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

Topic 27. Sample letters to MPs from August 2008 only

  


Ref. Lidington02
3rd October 2012
Dear David Lidington
HIGH SPEED RAIL

Thank you for yours of 2nd October.

I have asked, under FoI legislation, for the costs to the taxpayer of the studies and promotional work for HS2 and the wider HSR network to the north.  I suspect the cost is now well over a billion pounds. My view is that the whole of it is a scandal.  Here is why:

The January value for the Y’s benefits amounts to £44.1bn of which £5.2bn are for improved reliability.  This is nonsense: trains could be made to run on time without spending tens of billions.

A further £6.7bn is for relief of crowding.  More nonsense; most of that could be solved by adding a couple of carriages to peak-hour trains.  If needed, lengthening platforms here and there would not cost billions of pounds.

Another £5.5bn is for “other rail user impacts” and £2.1bn for “other impacts”; again suspected nonsense. 

That is a total of £19.5bn based on assumptions that do not withstand the light of day.

The other benefits are from time savings, where the discredited assumption is that time on a train is entirely wasted.

Worse still the benefits assume no risk associated with the wildly optimistic passenger forecasts - requiring up to 18 1000-seat trains per hour each way.

The actuarial losses faced by every household in the land in the opening year of 2033 will be over £2,000.  If the (ludicrous) passenger forecast, out to the remote year of 2093, do not materialize then the losses will be correspondingly higher.

All that at a time when rail is used overwhelmingly by the better off and when nearly half of us use a train less than once a year, let alone a high speed one.

My view is that those promoting this scheme should be ashamed of themselves, perhaps open to prosecution for the fraudulent nature of the case and its vast cost to the taxpayer. (The franchise debacle springs to mind).

Further, the underlying economic theory, the so called Willingness to Pay Calculus, upon which the economic analysis depends, is wrong. It compares the financial losses with the supposed benefits.  Those losses are the costs minus the incremental fares and allow for the changes in tax take.  However, the theory reduces to the absurd when it is realised that the incremental fares depend on where the economic boundary is arbitrarily drawn.  The right place is not round the railway or round the Government but round the nation as a whole.  When that is done the incremental fares and tax effects vanish, as of course they should.  After all, fares and tax are transfer payments.  They are vital to a financial analysis but should play no part in an economic assessment where the intent is to compare resources with social benefits. Just try creating resources by passing a £50 note to your neighbour, you lose, he gains, net benefit nil.

Putting it otherwise, this “Willingness to Pay Calculus”, if true, would provide a basis for subsidising every loss making enterprise in the land.

Consider this:

If people were “Willing to Pay” the proposal would be profitable.  Instead there is a financial loss in the tens of billions.

Perhaps you can ensure the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer see this letter personally.

Yours sincerely 

Copy to:
Transport Committee.
Michael Ellis (MP for Northampton North).
Brian Binley (MP for Northampton South).
John Redwood MP.
Andrea Leadsom (MP for South Northants).
Selection at HS2 Ltd.

Date 12th December 2011
Ref. Lidington 01

HS2

Thank you for keeping me on the circulation list for HS2.  Here is some information that may be useful.  More detail is attached.

  • The cost of the “Y” out two Manchester and Leeds is often cited as £32bn or £33bn.  However, that excludes the trains, costing £5.7bn, and tax, set at 20.9% within the economic analysis.  Adding those yields £45bn, equivalent to £1,500 for every household in the land.
  • The financial loss for the “Y”, at 2009 prices but rolled up at the Treasury Discount rate of 3.5% to the opening year of 2032, amounts to £37.7bn - supposing the (incredible) passenger forecasts and hence the fares out to the remote year of 2093 actually arise.
  • Those from the top quintile of household income will use the thing at least five times as often as will those from either of the bottom two quintiles.
  • 99% of us will use High Speed Rail less than once a year.

Separately from that, and from arguments about the value of time etc., there is a fundamental flaw in the economic analysis, namely, incremental fares are subtracted from costs and the difference is compared with the time savings and other social benefit.  That leads to the absurd, namely, incremental fares change if the economic boundary is changed.  Even more absurd, if a scheme attracts people out of cars, so that the Government loses tax income, the loss is added to costs thereby prejudicing the scheme. Both these absurdities stem from the “willingness to pay calculus” developed by Professor Sugden, of the University of East Anglia, and accepted by the Treasury and DfT for evaluating transport proposals. 

I comment, firstly, a theory that leads to the absurd has to be rejected and secondly, if people were “willing to pay” then the project would be viable in the financial sense of the word.  Instead of that the losses attributable to HS2 will be vast – destroying, rather than creating, jobs in that part of the economy that makes a profit. (The cost of the “Y”, £45bn, represents the income of 45,000 working men slaving away for 40 years. The financial loss will be of the same order).

The correct place to draw the (economic) boundary is, of course, round the economy as a whole, not round the Government.  The incremental fares then fall to zero and the tax problem vanishes.  That is as it should be since both the fares and the tax are, of course, transfer payments of no interest in an economic assessment.  The problem for the DfT and Government would then be that HS2, and all other railway schemes, would fail the cost benefit test.   In my view, that is why the theory has been cooked up. ** 

Regards

 ** In more detail:

Incremental (or net) fares are the fares taken minus the fares lost by the rest of the railway.  The net fares are subtracted from costs to find the financial loss.  It is that loss (the cost to the Government) that is compared with the social benefits.

However, if the Government owned the express coach services, filling stations and air lines then the net fares would be reduced by the losses to those other services.  On the other hand if the Government did not own the rest of the railway the incremental fares would be the full fares taken by HS2 – illustrating that the incremental fares depend on where an economic boundary is more or less arbitrarily drawn.

Putting it otherwise – if the economic boundary were widened to embrace the economy as a whole then every pound spent passengers on tickets would be a pound lost to the rest of the economy, so reducing the “incremental fares” to zero.

What has happened is to muddle financial with economic analysis.

  • In a financial analysis objective is to find the likely profit or loss.  In the case of HS2 and the “Y” the financial loss is vast.  Hence no businessman would ever entertain the project.
  • In an economic analysis the purpose is to compare the value of the resources spent with the value of the social benefits.  Those values are not affected by cash transfers between customer and provider. Such transfers no more create wealth than does the act of passing a £10 pound note back and forth between two people.  Instead the loss of cash to the customer exactly balances the gain to the provider.

I conclude that clever men have been doodling on two dimensional pieces of paper instead of considering the multidimensional economy.   Blinded by their own cleverness, and by the political need to justify rail schemes, these men have come up with a theory which fails the “reduction ad absurdum” test but which successfully tricks the Government into misallocating tens of billions of pounds.

Copied to:
Lewis Neil at the Treasury
The Transport Committee

 Maria Eagle MP Shaddow Transport                                                                    e-mail to Eaglem@parliament.uk

27th Sept 2011

Dear Mrs Eagle

RAILWAYS AND RELIGION

Following your letter to do with High Speed rail dated 24th October I comment, those who support rail do so with an almost religious fervor, generating myths of near perfect safety, high capacity and green credentials that have no basis in fact. For example:

  • The railway lobby likes to say that more people die in a day on the roads than passengers in a year on the railways.  However, the statistic (a) exaggerates in favour of rail by a factor of 17 by ignoring usage (b) exaggerates by a further factor of at least 20 by comparing deaths to passengers in train accidents, amounting to less than 5% of those killed on the railway, with all those killed on a completely open road system.  In combination the effect is an exaggeration amounting to a multiplier of 400.
  • The fuel consumption of passenger rail amounts to 94 passenger-miles per gallon – no better than an efficient diesel powered car operating in uncongested conditions and containing the national average of 1.6 people.
  • Even in central London and in the peak hour the immense surface rail network is, in highway terms substantially disused. This remarkable fact is demonstrated here.
  • Rail costs the Government five to six times as much to move people or freight as does the strategic road system, see paragraphs 84 etc. here: http://www.chiltern-evergreen3.co.uk/uploads/17Jan2011/OBJ319_1.pdf .
  • Each mile of rail track costs the tax payer £250,000 per year.  In comparison each lane-mile on the motorway and trunk road system profits the government to the tune of £400,000 per year, see facts sheet 4

The very top end of the deception is High Speed rail. Please see the attached summary where you will see that the “Y” network will cost every household in the land £1,700.  How many jobs will that destroy in the section of the economy that makes profits without subsidy?

