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Fact 1 – The conversion mini-lobby presents untenable data to try to prove that roads are safer than railways. They related the whole of the UK population to accidents on roads, but only rail passengers for railways. The whole UK population is equally at risk when on a level crossing or public footpath crossing a railway, or crossing at unauthorised points.

Fact 2 – The first erroneous claim that roads were safer than railways was made by Brigadier Lloyd in 1955, when he ignored the most recently published independent report on rail accidents, & the preceding year, but compared current road data in sunny August with railways’ worst year - two years earlier & in a November fog! Railway Accident statistics for the more recent two years had been published by the Dept of Transport’s Inspectors before he made his untenable claim, & were publicly available.

Fact 3 – Railway accidents include those in workshops whose like is factories making road vehicles. Accidents on railway stations are included in rail statistics, whilst those in bus stations are excluded in comparisons. Instead of logically excluding rail figures for comparisons, Transwatch gives a figure from a formula which is not a Fact. The irony is that Transwatch envisages three-storey bus terminals (many would be six or more stories) to accommodate the huge number of buses too great for one level. Passengers would use new stairways at about 50 locations that are now one level terminals. Injuries or death from falling on stairs – which it cited as avoidable by conversion - will increase dramatically. At other stations, passengers would cross from the street access side to the other side by existing footbridges & be at the same risk of injuries or deaths from tripping & falling. Where footbridges do not exist, passengers would be at greater risk crossing on the level. This risk will be exacerbated by the removal of level crossing barriers.

Fact 4 – Trespassers who are killed on railways will be more at risk trespassing across railways converted to roads as they would still do, to continue taking short cuts they have always taken. The huge number of road vehicles on converted railways would increase the risk of trespasser fatalities. It is a crazy to assume – as conversionists do – that there will be no trespassers after conversion. Lloyd would eliminate trespassing by “fast motor patrols”, whose cost he ignored. The rail trespass problem is not train spotters, who keep their distance to see loco numbers as they streak by at speeds of which road transport dare not dream. To get a good view of trains, spotters mostly stand on stations.

Fact 5 – Originally, conversionists claimed there would be no suicides after conversion, implying that fewer will not wish to end it all because one of several methods is removed. It was unrealistic. They are as likely to jump from a road bridge or verge, in front of a juggernaut or other vehicle. A road vehicle may brake & swerve – killing others in the process, so the death toll will be higher. Recently, the conversion mini lobby has seen the folly of this claim.

Fact 6 – Transwatch states: motor cyclists, cyclists & pedestrians can be excluded from comparisons as they are ‘seldom seen on railways’. They will be seen using every level crossing in the UK. Moreover, trespassers are pedestrians who walk on roads before & after crossing the line.

Fact 7 – Deaths on the highway that crosses a railway are road deaths – no different from those crossing a road – but they are treated as railway accidents. Deaths at the same locations after conversion would be greater as people nip between road vehicles. In the 1968 Hixon accident: killed were 11 & 45 injured in an accident that was caused by a road transport driver but typically counted only as rail accident. The accident at Selby in 2001 killed 10 & was caused by a motorist who went down a cutting onto the track after falling asleep. Both should have been counted as road accidents but weren’t. Had either of these railways been converted to road, the fatalities would have been astronomic. The casualties caused after conversion would be exacerbated by removing crossing barriers which limit the incidence of accidents at level crossings.

Fact 8 – Untenable claims were made in 1979 and 1982 in Conversion League publications by their chairman (Dalgleish)

·         the transfer of traffic could well halve the total number of deaths. (No reason was given for selecting this fraction. Perhaps it would increase deaths).

·         Segregating cyclists and pedestrians could save 2,500 lives. (There were 2153 deaths in 1982, so 2500 could not be saved, not least as they were spread over 200,000 miles of road, most of which could not possibly lose traffic to an 11,000 mile system, which would not be near to the roads concerned. The use of the word ‘could’ is wise – there was no point in being a hostage to fortune! Traffic would have to make excessive diversions to get onto the converted system to try to prove the point. He failed to bring into the equation, the conflict of 28,500 commuters cutting between buses departing every 9 seconds in the Liverpool Street scheme, nor diversions of existing rail traffic envisaged in that scheme onto the A12).

Fact 9 – It is untenable to claim - as the 160 mile East Anglian study does – that road accidents will diminish after conversion, saving £3.46m, following diversion from residential streets to converted railways. If buses do not use residential streets, they would be empty. Obviously cars & delivery vehicles – all involved in accidents to varying degrees – will continue to travel in residential areas. Any diversion of cars to converted railways are likely to be circuitous, given that the average journey of a car is about 7-8 miles. One independent analysis of the study pointed out that a large number of diverted cars would have longer journeys by using the converted system. This study plans to abandon a 26 mile main line section & divert passengers & freight in new road vehicles onto the A12 & its connecting minor roads. If diversion from existing roads to converted railway would cut deaths, diversion from existing railway to existing roads must, be definition, cause more deaths. The study’s authors ignore this fact.

