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Fact 1 – It is inadmissible, as Transwatch does, to compare one hypothetical lorry, fully loaded – even in one direction – with the national average of all freight train traffic. Either one hypothetical fully loaded lorry may be compared with one hypothetical fully loaded train, or the national average of all haulage vehicles must be compared with the national average of all rail freight. Chalk & cheese comparisons are invalid.

Fact 2 – The comparison used in Transwatch’s web site revealed that it was unaware that freight by road or rail frequently occupies the full cubic capacity of a vehicle long before it reaches maximum weight capacity. This fact is well known to rail & road operators, but unfamiliar to those without hands-on experience. The full load of an articulated road car transporter is about 5-6 tons. Other rail traffics are limited by cubic capacity & would be to a greater extent, on road vehicles.

Fact 3 – Despite protestations to the contrary, one lorry is hypothetical because it has no identity: no owner, no base depot, no registration, no model type, no specified load & no journey details, which would include its empty running from depot to customer. A meaningful comparison must be with tens of thousands of real vehicles!

Fact 4 –The huge scale of lorries running empty & part loaded can be perceived by the observant from any roadside. They include covered lorries when some wheels are elevated. Independent studies have stated that the incidence of empty running & underloaded running has increased since the last increase in maximum lorry weights.

Fact 5 – The DfT system for calculating weight & distance, exaggerate the total road transport workload. The scale of lorries making multiple drops is unknown, & ignored in DfT statistics. It is taken that the load at start remains on the vehicle throughout a journey. Traffic picked up en route, is treated as if it were on a lorry from the start point, because tonnes forwarded are related to lorry miles. Traffic dropped off en route is treated as though it remained to the final destination. Transport Statistics Bulletin state that lorries carrying empty crates, boxes, etc., are counted as loaded.

Fact 6 – Conversionists frequently cite the conversion of a railway to a road 3,000 miles away. They may have hoped its circumstances were lost in the mists of time. Not so. Dogged investigation reveals that no railway ever operated on the route of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Hence, there was no traffic to displace, hence, no changeover problem. It also revealed that the costs eclipsed the wishful figures publicised by the League, even when adjustment was made of its generous road widening to 200 feet to reflect the economy sized roads the League advocated in the UK. Tunnels built for the aborted railway were restricted to one lane each way. They were later opened out or by-passed by new roads. Contrary to the League’s claims it was not operated by a private company, but was state funded & managed from its opening by a State appointed Board, & still is. Dangerous goods are not permitted through tunnels, so they have to pass on other roads. This would apply to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of UK rail traffic, if railways were converted.

Fact 7 - If haulage drivers’ hours were cut to the safe levels of railways, they would need 50% more drivers, who would want higher wages to compensate for lost over­time. Together with NHS costs, it would substantially increase road hauliers’ costs. A change will eventually be enforced by the EEC. If this came after conversion, advocates would not concede that their comparisons had been invalid all along. 

Fact 8 – Consideration was being given to permitting ‘Road Trains’ (aka Double-juggernauts) on UK roads in the untenable belief that they will be safe & of benefit to the UK, (see article in ‘Focus’, March 2008, posted on ). They would certainly not be manoeuvrable at 900 junctions that they would have to negotiate to leave a converted railway at a level crossing, which is envisaged as the access to local roads, & would delay other local traffic. Current juggernauts cannot  turn at such junctions

Fact 9 – Transwatch quotes road haulage boss Sir Daniel Pettit (Times 17 Oct 1972): ‘the lorry has come to the rescue of the city’. They damage pavements, block junctions, unload in streets, & damage walls! Sir Daniel did not quote any scientific data or expert to support his personal views on environmental pollution. He did not say that roads were suitable for the traffic then on rail. He was i/c National Freight Corporation under which Government had placed Freightliner, and left him absolutely free to handle traffic as he wished. Under him, Freightliner trains continued to carry containers which were, prime facie, suitable to road, since the NFC was trunk hauling by road as well. This extract quoted from the Times article leaves out the statement by Pettit: ‘Nothing I have said should be taken to mean that I am against railways - which I am not’. The extract also ignores a comment by the Times’ transport correspondent, regarding a government plan to slash the railways: ‘It has been difficult to find anyone speaking out intelligently and openly against the view that railways should be retained at their present size, even if that means a large and growing contribution from the taxpayer". In contrast to Pettit’s view, Stobarts - one of UK’s biggest hauliers – transferred traffic to rail to cut fuel & pollution, (click Stobart). A report for the DfT (TRL  PPR285, & Heriot-Watt University) states other hauliers are doing likewise.