You may also have an interest in or Evidence to the Transport Committee’s inquiry into Transport and the Economy here.

Date 20th May 2010 - Ref mp/OsLaw01

Dear George Osborne and David Laws,

You are trawling the nation’s commitments to find what can be cut.  Do not forget Crossrail, high-speed rail (HS2) and rail generally.

In the economic analyses for theses schemes the costs that are compared with the benefits are the full costs minus the incremental fares.  However, that leads to the absurd, namely that the values depend on where the economic boundaries are drawn.  For HS2 the boundary embraces Network Rail’s operations alone.  For Crossrail the boundary captures TfL’s rail and bus operations. In reality the correct boundary should always embrace the economy as a whole.  When that boundary is selected incremental fares fall to zero and the economic cases collapse.  For an illustration see comment on the New Approach to Transport Appraisal, Topics 24 and 24A

What has happened is that economic and financial analyses have been muddled so as to obtain “the right result”.  In contrast, if the two types of analysis were properly separated, all rail schemes would fail both tests by wide margins.

Worse still, if it is possible to be worse:

1. Within the analyses the value of time is inflated at circa 1.8% annually for ever and ever.  If, instead of that, the value of time is held constant then the benefits fall to half those claimed and the economic cases again collapse.
 
  2. The consultants for HS2 have carried out sensitivity tests. These show that if the extraordinarily high and exponential growth in passengers that has been assumed were to be curtailed in 2026, rather than in 2033, or if the annual growth were reduced by 25% then the proposals would fail the cost benefit test.
  3. The evaluation period is an incredible 60 years from presumed opening. Since 40% to 50% of the calculated benefits accrue from the later half of that period, then, even on the flawed basis of the current analyses, benefits will not exceed costs until most of us are long dead.

As to rail generally, we asked a series of question of Lord Adonis, copy attached.  Perhaps the same should be asked of the present transport team.

Copy to:
Brian Binley, John Redwood, Vince Cable, Lewis Neal (Treasury transport team), the media.
.....................................................................................................................................

26th April 2010 - Ref. Adonis03

This when Lord Adonis was still Minster for Transport

My Lord

HIGH-SPEED RAIL

From your pronouncements it is clear that you are a fan of the railways and of high-speed rail in particular. However, have you considered the following?

  1. If railways provided the transport needed by industry the endless acres of derelict railway land that abut many rail stations and lines would contain industrial estates and business and retail parks.  Instead these land uses have gone to places where there is good road access.
  2. Similarly, if the myth that railways attract development were true then town centres would have migrated to the railway stations over the decades.  Instead stations in provincial towns often slumber half a mile or so from the shops.
  3. When on your tour you were annoyed find the cafe on Southampton Station shut at 8 pm.  Did it not occur to you that the reason will have been for lack of custom?  After all at that time of day the railways are generally deserted.
  4. Government support for national rail, including capital expenditure, is likely to top £100 billion for the 20 years to 2015, amounting to £4,000 for every household in the land.  That at a time when:
    1. Only 2% of motorised journeys go by rail, 50% of them with one end in London
    2. Half of us use a train less than once a year let alone a high-speed one
    3. Those from households in the top quintile of household income travel 5 times as far by rail as do those from households in either of the bottom two quintiles.
  5. Even in Central London and in the peak hour the surface rail network is in highway terms substantially disused used.  For example, if the network were paved all those crushed rail commuters would find seats to spare in 75-seat express coaches sufficient to occupy one seventh of the capacity available.
  6. Half of all rail journeys are less than 20 miles long.
  7. The idea that high-speed rail freight can reach industry is as bizarre as is the idea that freight needs high-speed.
  8. High speed may as well drain people from the dying north to the south rather than the reverse.
  9. The economic justification for high-speed rail hangs on extraordinarily high passenger forecasts and upon incremental fares.  The absurdity of including the latter is demonstrated by the fact that their value can be varied arbitrarily by altering the economic boundary of the project.
  10. According to the consultants for HS2 the proposal would fail the benefit to cost test if growth fell by 25% from the assumed (very high) 3.6% annual value to 2.7%, or if passenger forecasts were to be curtailed to the level forecast in 2026.
  11. The question to ask is, is there a more effective way of using this 10,000 mile long rail network than allocating it to trains.  After all, the motorway and trunk road system carries two to three times as much per lane as do the railways per track and at a fraction the cost. What would happen if the strategic road network were surfaced with railway lines? The place would come to a complete standstill. By proxy, that is what the tracks are doing to the railway rights of way.
  12. We have many examples of roads, far better than most that we use, that have been built at very low cost on railway formations.
Yeadon way Blackpool on an old Railway. North Devon link road on an old railway.
Once linking Northampton to Bedford,abandoned for 50yrs, now lost completely. 10 metres between these stanchions. The standard width for the carriageway of two-way road is 7.3 metres.

The M42 right contrasts with the substantially disused swamp of rails opposite, surrounded by clogged city streets all within a stones throw of Westminster.

The response was noteworthy for its determined and incredible avoidance of the questions asked

Response

Dear Mr Withington,

Thank you for your letter of 26 April to the Secretary of State for Transport, about the proposals for high speed rail in the UK and funding considerations.   I have been asked to reply.

High Speed Two is the route recommended by HS2 Ltd for a high speed railway line between London and the West Midlands.   HS2 Ltd’s report, published alongside the Government’s Command Paper on 11 March, makes recommendations on routes and station options for high speed rail as well as assessment of costs, benefits and sustainability impacts.  You will be able to find these documents on the Department for Transport website at http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/, where you will find detailed explanations on the thinking behind high speed rail. 

In response to HS2 Ltd’s work, the Command Paper set out proposals that Britain should develop an initial core high speed network to link London to Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.  HS2 Ltd is working on detailed route options for the lines from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds.  HS2 Ltd’s work has shown that as a first step a high speed line from London to Birmingham would offer high value for money as the foundation for such a network, delivering more than £2 of benefits for every £1 spent. 

This Y shaped network of around 335 miles would bring the West Midlands within about half an hour of London and deliver journey times of around 75 minutes from Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester to the capital.  HS2 Ltd’s work has shown that as a first step a high speed line from London to Birmingham would offer high value for money as the foundation for such a network, delivering more than £2 of benefits for every £1 spent.  There would be connections onto existing tracks, including the West and East Coast Main Lines so that high speed trains can run from the outset to other cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool.

The total construction costs of the proposed ‘Y’ network are estimated at around £30 billion. While these costs are clearly significant, they would be spread out over a period of 15 or more years and the largest sums would not begin to be spent until during construction. The estimated design and preparation costs prior to the commencement of construction, along with the costs associated with the introduction and passage of a Hybrid Bill, are very significantly lower.  About 10,000 jobs could be created during construction, with 2,000 permanent jobs through the operation of High Speed Two alone.