Fact 10 – The East Anglian study would involve buses at Liverpool Street crossing a walkway used by 28,500 passengers every nine seconds. “One senior trans­port man told the Sunday Times (1.2.76); ‘passengers having to dodge buses leaving every nine seconds, was horrifying to imagine’. Study author Smith retorted that ‘when a bus is about to leave it could turn on its headlights as a warning to passengers to halt. Alternatively, there could be a more ambitious layout with walkways down to each bay’. The article ended: ‘things that run on tracks may still have a future’. There is no prospect that passengers would be de­terred by a vehicle putting its lights on. A well prepared plan should have included elevated walkways, rather than produce them like rabbits from a hat, when criticisms arose. They would need to be 5m above ground to clear double-deck PSVs, with long ramps (to cater for wheelchairs or prams) to platform level, wide enough for a barrier to separate opposing flows. It would mean exca­vation would need to be about 3.5m, not the proposed 0.7m to be clear of the roof. Platforms would have to be wider than if there were no ramps, which would mean fewer platforms than the study demanded. An elevated walkway would further extend walking time from ticket office to bus.

Fact 11 – Without explanation, the Conversion League claimed that transferring traffic to converted routes with no pedestrians & no frontage access will cut accidents by a factor of 20, because railways are fenced. Roads could be fenced. Colliery & industrial private sidings front directly onto main line routes, & that access would remain if converted.

Fact 12 – Conversionists are willing to see roads on converted rail­ways with­out verges & ignore the problem of including in road width, uncompacted cess, verges & open ditches within the boundary fence. Should railways ever be converted, delays & accidents will ‘justify’ compulsory purchase to provide extra width & verges.

Fact 13 – They ignore the effect of accident inducing right turns which will inevitably lead to more deaths. Right turns cannot be avoided in conversion plans, because they envisage no flyovers or roundabouts at cross roads. These thousands of existing roads, which they intend to be the means of entry & exit to the converted system, cannot be eliminated.

Fact 14 - An article in Transport International (January-March 2007) by a truck driver, states that “most drivers on international haulage typically tip, load & drive back having slept only during loading & unloading.. Many put an interrupter on the tachograph to show they were having a break when they were driving. They pull the fuse out of the speed limiter. In spite of various laws such as EU3820 [the tachograph] & the 48 hour working week, Parliament has framed them in such a way as to allow 'Periods of availability' not to count towards working. This means we are working 16 hrs or more a day. I know firms who pay drivers to work 2 or even 3 days & nights without sleep, driving a 40-tonne truck.”    

Fact 15 – Conversionists have repeatedly claimed that short lengths of road built on part of a railway formation in Wales (the Heads of the Valleys road) & near Southport are much safer roads than previously existed. No pre-conversion benchmark was recorded. Both roads have appalling reputations according to local media reports.

Fact 16 - By no stretch of imagination can it be claimed as Dalgleish said in Truth about Transport  that traffic on narrow single carriageway roads on railway formations can be as safe as on motorways. Even Lloyd conceded that in an address to the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire branch of the Institute of Highway Engineers, on 12.11.64 [reported in The Engineer 20.11.64]. “He ‘did not dispute that converted railways would have a higher accident rate than the M1’.”

Fact 17 - A letter in Autocar (28.2.76) – definitely not a member of the ineffective rail lobby - asked what happens in fog, drawing attention to the BR automatic warning system, and suggests that buses would grind to a halt in fog. The Rejoinder by the Liverpool Street study authors states: “railway signals only warn a driver of other trains. He must watch out for obstructions. Motors have a shorter braking distance than trains. In practice, light fog leads to half of trains being cancelled. Road vehicles carry on, albeit at reduced speed”.

Light fog does not affect trains even with old signalling. Heavy fog does not cut trains at all with modern signalling, which also reacts to obstructions by reverting signals to danger when the obstruction shorts the electric circuit which control signals. Media reports prove that motor vehicles do not slow in fog. The few who do are passed by horn-blasting drivers, who swerve into pile-ups, when fog density changes without warning. Short braking distance is no help, when tailgating drivers see debris ahead, and have nowhere to swerve. Only someone trying to ignore the reality of higher railway safety could advance this ridiculous claim.


See also “Railway Conversion – the impractical dream

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