The mini conversion lobby repeatedly claims railways converted to roads will cope with rail passengers & freight in road vehicles, & have space for traffic from existing roads. This is now said to be dependent on ‘roads managed in a way that avoids congestion’. That will bring a wry smile to motorists. That will be the day, when any road is managed so as to avoid congestion. Not a penny has ever been allocated by conversion theorists to a management system. Managed motor roads do not exist, how can he say what their capacity is?

Fact 1 – Road utilisation is worse than rail. Road traffic has 24 times as much route mileage for 8 times as much traffic. Faced with the unchallengeable fact that there are 250,000 miles of road, & only 11,000 miles of railway, desperate conversionists claim a comparison should be between all 11,000 miles of trunk, secondary & rural railways & 30,000 miles of motorways & dual carriageways. They are blind to the reality that without the non-major roads, there would be no road traffic of any consequence.

Fact 2 - Without 220,000 miles of ‘ghost roads’, there would be few hauliers as most have premises on these roads! Hundreds of bridges on ghost roads have been strengthened, & more are being strengthened now, at enormous cost to cater for HGVs when the roads are perfectly adequate for all other traffic. Other traffic is inconvenienced for many months by ensuing diversions. Whilst, total railway length is ‘compared’ only with motorways & trunk roads, it is claimed that deaths will fall on the very roads which are ignored!

Fact 3 – A basic knowledge of geography & maths will enable anyone to realise that traffic on 220,000 miles of road cannot find an alternative route over a converted railway system of 10,000 miles. Nevertheless, conversionists claim users of ghost roads will have quicker journeys! Dalgleish said in Truth about Transport that all long distance traffic could transfer to converted railways. That is patently absurd. It meant that the 40% of all traffic that was on 220,000 miles of road could transfer to 11,000 miles of converted railway.

Fact 4 - The 1970 Conversion League booklet referred to railways being converted to “Motor Roads” (a new definition) and defined them as having “negligible cross traffic, no frontage access, & limited access for vehicles joining the system”. Neglible cross traffic indeed! They ignored thousands of public & private (farm & domestic) level crossings. Every one would present a delay factor & accident potential that are totally ignored. Indeed, they claim that on converted railways, traffic would travel as fast as on motorways - which are free of cross roads - & have safety levels which would equal if not surpass motorways!

Fact 5 –Transwatch claims that every ton of rail freight travels 10 miles on roads at each end. In fact, 80-85% is to &/or from private sidings (ports, quarries, collieries, factories, depots, power stations, etc). Rail traffic that does involve a road element amounts typically to a mile or two, & that all takes place on the “ghost roads” which are ignored! 

Fact 6 – Road tonne/miles are DfT data which is not as accurate as believed. The only data available on m-way traffic is distance travelled by vehicles over 3.5t gross (including vehicle). This is an estimated 11.5bn vehicle miles [2003]. This is an estimated 40% of all vehicle miles for all roads. From these two estimates, the DfT produces an estimated tonne-mile figure for vehicles over 3.5t gross. This is an exaggeration of the estimated weight carried because if a vehicle drops a part load en route, total tonne-mileage is based on the full load at start multiplied by the max distance. This basis of compound estimates is treated by conversionists as tablets of stone. Rail freight is based on actual weight & distance. 

Fact 7 – Claims assume that all ex-rail traffic would be in the heaviest lorries, fully loaded. Conversionists were blithely unaware that freight – by rail & road – can physically fill a vehicle by volume, long before it reaches maximum weight limit. They take no account of turnround whilst a lorry is loaded/unloaded, meal etc breaks of drivers & terminal staff, fuelling, cleaning, maintenance or breakdown etc. Terminal facilities for coal & other traffic would require expensive alteration to enable lorries to load & unload.

Fact 8 – DfT passenger statistics are unreliable, being based on vehicle mileages & various assumptions. Little definitive load data is submitted by operators. There is none for long distance, excursion or contract. So comparisons are worthless.