As set out in the recent Command Paper – High Speed Rail - a full Appraisal of Sustainability will be published in the autumn, in order to inform public consultation on HS2 Ltd’s recommended route.  This will set out the environmental and local impacts of that route, and will include the results of the additional work on mitigating local and environmental impacts that the Secretary of State has asked HS2 Ltd to carry out.

The Command Paper concluded that the route recommended by HS2 Ltd is viable and set out proposals to consult on it, and the strategic case for high speed rail, in the autumn.  As with any major infrastructure project, there will need to be extensive and detailed consultation, particularly with the local communities affected. Significant time will be needed for this and further detailed work on funding and costs, before powers are sought through a Hybrid Bill in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Judith Shepherd
Rail & National Networks Ministerial Liaison Team


The 2009 correspondence Particularly with Stephen Hammond and Norman Baker, both shadow Transport has been extensive.  We do not publish the replies which are in hard copy but we would like to express thanks for the time that has been spent. Most of the replies are restatements of the present party positions rather than detailed responses to the points that we make.
 


4th December 2009                                                                                          Railcon/mp/bin05
Dear Brian Binley
AGGLOMERATION AND CROSSRAIL
 

You will be aware that the advocates of Crossrail claim vast benefits from Agglomeration and to the Wider Economy (as do advocates for high-speed rail at least with respect to the Wider Economy).

An indication of the costs of agglomeration was provided to me by Neil Scales, Director General of Mersey Travel and chair of TPEG.  He said that Liverpool was designed for one million people but now only has 440,000. Also, that the transport subsidy in London amounts to £836 per head per year compared with £269 for the rest of the nation.  With 8 million people the £836 amounts to £6.67 billion annually.

In support TfL says it needs £39 billion over 10 years from the taxpayer.  Furthermore, 70% of surface rail journeys have at least one end in London. The subsidy to rail costs the taxpayer £5 billion per year.  Hence £3.5 billion should be assigned to London. Adding that to TfL’s call for £3.9 billion per year and adding the operating subsidy of circa £2 billion, apparent from the 2008/9 annual report, yields a total of £9.4 bn.  If the population is 8 million, that is equivalent to £1,160 per head or to over £2,500 per household per year. There may be double counting within that sum but even so the subsidy is indeed vast.

If agglomeration were a benefit then London should be able to fund itself. If in practice that would lead to insolvency, or, under the impact of the tax burden, to the shedding of population and jobs to the North, then we would have proved the obvious, namely that, far from agglomeration being a benefit, it is a disaster for the North and South alike.

In parallel with that you will be all too aware that the Government’s policy of stuffing the South East with houses is particularly unpopular with the inhabitants of the areas being stuffed, let alone with those losing in the North. Since that impacts on housing policy I am copying this letter to Bob Neill as well as to the others listed below.
 

Regards                                                                                               Paul Withrington
Copy to Treasury, Norman Baker, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Brian Binley, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster (The Times), Transport Committee
 


10th November 2009                                                                             Railcon/Hammond08
Dear Stephen Hammond
QUOTE OF THE WEEK – The aspiration is to have everyone above average – very plausible bearing in mind that half us do not know what 50% means.
 

Thank you for your reply to mine of 28th October and 6th November.  I really do appreciate it that you should take the time.

In France, Spain and Japan high-speed rail may well have reduced domestic air flights, but to what avail?  After all Labour’s very own white paper, Delivering a Sustainable Railway, shows, in Figure 1.4, copied below, that the contributions to emissions of domestic air and rail are so vanishingly small as to make the effect of any transfer between the two irrelevant, even supposing that we believe high-speed rail emits less than air, see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-5b.htm.
1
 

Meanwhile the costs of rail are astronomical.  After all, the air fare from Luton to Edinburgh is 5 to 10 times less costly than rail’s from London. Despite that rail makes a massive losses but the airlines survive in the market place.

Spending the odd £100 billion (£4,000 for every household in the land) on a high-speed rail network will be an extremely expensive vanity trip contributing very well to the nation’s bankruptcy let alone to the destruction of jobs through high taxes.

The idea that the railways in France are a good thing is exposed as a lie by the aptly named professor Prud’Homme, see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/french-railways.htm

As to trams and light rail – they provide moving floor space at up to 10 times the cost of the same by bus on an uncongested right of way.  Have you seen this yet? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxcpbeU4bKs
 

Regards                                                                                               Paul Withrington
Copy to Treasury, Norman Baker, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Brian Binley, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster (The Times), Transport Committee
 


11th November 2009                                                                           railcon/mp/baker06
Dear Norman Baker
RAIL SAFETY
 

I was saddened to receive yours of 10th.  It cites the RSSB comparisons of rail with motorbikes, cycling, walking, cars and buses.

Firstly, it is dishonest to compare trains with anything but the comparable mode of road transport.  That is not the bus, let alone the motorbike, but the express coach on the comparable motorway or trunk road network.  At one time we found that the deaths per passenger-km by rail were 50% higher than by that mode.  However, today we feel it is unrealistic to make such comparisons at all because the year to year variations in passenger deaths are so very large. Instead we have compared the system-wide deaths per passenger-km by rail with that due to the motorway and trunk road network. Here are the answers


Rail

Killed per
Bn Pass-km

All people including trespassers but not suicides or suspected suicides

2.316

As above plus suspected suicides

3.312

As above plus suspected suicides and suicides

6.049

Strategic Roads – (England only)

 

All casualties

2.164

All casualties excluding pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists

1.615

Car occupants only

1.864

Overleaf there is some discussion of that taken from:
http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-2.htm
Perhaps you missed the last three paragraphs of my previous letter, copy attached.
Regards                                                                                               Paul Withrington
 


6th November 2009                                                                             Railconmp/Hammond07
Stephen Hammond MP
PASSENGER TRANSPOERT CONFERENCE

At the above I met a delegate who is responsible for the quality bus partnerships of South Yorks. He said that new trams for Sheffield cost £3 million each, ten times as much as the £300,000 required for equivalent bus floor space. 

One of the master classes was to with the Edinburgh Tram system, originally to cost the taxpayer half a billion pounds but now going seriously over budget.

One questioner asked whether consideration had been given to battery-running past buildings of historic interest so as to avoid the need for the overhead electrification.  Another asked whether diesel driven trams had been considered so as to avoid all the overhead clutter.  I then asked whether they had considered replacing the steel tyred wheels with rubber tyred ones so cutting costs by a factor of four (perhaps I should have said ten).  There was mirth.  The answer was ludicrous, namely, there are already 300 buses in Princes Street – as though a tram and a bus occupy different areas for heavens sake.

So, you can imagine my sense of despair when I heard you say that light rail was “incredibly appropriate”, going on to lambast Labour for promising was it 27 light rail schemes whilst initiating only five.  Why is it that people are so wedded to this incredibly expensive idea?

Not only is the cost perhaps ten times that of equivalent bus-ways but trams lack the flexibility to loop round at the beginning and end of a journey.  Moreover, a reserved bus-way could be opened to other traffic provided only that congestion should be avoided.

Similarly, I despair that the Conservatives are enamored of rail and high-speed rail in particular.  Has it not dawned that high taxes destroy jobs and that these incredibly expensive artifacts will contribute to our bankruptcy?  As pointed out previously, if the (NATA) principles used to justify that nonsense were applied to the economy as a whole then taxpayers would be asked to subsidise every loss making burger bar in the land, see  http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/nata-refresh-consultation.htm.

