Fuel consumption




Fact 1 – A claim by Brigadier Lloyd –originator of conversion - that on converted roads, road transport will require less fuel per journey than rail was pure conjecture. He overlooked fuel used by rail engineers’ trains whose equivalent did not appear in road statistics. His traffic data was drawn from DoT reports, now revealed to be flawed, as they exaggerate road traffic.


Fact 2 –The East Anglian study quoted fuel costs without determining scheduled annual mileage of buses & lorries, which would also include journeys to & from maintenance depots.


Fact 3 - Transwatch includes in comparisons an unwarranted presumption of 20 miles road transit for rail traffic. This inflates rail fuel con­sumption as about 85% does not travel on roads, (see BR Accounts as no current data exists). In BR days, the rest travelled about 3-4 miles radius from a depot – average a mile or so – all on ‘ghost roads’ that Transwatch excludes from comparisons of road & rail route mileage. Relating the low percentage of rail traffic involving a road element to an average within the more realistic radius, means that in relation to total rail freight the road element becomes very low.


Fact 4 - DfT data gives tonne kms for all lorries over 3.5t gvw in 1998 as 159bn, & goods vehicle km ex­cluding light vans as 32bn. This puts the average of a heavier lorry at 5 ton­nes, & even this is over­stated due to unreliable road statistics, (see Capacity). Thus, con­sumption per tonne-mile for lorries is underestimated by the Transwatch website by a factor of three. This worsens road fuel con­sump­tion from the claimed 120 to 40 tonne-miles per gallon, compared to 181 tonne-miles per gallon for rail­, excluding the erroneous 20 miles road transit. Allowing for some road transit on 15% of traffic still leaves rail fuel consumption more economical than road haulage. Using a global approach an average lorry achieves 5.9 mpg. This covers all vehicles from light vans to HGVs. A lorry carrying 32t would use much more. (Source: National Fuel Use statistics & DfT vehicle miles).


Fact 5 – Rail freight to power stations, wholesalers, retailers, etc, & from quarries has no return load. Fly ash from power stations does not, as is claimed go back to collieries nor to ports from which coal originates, & cannot be carried in wagons that have carried coal. It is usually kept dry in closed wagons, which need integral equipment to discharge flyash.


Fact 6 - The speed factor is crucial in fuel consumption. Freight trains are around 75mph, lorries are below 60mph.


Fact 7 - Many lorries make multiple drops, so that the average throughout load is likely to fall below the 50% level, thereby further worsening tonne-miles per gallon/litre.


Fact 8 - Plowden & Buchan say that diesel consump­tion per tonne km by road haulage is five times greater than rail. They also say that a large percentage of road haulage mileage is driven with loads well below the vehicle capacity. (See Capacity).


Fact 9 - Transwatch compares a hypothetical express coach getting 10 mpg with 20 people on with an estimated national average of mpg per passenger on all railway passenger services - for urban & rural routes. The DfT say that no reliable data exists for average PSV loads. PSVs can be seen carrying one person in urban areas! 


Fact 10 - Transwatch compares one hypothetical diesel-powered car with an above average two people, with an average train load to claim that rail energy use is no better than a car. The speed disparity is crucial. The average car load is 1.6. With two people, it must average 60mpg, with 1.6 people, 75mpg. The comparison is untenable.


Fact 11 - Transwatch data was ‘supplied by Network Rail for 2002/3’ for 3 Passenger Sector businesses which ceased to exist in 1994, being replaced by 25 busi­nesses. “Network Rail made an approximate deduction of diesel consumed by freight (about 50%), to arrive at an average of 115 passenger-mpg, having quoted separate passenger-mpg for each of the Sectors”. Pre-privatisation independently audited BR Annual Reports did not provide such data. ‘Approximate divisions’ are subjective. Network Rail  is not qualified to make fuel assessments and would not be supplied with such commercially sensitive data by train operating companies.


Fact 12 - Transwatch bemoans the unavailability of diesel & electricity consump­tion for rail. As no person has such data for HGVs or PSVs, it would be valueless to have a precise national rail mpg to compare with non-existent national road fuel consumption data for lorries or buses.


Fact 13 - No deduction of fuel is made by conversionists for rail engineer­ing traffic - whose comparison would be with highway authorities: infrastructure maintenance & renewal, repairing bridges bashed by lorries; test running new rolling stock on behalf of suppliers; & charter trains whose passengers or freight tonnages are not recorded. Fuel used by trains diverted due to bridge-bashing should be excluded. Given a converted railway, bridge bashing will not be avoided without lifting bridges.                                                                                                                                                   


Fact 14 – Unlike road, trains can use electric power generated by UK sources. The dependence of road on oil should direct minds to expanding electrified railways & increasing their use at the expense of oil-dependent road transport. The conversion mini-lobby has its head in the sand, ignoring the fact that oil is in serious decline, (see The Last Oil Shock by David Strahan). North Sea oil production has been declining for years. New discoveries of world oil reserves are falling, & not keeping pace with growing world demand.


Fact 15 – In this connection, it is evident that the road haulage industry is well aware of the future decline of oil supplies, & its corresponding effect on oil prices. John Wardroper in his book, Juggernaut, mentions that the Road Haulage Association said in 1980, that “if all oil consumption for non-transport purposes ceased today, the industrialised world would have adequate oil for 150 years”. The inference of that is that without that restriction, oil will run out much earlier & bring about an early demise of road freight transport leading to a transfer to rail & a severe re-adjustment of consumer habits. The then Permanent Secretary of the DoT said non-transport users of oil must take cuts in supplies.  If such a demand was conceded, it would only be a matter of time, before hauliers called for a severe restriction on motoring to further prolong their existence & maintain their profits.


Fact 16 – Eddie Stobart web site states it has transferred freight to rail, saving 2.07m litres of diesel oil pa, & reducing road congestion. This traffic is from Daventry to Scotland. Transwatch’s response to this information was that diesel could have been saved if lorries had been routed over a railway – replete with level crossings - converted to roads! It is implausible that they could achieve better consumption on such a road than on the M1/M6 from which they transferred to rail to reduce diesel consumption. One of their trains was photographed near Crewe:


See also “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream

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