Conversion opportunities missed





Fact 1 – With over 10,000 miles of railway closed since the idea of converted railways to roads was first aired in 1954, the conversionist mini-lobby can only claim about 250 miles have been converted to roads, & these were almost all in ultra-short lengths, & widened into the bargain to create the widths necessary for a road.

Fact 2 – Every time that British Rail wished to close a railway line, it had to submit the case – with financial facts & other data – to a government appointed watchdog: one of nine Area Transport Users Consultative Committees. All proposed closures were publicised in the media & on Notices at stations concerned, with a date for public submissions. Subsequently, a date for a public hearing was publicised in the same way. Despite this, researches of the records of these Committees’ files produced no evidence of anyone supporting closure & advocating conversion.

Fact 3 – The biggest conversion opportunity was the 161 mile single line Inverness to Wick which BR proposed to close in 1963. Conversion had been proposed by local MP, Sir David Robertson, in 1955, & the estimated costs that he obtained formed the basis of the grand conversion promoted by Brigadier Lloyd in the same year – he having proposed total conversion the previous year without specifying the cost. When closure threatened Sir David opposed closure in Parliament & media. Hansard (24.5.60, col 34) states that Sir David asked the Minister to consider subsidising railways in Highlands as an essential service! It is still open. It includes a long single line bridge over the River Ness at Inverness & scores of bridges & viaducts of restricted width & height as befitted a route built at tight cost.

Fact 4 – An opportunity was missed when BR proposed closing the 174 mile single M&GN line to attend the public hearing and support closure leaving the field clear for opposers to demand retention. It closed in 1959, & a few short sections were used in road construction. Norfolk C.C. said there was no advantage compared to building a new road. Bridges had to be strengthened & formations widened.

Fact 5 – The 100 mile Somerset & Dorset single line closed in 1966 after public hearings, without the Conversion League appearing and advocating closure & conversion.

Fact 6 – The 98 mile double track Waverley line closed 1969 after a public hearing, without the League appearing. It is being considered for re-opening as a railway!

Fact 7 – Hundreds of other lines closed with lengths of 20 miles upwards, after the same publicity, & subject to public hearings, all conducted by independent committees composed of representatives of industry, commerce, etc., without the League attending and seizing the initiative.

Fact 8 – Disproportionate noise was made over the ‘conversion’ of a small part of a line in Southport, which the League subsequently claimed saved hundreds of lives. There is no data to substantiate this claim. Worse, media reports reveal that it is dangerous & has experienced many deaths. Most of the line became a footpath.

Fact 9 – Another ‘conversion’ of a small part of a closed line to the Heads of the Valleys road in Wales – was also claimed by the League to have saved lives. Local newspapers say users call it the Highway to Hell with 33 deaths in 6 years.

Fact 10 – Conversionists cite the conversion of a railway to a road 3,000 miles away from the UK. They may have hoped its circumstances had become lost in the mists of time & distance. Not so. Dogged investigation reveals that no railway had ever operated on the route of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was built to relieve unemployment in 1940 – facts they neglect to mention. That means that there was no traffic to be displaced, nor a 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 reflect the economy sized roads the League advocated. It was widened up to 200 feet to provide two lanes on each side of a central reservation. Tunnels that had been built for the aborted railway -­ which was to a wider gauge than UK railways - were restricted to one lane each way. The tunnels 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 its tunnels, so they have to pass on other roads. This would apply to thousands of tonnes of UK rail freight traffic, if railways were converted.

Fact 11 – The Reality is that most of the railway routes closed have been converted to footpaths/cycleways/bridlepaths for which the restrictive widths & limited bridge clearances are not a problem. Some closed routes have re-opened as preserved or heritage railways.

Fact 12 – There is no excuse for missing the opportunity to convert these lines. Given the claims of the financial benefits which would arise from conversion, advocates should have had no difficulty in getting finance to convert & reaping huge returns from toll roads, which government, ever anxious to avoid Treasury expenditure, would have welcomed. Toll routes have existed since the 1930s. The Mersey Tunnel, frequently quoted by Brigadier Lloyd as proof that narrow lanes would suffice, was – & is – a toll road. He neglected to mention that it had a speed limit half that which he claimed would easily be achieved on converted railways.

Fact 13 – Conversionists’ lists of lines “converted” include 109 yard lengths, routes widened from 12 to 102 feet, or crossed at a tangent or ‘unclear if road widened onto railway, or just very close’! Of over 10,000 miles closed, about 250 has been converted using a very loose definition of the word conversion. Some were widened by a factor of 8.


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See also “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream

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