Hence I remind you of the words of Stewart Joy, Chief Economist to British Railways in the 1960s.  He wrote in his book, ‘the Train that Ran Away’ that there were “those in the British Transport Commission and the railways who, in return for the rewards of high office, were, cynically, prepared to accept the unpalatable task of tricking the government on a mammoth scale. Those men” Joy wrote, “were either fools or knaves”.  There were no libel actions but Joy had been forced out - too honest; too work with railway men.

Regards                                                                                                           Paul F Withrington
Copy to Treasury, Norman Baker, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Brian Binley, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster (The Times), Transport Committee. Sadiq Khan
 


28th October 2009                                                                               Railcon/mp.Hammond06
Dear Stephen Hammond MP
HIGH SPEED RAIL ETC.
 

Thank for your reply of 26th to mine of the 16th, particularly as I our views differ so very much.

You are right to believe rail is very safe for passengers.  The comparable form of road transport is the express coach on the motorway or trunk road network.  That too is very safe. However, the annual variability in the data makes comparisons impossible. For example, in the 10 years to 2007 51 passengers died in Train Accidents, an average of 5 per year.  However, cross out the 29 who died in 1999 and the average falls to 2.  Alternatively note that since 1915 over 1300 people have died in train accidents where more than 5 people died – an average of 14 per year.  Similar variability arises with express coaches.

That said one can look at system-wide deaths since the larger numbers are fairly stable. Our detailed calculations show that for the 10 years to 2007 the deaths by rail amounted to 2.3 per billion passenger-km, including trespassers but not suicides or suspected suicides, 3.3 if suspected suicides are added, and 6.0 if suspected and confirmed  suicides are added. In comparison there were 2.2 deaths per billion passenger-km on the motorway and trunk road network in England and Wales (including trivial suicides).

You may protest that trespassers should be excluded from rail – clearly breaking the law.  However, if we were to do that then presumably one would exclude all those deaths on the roads that arise from illegal behaviour or carelessness.  No, the reality is that, system-wide, rail kills more people per passenger-km than does the comparable road network.  The reason total deaths by rail are relatively trivial is that rail is, in highway terms, scarcely used.

In comparison the data on rail safety that the railway lobby present to innocents such as the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, previous Chair of the Transport Committee, (a) ignore usage and (b) compare deaths to passengers in train accidents with the system-wide deaths on the entire road network. That creates an entirely false impression as to the relative safety of road and rail.  Put simply, the good lady and her Committee were sandbagged along with the rest of the population.

Similarly I believe you have been sandbagged by the railway lobby in that it got you to chair a working party on high-speed rail where the secretariat was entirely from the lobby group wishing to build the thing.  That is how it is done.

The economic analysis used to promote such as that and Cross rail would, if applied generally, lead to the taxpayer subsidising every loss making burger bar in the land.  A scandal if ever there was one. See http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/nata-refresh-consultation.htm  
I did point out to you in a previous letter that the carbon argument in favour of rail is difficult to sustain, see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-5b.htm and http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/greengauge-21.htm

In any case the idea that there is “a tremendous potential for transferring people from road and air to rail” is untenable.  After all, rail serves destinations that cars cannot reach.  Half of all rail trips are more than 20 miles long. In comparison cars serve a dispersed land use (enabled by the car) which cannot be served by bus let alone the train.  Half of all car trips are less than 5 miles long.  The journeys that could transfer from air to rail are scarcely large in proportion to the whole, and as above, the carbon saving may be illusory or derisory.

As to capacity, I note that at the Inquiry into the West Coast Main Line Modernisation 60,000 passengers were said to alight at Euston all day.  They would all fit in 3,000 express coaches each with only 20 people aboard.  If the railway were paved those coaches could pass in the space available in a couple of hours but the railway had run out of capacity.  Meanwhile the route into London is lined with industry that pours its lorries out onto unsuitable city streets leaving a nearly empty, immensely wide, railway basking in the sun of Government subsidy.

Of course express coaches would not match the top speed of the fastest trains but, a service at one quarter the cost and with up to 10 times the frequency would more than balance that. To illustrate, I live in Northampton.  It is 65 miles from Euston.  The peak hour return costs £52.  The cheap day return is £23.  In comparison the coach costs £14 at any time.  Despite suffering massive congestion the latter makes a profit. If it enjoyed the railway’s right of way its journey time would match the train’s and its costs would probably be halved to £7.  The plain fact is the high rail fare makes visiting London too expensive for all but the rich.

Meanwhile the cost of conversion would have been a fraction e.g. one tenth, of the £9 billion spent on the “modernising” this nineteenth century marvel.

Perhaps you would care to look at the vast swamp of rail, often grade separated, that separates Wimbledon from Waterloo at such cost to the nation, let alone the passengers.
 

Regards                                                                                               Paul F Withrington

 

Copy to Treasury, Norman Baker, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Brian Binley, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster (The Times), Transport Committee.
The waste at Battersea




 

Picture courtesy of National News & Pictures


16th October 2009                                                                               Railcon/mp/baker05
Dear Norman Baker/Stephen Hammond
HIGH SPEED RAIL ETC.
 

Consider this:
Railway Industry bigwigs told the Transport Committee of the House of Common that every day more people die on the roads than passengers in a year on the railways.  That statement (a) exaggerated in favour of rail by a factor of 18 by ignoring usage and (b) compares passengers killed as a result of a train crashing with all those killed on the road network including pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes.  In contrast we found that the deaths per passenger-mile by rail, excluding suicides and suspected suicides, were higher than those on the motorway and trunk road system.  http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-2.htm

We comment, if accountants behaved as has the railway lobby over this issue then those accountants would soon be in prison. Similarly in all other vectors - the difference between the railway myth and reality is so large as to beggar belief.

In 1974 Frances Caincross, previously managing director of the Economist, now Rector of Exeter College Oxford, wrote; “When trains are still the theme of nursery rhymes and children's stories, it is small wonder that the railways have a romantic fascination for most adults. Only years of nursery conditioning can explain the calm with which the public has accepted a bill of £3,000 millions (£33bn at 2007 prices) to subsidise British Rail over the last decade”. See item 25 at http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-quotes-1974.htm

In his book “The Train that Ran away” Stewart Joy, chief economist to British Railways during the 1960’s, wrote “there were those in British Transport Commission and the railways who were prepared, cynically, to accept the rewards of high office in return for the unpalatable task of tricking the Government on a mammoth scale.  Those men”, Joy wrote, “were either fools or knaves”.   There were no libel actions .........
Against that background why is it that you believe the claptrap that the industry tells you about rail and high speed rail particularly, reference your article in Public Service Review issue 23
 

Regards                                                                                               Paul F Withrington

 

Copy to Treasury, Stephen Hammond, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Brian Binley, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster (The Times).
 


                                                                                                    

14th August 2009                                                                               Railcon/mp/baker04
Dear Norman Baker MP
HIGH SPEED RAIL ETC.
 

“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).
Thank you very much for your extensive letter of 12th August in reply to mine of 24th June
 

Firstly
My discussions with those at the DfT responsible for estimating the emissions from civil aviation suggest that, the emissions from domestic flights are never likely to exceed 1% of the nation’s current emissions.  That has been talked up in the literature by assuming we will reduce our emissions by 80%. Even so, it is safe to repeat my previous point that transfers from air to rail will be of vanishing significance on account of the trivial contributions made by either mode. I set out the background to that in my previous letter.
 