Fact 9 – Conversionists claim all rail passengers would transfer to bus. This is surreal. All railway closures led to most transferring immediately to car, followed often by the balance, as bus services were withdrawn due to lack of usage. This is so well documented in public records & the media, it seems incomprehensible that conversionists continue to ignore it. The reason is that a switch to cars would create immediate irreversible gridlock. To cope – on paper – with the huge number of buses required, they envisage multi-story bus stations, where one-level terminals now exist. (See terminals)

Fact 10 – In comparing rail & road, conversionists do not shrink from counting all passenger traffic on all roads – including by car!

Fact 11 – The Chief Executive of the Freight Transport Association – himself a road haulier – says there is plenty of road space if it is used intelligently. (Daily Telegraph, 14.2.07).  This destroys the argument for conversion. Photos in “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream” expose the wasted capacity on major roads. See also attached photos

Fact 12 – It is significant that hauliers & bus companies have not expressed interest in converting railways. Doubtless, they would be delighted if cars could be influenced off existing roads to converted railways as a means of freeing motorways for professionals.

Fact 13 - Every car, bus & lorry would need Sat-Nav, real-time information, & on-board computers to advise the best alternative route to take to avoid congestion, accidents & road works. In addition, Big Brother would need to have direct communication with every vehicle to ensure that vehicles did not all switch simultaneously to the same route & create gridlock there. Few would be prepared to pay for the expensive equipment. Sat-Nav systems would need improving to avoid HGVs & PSVs becoming wedged in tunnels & under bridges, or on side roads as they were directed to turn.

Fact 14 - Conversionists cannot deny the reality of the total mileage of roads needed to support road freight traffic. Pathetic attempts to cloud the reality by comparing all railway route mileage with a minor fraction of the road system which generates virtually no road freight –i.e. motoways & dual carriageways - defy logic. The road route mileage ignored generates the lion’s share of traffic, & without that route mileage, there would be precious little traffic to monopolise motorways. This ‘ghost’ mileage is in daily use for diversions when those seemingly inevitable accidents block motorways & trunk routes. Without that mileage, road traffic would be stationary for far longer than it is now. Millions of tons of traffic & millions of passengers are carried throughout on “ghost roads”, for which there is no nearby railway to convert.

Fact 15 – The capacity of New York’s Lincoln Tunnel is often advanced to prove the greater capacity of roads over railways. The New York Times reveals delays occur, with buses colliding head-on, collisions, skidding on wet roads blocking the Tunnel for over 2 hours’! A two hour blockage on the Liverpool Street route – which a study claims it is feasible to convert - would hold up 800 buses on their own figures! As the scheme would only have half that number of buses – chaos would ensue. The New York Transit Authority state that bus lane’s peak [06.15-10.00], traffic is 62,000 commuters = 16,500 per hour, including standees. The bus lane is limited to 35mph in the peak about half that essential for Conversionist plans.

Fact 16 - Conversionist theory is based on averages. They would be no comfort to motorists or buses which are behind a nose-to-tail convoy of 100 lorries carrying one train load of coal from port to power station. The average is not the issue - it is the peak and the inexplicable surges that matter, whether for passengers or freight.

Fact 17 – Claims that buses would offer quicker journeys are based on the premise that all buses would run non-stop to destination. That requires every one of the existing 2516 stations to have a direct service to every other station. To cover the first journey from every station on the first day of conversion, 6.3m buses (2516 x 2515) would be needed. It would, of course, be physically impossible to assemble over 2500 buses at one location for the first departures. The total buses required for a day’s traffic doesn’t bear thinking about. Worse still, conversionists claim buses would run direct to many more places than the existing stations. Without direct non-stop running, buses cannot match the speeds of trains which are making intermediate stops. Under no circumstances can they match non-stop trains over short or long distances.    


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More information & photos of under-used roads will be found in “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream” by E.A. Gibbins

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