Transport Watch UK Focusing on UK's Traffic & Traffic Systems

Topic 19. THE CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER TRANSPORT

The Campaign for Better Transport, previously known as Transport 2000, was formed in 1972 by various railway workers' unions and environmental pressure groups as a reaction to a newspaper disclosure that one of the options in a report for the Department of the Environment was the possible closure of a large part of the rail network. The National Union of Railway men instigated a meeting with other concerned parties where they agreed to form Transport 2000 with 14 affiliated organisations, many of which are still associated with the organisation.

Today the organisation masquerades as an environmental Transport Group, but in our opinion, it is no more than a railway lobby group.  Stephen Joseph is its Chief Executive.  He is wont to say that he does not recognise the numbers we produce.  That can only be because he seldom looks at national statistics.  In any event in 2006, rather than discuss the facts the organisation placed on its web site the following iece, demonstrating that the group prefers mud pies to analysis. 


Completely off the rails? The man who would turn railway lines into a coach network

Paul Withrington`s argument that we should shut down the railways and turn the lines into a bus-coach network has been laughed off-stage by the railway industry but who is he and why does he hate trains so much?

Transport Watch notes - the railway industry may have laughed but its points of substance are invisible.

The latest self-appointed transport 'expert' on the scene is Paul Withrington, who runs a one-man organisation called Transport Watch UK from what looks like his home address in Northampton. Withrington sprang dramatically into the public domain in December with a series of paid-for adverts, reportedly eight in all, in the New Statesman, Private Eye and The Week, making the case for closing down the railways and turning the lines into dedicated runs for express coach services instead. To see the advert :

His argument is constructed around carefully selected figures which purport to show that taxpayers are being "railroaded", as he puts it, by a railway industry demanding ever greater subsidies. According to rail commentator Christian Wolmar, Withrington has confused himself by feeding his calculator not with current rail costs but the prices attached to an extravagant 'dream' list of projects produced by someone in the SRA with no more expectation of them becoming reality than a young child hoping to be served with triple-layer chocolate fudge cake every meal time for as long as he wants it.

Transport Watch comments, Facts Sheet 4 of our web site provides a range for the subsidy to rail of £(4.5-6.5) billion per year. At the Railfuture conference of 25 th May 2006 Christian Wolmar, the chairman, said subsidy was running at £5 billion per year and that the loans to Network Rail would never be repaid. Our previous estimate made in 2003 followed from detailed correspondence with the SRA.

All the same, you can imagine the apoplexy in railway circles over Withrington's withering critique of rail and indeed the Railway Forum has taken the time to rebut, blow by blow, the cleverly honed, but deeply flawed, vision to replace the train with the bus.

For Transport-watch comment on the "blow by blow" by the Railway Forum see:

A "Forensic demolition" of the Transport Watch Advert?
For our critique of Railfuture's lobby document The Case for Rail see:
The Case for Rail by Railfuture - A critique by Transport-Watch

So who is Withrington and what is he up to? Why does he hate trains so much? Is he perhaps still furious from being stranded on a platform at Crewe all night in January 1982 due to points failure or the wrong kind of snow? Was he hospitalised in the 1970s by a British Rail pork pie? Perhaps he got locked in the toilet and missed his stop in Stevenage at some stage, ending up in north-east Scotland before help arrived.

He has collided with Transport 2000 campaigners directly twice, once when he turned up to a local activists' conference in London with his trousers in shreds, explaining he had been attacked by a "wild dog" outside Euston Station, and more recently when he arrived for a media interview to debate against Transport 2000 and was accompanied by gentlemen in suits looking very much like bodyguards. (Transport Watch comments, this last is a complete fabrication).

More important is the question of who is bankrolling Withrington. A look at his website material shows he is a retired transport planner and civil engineer, who also has a sideline drawing up wills for people. His source of funding is identified merely as a "private trust", whatever that entails. (Transport Watch comments - this is of no importance at all).

He does seem to be in awe of an American called Wendell Cox, an evangelical-style transport and development orator seemingly dedicated to arguing against 'smart growth', the idea that cities will sprawl and become automobile-blighted unless we produce higher residential densities served by good public transport. Cox insists that "smart growth is delusion not vision" and identifies his guiding philosophy as "People should have the freedom to live and work where and how they like." One supporter of Cox's doctrine describes him as: "The nation's leading debunker of the nonsense that Americans are going to get out of their cars and ride trolleys instead. A powerful advocate for the ordinary American." (Transport Watch comments - very little of our web site is concerned with Wendell Cox).

Other links on the Transport Watch website include those to Transport 2000 (derided for "attracting funds particularly from the rail industry"), Friends of the Earth ("generally opposed to use of the private car"), Railfuture ("data produced by this organisation should be carefully checked") and of course the Association of British Drivers, with which he shares a hatred of speed cameras, accusing Therm of "destroying the livelihoods of perhaps tens of thousands". (Transport Watch comments - the way to stay informed is to stay informed).

But the links page saves the best till last: a mysterious connection to the website of Chris Hodge Trucks, a second hand lorry salesman and apparently "the UK 's largest dealer of used trucks, lorries, vans, trailers and prime movers". It is the only link of its kind. Of course. it all starts to become clear. If Withrington's master plan was realized, and the railways were turned over to bus lanes, wouldn't that put rail-freight out of business overnight and also clear the motorways of coaches, never the lorry driver's best friend? Could the mystery funder of Transport Watch be a second hand lorry salesman with a vision of world domination? It could be time to send in Pierce Brosnan to investigate.

( Transport Watch comments : The link referred to was replaced by http://www.tnn.co.uk/RoadTests . It provided useful data on the fuel consumptions of lorries and artics. Unfortunately the link no longer works.  So, If any of our readers can provide an alternative please be in touch. However the information may be of little interest to The Campaign for Better Transport, Railfuture or the Railway Forum, all of which prefer fairy stories and distortions to real data and the truth.



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