Fact 10 - There were other views on the effect of lorries on the environment from independent sources:

The Civic Trust published damning criticisms in Heavy Lorries, 1970.

The Conservation Society (Times, 1 Nov 1973) criticised a Report by a Committee set up by the Minister: ‘It contained the usual dreary recital of excuses for damage to the environment by lorries’. The Committee, chaired by Pettit, says there should be greater co-operation between road, rail, sea & air transport, & recommends improved haulage driver training, enforcement of drivers’ hours (increasing haulage costs); & controls of car routes, with priority for freight. This is typical of the haulage lobby.

The Times, 12 October 1972.reported that 7 MPs spoke at a conference - none believed lorries were better for the environment than rail. One said ‘uncontrolled public transport was wasteful of resources & less efficient than BR’s controlled track transport’. Another said ‘juggernauts are destroying buildings’, arguing amid applause, ‘to move all heavy traffic on rail which can carry all containers’. It was said that the smoke & smell from lorries is intolerable.

D. Hammett Chairman, Royal Institute of British Architects (Times 30 Nov 1970): ‘We are failing to control lorries which are daily eroding the environment’. Sir George Pickering FRS (Times, 12 Nov 1972): ‘rail is safe, relatively clean, & under-used; road is unsafe, relatively dirty & over-used. The cost to the public, not only of road subsidies but in terms of loss of life, disability & hospital treatment of the victims of road accidents is large’. Physics Professor RH Tredgold (The Times, 13 November 1972): ‘It is generally agreed world petroleum resources will be largely exhausted by the end of this century. At that point, we will depend on nuclear energy & coal. Transport will depend on electric traction. Trains will come into their own & replace lorries for heavy transport.’ The opinions of these distinguished gentlemen cannot be dismissed as if they were “railway enthusiasts”

Fact 11 – Conversionists casually refer to the number of buses required for one location or small area, and ignore the implication of hundreds of thousands of lorries (and buses) 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.

Fact 12 – The Transwatch web site states: that ‘road transport carries on in most conditions. On Monday after a weekend of flooding in November 2000, the entire rail network came to a virtual standstill. On Tuesday, the Today programme interviewed a road haulier, who said that his organisation had reached virtually all its customers. No doubt there was disruption but probably 95% of road journeys were unaffected compared with a completely paralysed rail system’.

Unlike The Times reports, which can be read to ascertain the full context – irrespective of age - obtaining a transcript of that radio interview is impossible. The date was not mentioned, nor was it provided on request.

Research of principal newspaper reports for the whole month, revealed serious flooding in the early part of the month. ‘Nothing like it had been experienced since records began 273 years ago’, (Financial Times, 11.11.00). Roads were closed, but there were no reports of the entire rail network coming to a stand - a failing which would not be overlooked by the media, always hypercritical of railways. The Railway Closure Controversy contains many documented objections to closures, because road users and industry admit to depending on rail in bad weather.

Common experience is that road transport cannot predict the time of delivery, even in good weather - ‘within 24 hours’ is commonplace. To say that they had ‘reached their customers’, is, therefore, nothing of which to boast.

The source of the claim that 95% journeys were unaffected is not named. An individual haulier would know that for his own company but not for all companies and owner drivers, & there is no industry-wide data.

Fact 13 - The same web site adds: ‘In comparison [with rail delays] disruption when there is a major motorway accident seldom lasts more than a few hours’.

That ignores the ensuing chaos on other “ghost” roads, and the total delay to tens of thousands of vehicles, which is never evaluated, and for which, unlike rail, there is no compensation paid by the culprits. The scale and consequences of road blockages is grossly under-estimated. There is not a day, when radio reports of accidents - with mind-boggling delays - do not reach double figures. The millions of hours delay to hundreds of thousands of vehicles daily are convertible into money, just as reducing delays are taken as financial justification to improve roads. This unvalued delay must also include the delay to traffic on those ‘ghost roads’ by the hundreds of thousands of vehicles diverted from motorways every day in several places.



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

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