Travel by bus

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Fact 1 – All proposals for converting railways into roads follow a common line:

By assuming that all displaced rail passengers would transfer en masse from trains to buses, when they mostly transfer to cars,

By failing to produce timetables - the standard basis used by operators - claiming that buses would be so frequent that passengers could just turn up. They dispense with timetables because they would prove the impracticability of the dream.

By using a weird formula – not used by operators - to calculate the number of vehicles required,

By using equally weird formulae to calculate staff numbers without preparing rosters which is the standard basis used by operators,

Fact 2 – Most proposals are based on using double-deckers, despite limited clearances in tunnels & bridges. Articulated single-deck vehicles would cause delay to other vehicles when turning corners. The East Anglian study required both types of vehicle, departing every 9 seconds.

Fact 3 – The East Anglian study required drivers to make their last daily journey to their home. Routes would be on a random basis, so that idea would mean wasted time. Where vehicles would be serviced & fuelled was not specified. Parking in residential areas would be unpopular. Non-railway critics stated that the proposed fleet was inadequate.

Fact 4 – Brigadier Lloyd –originator of the conversion idea - advocated slip coaches dropping off without stopping. They would need a driver to steer & brake it safely to a stand.

Fact 5 – Lloyd’s paper to the Inst of Civil Engineers in 1955 was demolished by road transport operators & engineers who said his crude bus fleet assessment was grossly inadequate. He claimed all rail passengers would transfer to untimetabled buses, & that 3,400 vehicles would provide a bus at every station without waiting. BR had 5,600 stations!

Fact 6 – The reality is that whenever a railway line closed, despite privately owned buses being subsidised by British Rail by up to £1m pa, passengers drifted to cars, & most replacement buses were eventually withdrawn. RAC publications show that trains are the first preference for motorists after the car; buses rank bottom of the league.

Fact 7 – Claims buses can achieve train speeds are flawed. Trains are 100-125 mph & rising, buses are 60 mph & not rising. In the East Anglian scheme a 26 mile section of double track main line would be abandoned & buses diverted to the A12 & then to local roads to reach towns served by the main line. It is claimed buses would be 60-65mph average. They would exceed the 60mph m-way bus limit on a non m-way. 4362 level crossings, 2290 footpath crossings & thousands of flat junctions would produce delays & deaths.

Fact 8 - Manpower for buses would not be provided on Day One by redundant train drivers as conversionists naively claim. Even assuming they would accept lower wages & split turns as an alternative to other employment outside transport, they cannot begin training until after railways closed. Training could not be completed until after route conversion was finished, because bus drivers would need to become familiar with their routes. Buses would have to be acquired well in advance of changeover, & locations created for training.

Fact 9 – The claim that buses would ensure all passengers have a seat, was undermined by an article by the author of the East Anglian study (Edward Smith), who said in the Journal of Transport Economics & Policy (Sept 1973), that there was no assumption, peak passengers would be all seated.

Fact 10 - Dalgleish (last chairman of the Conversion League/Campaign) said that when buses break down on a converted railway, they could be pushed clear. The only people available to do that would be passengers! Another lead balloon. Rail passengers never have to do that. As conversion theory proposes no verges to avoid widening rail formations to create standard road widths, there will be nowhere to move a broken down buses anyway. A failed train is pushed clear by a following train – totally impractical with buses!

Fact 11 - Conversionists claim rail passengers will transfer to buses, because if most transfer to car, there would be gridlock. Rail passenger miles have been fairly constant for 50 years, despite halving route mileage. PSV passenger miles have declined, despite increased road capacity. It is claimed bus passengers could be as comfortable as train – with buffets, toilets, more space, on-board staff, even sleeping berths! These undesigned, uncosted vehicles – implying less seats - are thrown into the fray willy nilly.

Fact 12 – Conversionists claim that rail passengers would not transfer to cars because they would be unable to park on arrival. That would not deter determined motorists. Transfer to cars would create gridlock, but they could switch to those “ghost” roads (see “capacity”) & create gridlock there.

Fact 13 – The anti-rail lobby has a new hobby-horse: Guided Buses. These involve constructing pairs of concrete “rails” guiding buses. The idea was first introduced in Germany in 1980. They had two systems – one has closed completely & the other has been reduced. Australia had a similar system, & planned to have more, but has dropped the idea. Japan has a few miles. Now, only the UK, helped by generous government funding, is pursuing the idea. It is fraught with problems, not least in the winter when snow can often only be cleared by hand or expensive under-surface heating. Locations where roads & farm crossings went over the railway will present hazards. One defective or damaged guide wheel is enough to cause diversion back onto ordinary roads. The typical unbroken length of a UK guide section is less than a mile. (See article in Focus, journal of the C.I.L.T.)  The conversion mini-lobby cannot look with favour on this development, which precludes their use by freight & transfer of cars & non-modified buses onto a former rail route.

Fact 14 – Conversionists love quoting far away ‘experience’, especially New York, whose bus services they extol. An American web site (see my book, page 179) states: ‘New York once had best surface transit system in world. Today, the system has declined to point where New Yorkers skip taking bus because bus is often no faster than walking. It is certainly slower than taking a cab, or driving your own car’.

Fact 15 – The Liverpool Street conversion study rejects the Transwatch idea of converted routes restricted to buses, since the study envisages displaced rail freight and 39m diverted cars on a converted system.

Fact 16 – Conversionists casually refer to the number of buses required for one location or small area, and ignore the implication of hundreds of thousands of buses (and lorries) required nationally, needing commitment & heavy investment by several large companies – existing or new. The task of moving displaced railway traffic could not be left to the self-employed, owner driver or cowboy. They would require very large staff & would be likely to be unionised.


More information will be found in “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream” by E.A. Gibbins

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