Secondly
You cite the emissions from Heathrow to Paris by air as 122 Kg of carbon dioxide compared with 10.9 by Eurostar. I believe you are the victim of “marketing”. The Eurostar value probably assumes French electricity, which is 80% nuclear, and that the occupancy is at least double that generally achieved by intercity trains.

In contrast to that our careful calculations (http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-5b.htm) show that, assuming the present UK generating industry emissions, Eurostar would emit 2750 gms of CO2 per 100 seat km or, with 40% of seats occupied, 6875 gms per 100 passenger-km.  In comparison Ryanair emits 6780 gms per 100 seat-km or 8475 gms per passenger-km with an 80% seat occupancy, instead of its claimed 84%.

Those numbers ignore several overridingly important factors, for example:

 

  1. Large scale electrification may extend the life of coal fired power stations.  They emit double the UK generating industry average.  So, unless you assume carbon capture (itself said to reduce generating efficiency by 30%, and in any case completely untested), the emissions we cite for Eurostar should perhaps be doubled.
  2. “Tailpipe” emissions are a very poor estimate of total emissions.  For example a paper by Mikhail V Chester and Arpad Horvath (http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/1748-9326/4/2/024008) provides that, if whole of life emissions are the concern, tailpipe emissions should be increased by a factor of 2.55 for rail, 1.63 for road transport and 1.31 for air.  Those factors are so different from each other and so large as to overwhelm calculations that ignore them.
  3. Rail is almost an order of magnitude more expensive than air.  At any rate, despite massive subsidy, the train ticket prices can be 5 to 10 times higher. Cost is often a fair proxy for emissions, or at least for energy consumption. Hence, calculations producing results contrary to the ratios of costs are to be viewed with caution, if not disbelief.
  4. If we were serious about reducing emissions then, rather than high-speed rail, we would be canvassing for low speeds or for replacing the trains by express coaches using half the fuel. An express coach operating at the 90 mph common to coaches on the M1 when it first opened would do the London to Edinburgh run in 4 hours.

Thirdly
You say that the view that high speed travel (rail) encourages people to live further from work is “baseless”.  I am astonished.  Without high speeds and subsidised fares many of those who work in Central London would either move house or find work locally.
 

Fourthly
You talk of “investing” in rail.  I comment, the word “invest” implies a financial return.  Instead of that the word to use is “subsidy”.  After all, the railways have not covered their operating costs for over half a century.

The subsidy to rail over the 20 year period to 2015 will top £100 billion, equivalent to £4,000 for every household in the land at a time when half of us use a train less than once a year and when those from the top quintile of household income travel 5 times as far by rail as do those from either of the bottom two quintiles.
 

Fifthly
We found ourselves cited by the RSSB as a source for the fuel consumption for rail freight,.reference the T618 reports of June 2007.  Our data was from Network Rail and related to 2002.  However, that data turned out to be obviously flawed.

Prior to that, we had data from NETCEN relating to 1998.  Astonishingly that seems to be the only (semi-reliable) system-wide fuel consumption data for rail freight available to the nation. Our facts sheet at http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-fact-sheet-5.htm provides the detail.  It yielded a system-wide average of 160 tonne-miles per gallon, ignoring the drag in and out to the rail head, but after allowing for losses in refineries.  In contrast a lorry doing 10 miles per gallon (as it might if on an uncongested railway alignment), carrying an average of 15 tonnes, would return 150 tonne miles per gallon, which should be reduced by 10% to allow for refinery losses so yielding 135 tonne-miles peR gallon.  Our facts sheet provides similar, except that we there assumed 8 miles per gallon for a lorry. 

If those “tailpipe” numbers are factored to give whole of life values then rail freight would fall to 72 tonne-miles per gallon and lorry to 82 tonne-miles per gallon implying that on a whole of life basis the lorry is the better.

That is so different from your comparison as to beggar belief.  However, that is consistent with our other findings, namely nearly all comparisons between the railway myth and reality do indeed beggar belief.

Your point about lorries spending a quarter of  their miles empty applies with even more force to rail which finds return loads much more difficult to come by than does the lorry.
 

Lastly
With regard to climate change, you say “no serious scientist now denies either that climate change is happening or that human activity is causing it”.  We bow out of that argument but do attach contrary views signed by a great many serious scientists.  Furthermore, the Oregon Petition had more than 33,000 signatures of scientists including 9,000 with PhD’s who disagreed with the theory of manmade global warming. 

Professor Stanley Feldman in his book, with the title Global Warming and other Bollocks, concludes the chapter on global warming with these words. “At the end of this costly exercise (limiting carbon emissions) trillions of pounds will have been added to the cost of living and unemployment may rise to a level that may cause economic disruption.  Even assuming the most optimistic forecast and assumptions, global warming would then be reduced by less than 0.2 degrees centigrade in a hundred years.

Because of the hysteria surrounding this issue, to dissent from the warming dogma puts careers at risk – as it would yours should you ever take a dissenting view.  Hence, those who sign such petitions have to be particularly brave.  Certainly, our skeptical sources want to remain anonymous for that reason.  The consequence for sensible debate is dire.
 

And finally
Reference your last point – “the need to act now”; ours, in response, is that if we continue to develop policies in defiance of the facts then we can expect cataclysmic failure.

In any event Transport Watch has no prospect of making any money or taking any other advantage from our analyses.  Instead we have sacrificed a great deal in our attempts expose what appear to us to be extremely damaging misconceptions.

In Stuart Joy’s words (chief economist to British Rail in the late 19960’s), writing in his book The Train that Ran Away, “There were those in the British Transport Commission and the railways who were prepared cynically to accept the rewards of high office in return for the unpalatable task of tricking the government on a mammoth scale. Those men”, Joy said, “were either fools or knaves”.  Joy was the chief economist to British Rail in the late 19960’s. There were no libel actions but he had been forced out – too honest to work with railway men.  I comment – then as now.
 

Regards                                                                                               Paul F Withrington

Copy to Treasury, Stephen Hammond, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Robert Wright (FT), Ben Webster, The Times



The waste at Battersea
3 

 

24th June 2009                                                                                       Railcon/mp/baker02
Norman Baker MP
RAILWAY MYTHS Etc.
Thank you very much for your extensive letter of 24th June in reply to mine of 23rd May.
 

Firstly, regardless of the relative emissions of air and high-speed rail the fact that domestic flights currently emit only 0.4% of the nation’s carbon and are unlikely to ever emit more than 1% suggests that transfers between the modes will be of vanishing significance.  In any event building high-speed will encourage people to live ever further from their work so developing lifestyles that can only be supported by massive subsidy.

(I believe the 40% of national emissions from aviation by 2050 that you cited comes from Table K2 of the DfT publication “UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts”, January 2009.  Those emissions were for international as well as domestic flights.  The paper assumes the nation’s emissions will be cut by 80% by 2050 whilst leaving air travel to grow by a factor of 3.5.  That combination strikes me as extremely unlikely. Even if it is true the emissions due to domestic flights would be circa 1% of the nation’s total, see attached note, which the appropriate DfT staff have concurred with).

Secondly, you cite aviation as emitting 5 times as much as high-speed rail. There are other reputable estimates that suggest a factor far smaller than that, see second attached.  In that context I note that occupancy assumptions are crucial.  Here are some numbers cited to me by Jim Russell, former DG of South Yorks PTE,

“Eurostar has claimed 80% but the infamous press conference figures were based on 75% and TGV used that figure in briefing Congress in the USA.  The German's use 40% which may indicate how deployment sensitive the figure is.   I use them all with great caution because none of them have any real documentation about how they were measured”
 

Thirdly, the idea that the train is environmentally friendly compared with the car is fragile. In any event the energy consumed per passenger-km by the two modes is similar.  The emissions from the train vary hugely depending upon whether one believes it is coal fired generations that is relevant or that the generating industry will be decarbonised. Further, the tailpipe emissions are a poor guide to the dust to dust emissions.
 

