It revealed that political incompetence was the main cause of railway bankruptcy. As an aside, it referred to conversion & flaws in the League’s 1989 advert, mentioning my unpublished response to the Daily Telegraph about their advert (see, then click letters) proving that road utilisation was much worse than rail. (The letter is re-printed in Railway Conversion – the impractical dream). The Guardian publicised my book on 2 April 1994. It was sold by Menzies & WH Smith where it was probably seen by a conversionist. Or it may have been seen in one of the many public libraries which purchased it. Significantly, the Railway Conversion League/Campaign folded in 1994.


In October 2001, Focus – Journal of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport published my article demolishing conversion. (see – then click conversion). It demonstrated that road utilisation was worse than railways, & also showed that motorways take up as much width as three main lines! (click diagram) A year later, Transwatch UK was set up to revive the idea. It introduced ‘ghost’ roads to overcome the revelation that roads were more wasteful of space than railways. Without my comparative statistics showing that road transport needed 22 times as much road mileage & 80 times as much surface area, for 10 times as much traffic, there would have been no need to introduce ‘ghost’ roads.


Railway enthusiast is a term which appears to cloud the Transwatch view of reality. Men like me who worked as professionals on railways are enthusiastic railwaymen, not railway enthusiasts. I was never a train-spotter, even before joining the railway. Again, use of a dictionary may help him. For a definition see The Oxford Companion to British Railway History. I have never subscribed to the view that all railway routes should be preserved as railway enthusiasts tend to do, (see The Railway Closure Controversy- out of print, but in libraries).

The converse of the railway enthusiast is the road enthusiast who opposes the closure of thousands of miles of under-used roads, which should have closed to cut national expenditure & converted to other use, when m-ways, bypasses etc were built. However, that would have left motorways without diversionary roads when accidents occur every day. These under-used ‘ghost’ roads are essential for diversion & therefore, cannot be cut from any valid comparisons.




Another jibe in an open letter to me (LTT 544), Withrington wrote: “If the word of Don Morin is not good enough for me?” My response was “until I see Morin’s Report I cannot comment”, and Withrington has never revealed its location to me. Having seen how conversionists selectively quoted from reports and media, I do not accept any extracts of reports. (This report took a long time to trace, iy could not be found in the UK; see more anti-rail jibes.


He also says an estimate by one ‘prestigious firm of engineers’ may not be set aside by me, but my book shows conversionists sarcastically dismissed estimates by ‘prestigious engineering firms’ who rubbished conversionists’ estimates. Hence, I ask Withrington if the published word of several eminent people - of whom he can scarcely deny knowledge – is good enough for him:

  • Ernest Marples – founding partner of UK’s biggest road building company (which would have profited hugely from conversion), - who as Transport Minister of a road dominated Department said railways were not suitable as roads. (see Report of his Special Advisory Group)
  • The Minister for the Environment (embracing Transport) who threw out the Hall/Smith plan which Withrington praises? (see The Times, 23.12.75)
  • Sir David Robertson, who first advocated conversion of the Inverness-Wick line, and whose final word on railways was against closure – and, hence, conversion - as ‘they were essential’. (see Hansard 3.6.60, vol 624, col 1797)
  • Prestigious road engineers and operators who demolished the concept at a debate at the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1955.
  • Prestigious consultants Coopers & Lybrand and Highway Planning Consultant G.B. Parker who in 1984, demolished conversion prospects in a published Report, a copy of which was sent to the GLC, where Withrington worked in a Transport capacity.
  • Various local authorities & contractors who dismissed the low conversion costs of the Conversion mini-lobby (see “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream”)
  • Government Transport experts who decided what road widths & bridge heights should be, and which all exceed those he claims is adequate.
  • Edward Smith, whose study of the East Anglian route Withrington so lavishly praised, but who stated that land would have to be acquired at various locations alongside the railway to be converted and half of the bridges widened or demolished, and wrote that not all peak bus passengers would be seated on converted railways?


See also more rail jibes


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[1] Viewers of this site are invited to judge for themselves. The book is out of print but available through libraries and on Kindle

[2] See Square Deal Denied – in libraries and on Kindle

[3] Reflecting achange of mind. Conversion theorists had hitherto claimed that suicides would diminish if railways were converted.