(E.g. http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/futures/39408 supported by http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/4/2/024008/erl9_2_024008.pdf?request-id=874592d4-aee2-4ea0-9cff-7f0d0b6e0314 suggests the train’s tailpipe emissions should be increased by 155% compared with 63% for cars and 31% for aviation

Jim Russell, commenting on those sources, said “the drawback is that Chester's methodological inadequacies exaggerate car emissions by assuming that comparisons based on the whole road network are relevant.  In fact the road network contestable by rail is only a very heavily used fraction of the whole network and of course the road network is also used as part of rail journeys.   Chester has car worse than rail but on like with like basis it is better.  Chester also does not consider the impact of traction electricity on coal burning which is surprising because it is a concern in the US and he does make the observation that coal burning needs to be minimised”).
You acknowledge that “cars serve destinations that trains cannot reach” but go onto say that there are many long distance car journeys where a train could have been used. You are right. According to the National Travel Survey 42% of journeys over 350 miles are by car with only 10% by rail, leaving 39% by air. Why those using the car did so is not known, but obvious reasons include the delay in travelling to rail stations and the probability that a central London rail terminal may be nowhere near the desired destination, let alone the cost and the need to have a car available.
Furthermore although the long distance car trips are “many” they are a tiny proportion of all car trips.

Fourthly
At the risk of being dismissed out of hand I comment that decabonising the generating industry is probably a pipe dream that will do nothing but drive us closer to bankruptcy.  Global Warming will almost certainly turn out to be one of the most ridiculous, and expensive, scare stories in history. 

In defense of that unpopular view see the third attached or make some independent inquiry such as from http://www.friendsofscience.org/.  It contains a section listing some 50 highly qualified skeptics at http://web.archive.org/web/20060529122738/www.envirotruth.org/myth_experts.cfm
In any event, if we were serious about curtailing emissions we would abandon high-speed, air and rail in favour of express coaches.  The way the environmentalists talk we should abandon everything else as well.

Instead of that it is the collapse of the European birth rate, particlarly among the able, coupled with global overpopulation and depletion of resources that are the true threats

Regards                                                                                                           Paul F Withrington
Copy to: Treasury, Stephen Hammond, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood,
Robert Wright (FT).
 


 

24th June 2009                                                                                       Railcon/mp/Hammond04
Stephen Hammond MP
RAIL AND NATA

“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).
Thank you for taking the time to respond to mine of 9th June, particularly for noting our critique of NATA.  Certainly if that were consistent with fundamentals no railway project would ever pass the cost benefit test.
I dare say you are aware that I am also corresponding with Norman Baker.  Here is a copy of my latest letter to him, along with its attachments, for your interest.
Regards                                                                                                           Paul F Withrington
 


 

16th June 2009
Dear Norman Baker

RAILWAY MYTHS
“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).

You will recall my letter of 23rd May, copy attached.

After the discussion at today’s rail conference I pointed out that, since the carbon emissions from both rail and civil aviation are trivial, shifting passengers from the one to the other would be doubly trivial.

You challenged me by saying that the carbon emissions from civil aviation are forecast to rise to 40% of the nation’s total.  I did not believe that and we parted in disarray.  Here is the data that I have.

Table 3.7 of the 2008 Transport Statistics Great Britain, TSGB, provides that both rail and civil aviation emitted 0.4% of the nation’s carbon in 2006.
From table 2.5 of the TSGB we find that domestic air passengers are forecast to rise from 40 million in 2004 to 90 million in 2030, an increase of 125%.
 

  1. Hence, if the emissions are proportional to passengers then the emissions from domestic air will rise to circa 0.9% of the nation’s 2004 total by 2030, demonstrating that my disbelief was justified.  Please advise if you have different data.
  2. It follows that the carbon argument for high-speed rail put forward by the railway lobby can be nothing but a giant red herring designed to extract tens of billions of pounds from the taxpayer.  Similarly with the carbon argument for ordinary rail.

The plain fact is that this railway mania has no basis.  Instead it is beggaring the nation.  Certainly policy developed in defiance of the facts is doomed.  That is why Labour has failed.  Exactly the same will befall the next administration if it follows the line suggested at today’s conference.
Copy to Treasury, Stephen Hammond, Paul Foote (for Theresa Villiers), John Redwood, Robert Wright (FT).


Dear Stephen Hammond

RAIL AND NATA
“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).

Thank you for taking the time to respond to mine of 24th May. 

Please find attached a note that we have sent to John Redwood, Brian Binley and Paul Foote following the meeting of 3rd June. The bar charts on the first page illustrate how extraordinary it is that the Government should ever have imagined that congestion could be solved by bullying people out of cars into buses and trains, let alone the content of my previous letter to you.

With regard to NATA, we comment, if it were to be consistent with basic principles then, not only would the (ludicrous) treatment of lost tax as a cost vanish, but so would the equally ludicrous treatment of “incremental fares”.

Attached is an upgraded version of our critique of NATA.  You will see from that that by arbitrarily altering the economic boundary of the project incremental fares for Crossrail can be changed zero to £13 billion.  Hence, although fares and tax would be crucial in a narrow financial analysis, their inclusion in an economic evaluation is absurd.

A consequence of excluding incremental fares would be that no rail or light rail proposal would ever pass the benefit to cost test.
As to emissions, you will have seen from our previous letter that the effect of changing modes is of vanishing significance and not necessarily in favour of rail.

We would of course welcome any opportunity to present that and other of our analyses to the Conservative’s policy making team.

Separately from that, I dare say you are aware that Transport 2000, now the CfBT, was originally funded by the rail unions. Today many of its corporate members have substantial railway interests. In short that organisation is a railway lobby group in disguise. Our experience is that, rather than enter a discussion devoted to finding the truth, the CfBT plays the fool, see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/railway-lobby-group-transport-2000.htm

Yours sincerely

Paul F Withrington


Dear Stephen Hammond

RAIL AND NATA
“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).

Thank you for taking the time to respond to mine of 23rd May. 

Please find attached a note that we have sent to John Redwood, Brian Binley and Paul Foote following the meeting of 3rd June. The bar charts on the first page illustrate how extraordinary it is that the Government should ever have imagined that congestion could be solved by bullying people out of cars into buses and trains, let alone the content of my previous letter to you.

With regard to NATA, we comment, if it were to be consistent with basic principles then, not only would the (ludicrous) treatment of lost tax as a cost vanish, but so would the equally ludicrous treatment of “incremental fares”.

Attached is an upgraded version of our critique of NATA.  You will see from that that by arbitrarily altering the economic boundary of the project incremental fares for Crossrail can be changed zero to £13 billion.  Hence, although fares and tax would be crucial in a narrow financial analysis, their inclusion in an economic evaluation is absurd.

A consequence of excluding incremental fares would be that no rail or light rail proposal would ever pass the benefit to cost test.

As to emissions, you will have seen from our previous letter that the effect of changing modes is of vanishing significance and not necessarily in favour of rail.

We would of course welcome any opportunity to present that and other of our analyses to the Conservative’s policy making team.

Separately from that, I dare say you are aware that Transport 2000, now the CfBT, was originally funded by the rail unions. Today many of its corporate members have substantial

railway interests. In short that organisation is a railway lobby group in disguise. Our experience is that, rather than enter a discussion devoted to finding the truth, the CfBT plays the fool, see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/railway-lobby-group-transport-2000.htm

Yours sincerely

Paul F Withrington


Dear Stephen Hammond
RAILWAY IMPROVEMENT CONFERENCE

“He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
John McCarthy (computer pioneer, Stanford University).

You will recall that I asked the question “Why should any subsidy be paid to rail, bearing in mind that half of us use a train less than once a year and that those from the top quintile of household income travel 5 times as far by rail as do those from either of the bottom two quintiles?” The panel’s answers were (a) carbon/global warming (b) capacity.  However, both of those turn out to be misplaced.

CARBON

The figure below shows that rail and civil aviation make such negligible contributions to CO2 that any transfer between the modes would produce an imperceptible change.  Further, it is far from certain that high speed rail will emit less than air travel does, see: http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/transport-pdfs/transport-fact-sheet-5b.pdf

1

If we are interested in road versus rail then:

(3) Cars serve destinations that cannot be served by rail and rail serves destinations that are generally impractical to reach by car.  Hence it is unlikely that investment in rail will lead to a significant transfer between the modes. Those transfers that do occur may substitute long rail trips for a short car trips. If there were spare capacity on the rail system then the additional rail trips would yield no emissions. However, if there were a large scale transfer, requiring additional services, then the longer trips would probably have higher carbon footprints than would the shorter car trips. That may very well apply to the growth in rail passenger traffic that has occurred over the past years.

(4) In energy terms passenger rail returns the equivalent of 94 passenger miles per gallon - no better than an efficient diesel powered car containing the national average of 1.6 people.  If large scale electrification, or increased demand for rail travel, increased the demand for electricity then the life of coal fired generation would be prolonged. The emissions from coal fired generation would then be the relevant ones to consider.  In that circumstance, and subject to carbon capture, the emissions per passenger-mile from rail would then be greater than those from cars.

(5)Express coaches, given rail’s rights of way, would return at least 200 passenger miles per gallon.Against that background it seems impossible to sustain the notion that lower carbon emissions justify subsidising rail.  Instead the reverse may be the truth.

 

CAPACITY.

This immense, nearly empty, swamp of rail, within a stones throw of Westminster, is surrounded by roads clogged with traffic.

The railway lobby misrepresents the relative capacity of road and rail on a massive scale.  Here is the truth. Circa 250,000 passengers enter central London by national rail in the peak hour.  There are at least 25 pairs of tracks.  Hence there are a trivial 10,000 crushed passengers per inbound track. They would all find seats in 200 50-seat express coaches or in 150 75–seaters.  Those coaches would be sufficient to occupy between one fifth to and one seventh of the capacity of one lane of a motor road the same width as required by a train. That is to say even in the peak hour this great London network is, in highway terms, substantially disused. The picture below illustrates. Outside the peak the network is a place of dreams – if you doubt that please visit the platforms of any main-line terminal at lunch time. 

In confirmation of the above, the contra flow bus lane serving the New York bus terminal is 4 miles long, including one and a half miles in tunnel.  It carries 700 45-seat buses in the peak hour offering over 30,000 seats.  In comparisons 30,000 crushed passengers arrive at Victoria Main Line in the peak hour.  They require four inbound tracks...
I am copying this letter to the Treasury and to the MPs listed below, who I am meeting for lunch on June 3rd.  Would you, or one of your staff, like to join us?

Regards

Paul Withrington

BSc. MSc. MICE. C.Eng

 


NOTES FOR REDWOOD MEETING June 2009

Transport Policy, a Summary Note.

The target in the Government’s 10 year plan was to increase rail use by 50% and bus use by 10%. That, it was hoped, would greatly reduce road congestion. It was supported by, if not the brainchild of, the Commission for Integrated Transport, chaired by Professor Begg.

However, that policy did not take account of the blindingly obvious, namely that the bus and train each accounted for only 6% of the passenger-miles travelled. Indeed, rail accounts for less than 2% of passenger-journeys. Hence, it was inevitable that, even if the targets could be met, there would be little impact on the increase in car use, which has in fact grown by 10%. The figure below illustrates the point. There the difference in car use that the policy may generate is difficult to discern.


Figure 1 Passenger-km % base year

If that were not enough to illustrate the naked stupidity of the plan, consider the history. In 1955, the bus and train (including London Underground) accounted for about 60% of the passenger-miles travelled. Today, 85% are by the car. Furthermore, passenger-miles by car have increased sevenfold. The figure below illustrates these overwhelming changes.


Figure 2 Passenger-km per head by mode.

Despite that billions of pounds have been spent on the presumption that congestion really could be solved by getting people out of cars and on to public transport.

What have they done?

Over the past decade the traffic engineers have restricted capacity at the most critical points in the road network, namely the junctions. They have done that by a series of minor, almost insignificant, measures e.g.

(6) Arranging matters so that all the traffic lights show red long after green would be sensible at least somewhere.
(7) Setting stop lines back by two or three car lengths at signal controlled junctions. That reduces the number of vehicles that can exit when the traffic lights turn green so generating queues when none need exist.
(8) Channelisation schemes that allocate a particular lane to each turning movement. The result is congestion for the major movements while lanes for the minor movements stand empty.

(9) Road markings and traffic islands that restrict the number of lanes at stop lines to the number on the approach roads thereby ensuring that perhaps only half the capacity of the intervening the links can be use.
(10) Banning turns; even left and straight ahead turns are not immune from that. The consequences are substantial detours and overloading at other junctions.
(11) The installations of thousands of signal controlled pedestrian crossings that show red long after a loan pedestrian may have crossed.
(12) Bus lanes that often carry as little as one vehicle every 10 minutes.

Those measures are in response to the dash for road safety and the green “equality for all” mantra - walking first (open to poor and rich alike), followed by cycling, then by buses plus trains and lastly by cars (to which the poor have less access than do the rich).

The effect has been devastating. Nationally there are about 23 billion car trips per year. Their average length is 8.5 miles. If all of those, plus the journeys of other vehicles, suffer a two minute delay, because of these schemes, then the cost attributable to the schemes is circa £11 billion annually.

Road Safety

Present road safety polices, particularly the attack on speed, date from the mid 1990s. Figure 4 shows that the downward trend in deaths per vehicle-kilometre, instead of accelerating under the impact of those policies, flattened off remarkably. That has arisen despite the cameras being supported by endless speed humps and traffic management schemes that cause congestion where none need exist.

 

Extra deaths are here defined as the difference between the actual deaths and those that would have arisen had previous trends continued. Figure 5 compares extra deaths with speeding fines. In total, from 1995 to 2007, some 13.6 million fines coincided with 9,600 such deaths. Although nobody would claim that the fines caused the deaths (a) the correlation between the two, at 99%, is astonishing and (b) the penalty numbers are a proxy for the vigour with which the policy has been pursued.

Rather than recognise that the medicine is not working, we now have the prospect of an even larger dose, with speed limit reductions to 20mph in towns and 50mph on rural roads. If previous experience is repeated the effect on road safety, far from being beneficial, is likely to be quite the reverse. Certainly those speed limits will cause considerable stress to drivers and waste resources while we struggle to cope with the worst economic conditions most of us have ever known. Delaying all journeys by as little as two minutes would cost over £11 billion annually.
Contrary to those supporting the cameras, speeding (defined as exceeding the speed limit), is a minor recorded cause of accidents. In 2007 it amounted to 5.4% for fatal accidents, to 3.2% for accidents where the worst injury was categorised as serious and to 2.4% for all severities.

 

Despite that, Ministers continue to support the attack on speed with pointless statements such as 30% of road accidents are due to speed. The truth is that the authorities have rejected the highly successful policies used in the 1980s and early 1990s, prior to the speed cameras, in favour of an automatic and punitive system that has proved a disaster.
Railways and roads

If the attack on the motorist is misplaced then the belief that the pubic has in rail is sufficient to beggar belief. For example, it is put about that rail is overwhelmingly safe compared with road transport, has the higher capacity to move people, and is in some magical way sustainable and green. However, our detailed calculations show, among other, that:
The deaths per passenger-km by rail, including trespassers but not suicides, are 50% above that for the motorway and Trunk Road network.

If the national rail function were discharged by express coaches and lorries using the rights of way currently enjoyed by the railways then carbon emissions would be reduced, let alone the benefit to the many thousands of lorries and other vehicles that would divert from the unsuitable rural roads and city streets that they now clog.
If all London’s crushed peak hour surface rail commuters had seats in 50-seat express coaches and if the rail network were paved then those coaches would occupy only one fifth of the network’s capacity. The picture illustrates.

Astonishingly, even in the peak hour and in central London this immense rail network, offering 10,000 miles of superbly engineered right of way, is, in highway terms, substantially disused. Indeed, averaged over the network as a whole, the flow per track is equivalent to a pitiful 300 coaches plus lorries per day, a flow that would not trouble one lane of a motor road for more than 30 minutes.

Meanwhile the subsidy from the taxpayer is vast. Over the 20 years to 2015 £100 billion will have been spent. That amounts to circa £4,000 for every household in the land at a time when half of us use a train less than once a year and when those from the top quintile of household income travel five times as far by rail as do those from either of the bottom two quintiles.

This extraordinary misallocation of funds coupled with the war on the motorist arises because policy has been developed in defiance of the facts. That can only change if there is a solid group of experienced people who will lobby down the years if favour of the truth rather than fairy stories.

Stewart Joy, Chief Economist to British Railways in the 1960’s, wrote in his book “The Train that Ran Away” that there were those in the British Transport Commission and the railways “who were prepared, cynically, to accept the rewards of high office in return for the unpalatable task of tricking the government on a mammoth scale. Those men”, Joy wrote, “were either fools or knaves”. There were no libel actions but Joy had been forced out – too honest to work with railway men.
We comment, then as now.

COPIED TO SEVERAL AND TREASURY
 


Dear Tim Yeo (copy to Environmental Audit Committee)

5th August 2008

ROAD TAX

The news today reports that the Environmental Audit Committee is disappointed that the tax on "Gas Guzzlers" is not higher, so as to speed the switch to more economical vehicles. However, taxing vehicles according to fuel consumption is almost certainly misguided.

  1. It leads to complexity in the tax system.
  2. It unreasonably penalises those who genuinely need large vehicles e.g. because they have large families.
  3. It unreasonably penalises those who have large vehicles but seldom use them, such as the car collector or enthusiast.
  4. It may encourage those who have paid lots of tax to drive so as to reduce their unit costs.
  5. The effect on the nation’s fuel consumption can be, at best, trivial.
  6. The action smacks of envy – who do these rich people think they are? – overlooking the fact that, once the bread line has been cleared, the only reason to earn money is to buy better.

The better alternative is to abolish all fixed taxes such as vehicle excise duty, and VAT on new vehicles, and to transfer the same to fuel.  That may raise pump prices by 30-50% so discouraging the use of all vehicles and encouraging the development and purchase of more efficient ones.  Higher fuel prices would also be a somewhat imperfect proxy for congestion charging.
Of course, raising fuel prices would lead to an outcry from the road haulage industry.  However, that could be given a level playing field with lorries from Europe by charging an entry fee according to the fuel carried.
Paul F Withrington


Dear Louis Ellman

21st July 2008

BONUS TO RAILTRACK’S MANAGERS

Your Committee finds it “’highly extraordinary’ for Network Rail to reward its senior managers with huge financial bonuses in a year where passengers have been ‘humiliated and inconvenienced’ by the engineering fiascos and where a record fine has been imposed for breach of the Network license”.

However, there is a far greater reason for the Transport Committee to distance itself from those bonuses, namely, the misleading statements made by Network Rail and its associates.

To illustrate, consider the following, which is from report of the Committee’s inquiry into the “The Future of the Railway”.

“The figures comparing road and rail fatalities are telling.  In 2002, 3,431 people were killed on the roads while according to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) 50 passengers, railway staff and other members of the public were fatally injured and 256 people died as a result of trespass and suicide on the railway”.   The committee went on to write that “The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) points out that ‘on average more road users die in accidents each day than rail passengers in a year’”

That data is inspired by the railway industry and it is indeed correct.  However, it is also grossly misleading. Firstly, there are currently 17 times more passenger-miles travelled by road than rail. Consequently the numbers quoted exaggerate in favour of rail by a multiplier of 17. Secondly, the statement by the SRA compares passengers killed in so-called train accidents (and if you fall out of a train, that is not a train accident – instead it is your fault) with all those killed on all roads, including pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes.  That introduces a further and similarly large exaggeration in favour of rail.

Similar misrepresentation arises in almost all vectors to do with rail.  The consequence is that the nation is now wasting tens of billions of pounds on a system that is quite incapable of meeting the needs of a modern economy and which is used by the rich far more than by the poor.

Paul Withrington

Copy to:
Treasury, Theresa Villiers (Shadow Transport), Philip Hollobone MP, The Times.
 


Dear Louis Ellman

FUEL CONSUMPTON OF RAIL SYSTEMS

Thank you for acknowledging our letter of 29th May and for saying that you look forward to working with us.

You will see from our web site that we have a mass of data on transport issues, most of it hostile to accepted dogma, particularly the efficacy of rail.  If Committee members would like to hear the detail, either in the context of a Committee meeting, or otherwise then we would of course be willing to present.
 

.....................................

In my previous I said that those responsible for the table 3.2 in Transport Statistics Great Britain were unable to say whether the reported fuel used by rail included or excluded London underground and the nation’s light rail and tram systems. I do them a disservice in that, since then, the staff have written to say that the data is inclusive of all rail and tram systems.  However, they remain unable to subdivide the total between the systems or to net-out freight. 

Hopefully the Committee can use its position to have the rail industry rectify that.  As part of contracts there should be the requirement to make annual return of the electricity and diesel used.  Without that nobody can have any confidence in data purporting to compare the emissions from rail with those from other modes of transport.

Paul Withrington (Director)


Dear Sally Keeble,

12th January 2008

I was of course disappointed by your letter of 9th January particularly because I believe you have an interest in the reasons for the failure of the Government’s transport policies.  Those are encapsulated by the diagram below.

Figure 1 Passenger-km % base year

Comparing the middle column with the left hand one illustrates the change over 10 years with no policy. Comparing the middle column with the right had one illustrates the effect of Government policy if the targets of increasing rail use by 50% and bus use by 10% were to be met.  You will see that the effect is so trivial as to be almost imperceptible.

Meanwhile Gwyneth Dunwoody’s Transport Committee and the Government have come to believe the fairy stories told by the railway lobby. That is why, over 20 years, they will have spent circa £85 billion of taxpayers’ money on the railways (£3,400 for every household in the land) at a time when half of us use a train less than once a year, when rail carries only 6% of the nation’s passenger miles and 12% of its freight and when the alternative is four times less costly.

If you want to test any of all that I remain available.

Paul F Withrington

 

 



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