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Topic 5. The Transport-Watch Advert, Response to critics: March 2005

The advertisement appeared in ‘The New Statesman’ of 3rd and 10th December 2004 and 21st January 2005 and in ‘Private Eye’ of 7th and 21st January and 4th February 2005 and in ‘The Week’ on 5th February and on either 29th January or 12th February 2005

There were objections from members of the public, the Railway Forum and the Rail Development Society Ltd trading as Railfuture.  The complaints are set out below along with our responses – none of which were challenged on a factual basis.  See also Rail Future’s  The  Case for Rail and the Forensic Demolition by Nigel Harris, the Managing Editor or the magazine 'Rail, and Adrian Lyons, the Railway Forum Director.

(1)         Safety: Basis of complaint that the advertisement exaggerated the safety of road uses because it misleadingly compared network wide fatalities with Motorway fatalities only.

Response: (note the data in this response has been overtaken by later analyses). We note that the Railway lobby routinely exaggerates the relative safety of rail with respect to road by a factor of 18 by ignoring usage and by a further similar factor by comparing deaths to rail passengers in the narrowly defined class of accident known as "Train Accidents" with all those system-wide killed in traffic accidents on the road network as a whole. That has created the impression that rail is overwhelmingly safe compared with roads - misleading the Government and the nation on a mammoth scale. Hence it is in the national importance that data such as we have advertised is published widely. We note there is no challenge to the numbers. We comment that it is well known that motorways are safer than other roads. The advertisement makes no pretence about that. Further the advertisement contains a reference to out web site where the death rates for other classes of roads may be read. For the record we here cite some of the data available from our files. The numbers are deaths per billion passenger-km.








Motorway and non-urban A roads



As (c) but excluding peds, cyclists and motorbikes



All roads  as (d)


(Items (c) and (d) above are additional to previously published information)

Those death rates are system-wide. They include trespassers but not suicides or people falling off bridges and all death in traffic accidents by road. The data suggests that if ordinary traffic, void of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, transferred to railway alignments the death rate would be below that imposed on society by the national rail network. Additionally railway alignments would be safer than most ordinary roads because of the alignments are relatively straight, level and free of junctions. That would lead to a further saving in life and limb.

Referring to passenger safety, our published data shows that a fair estimate of the death rate by rail in the envelope bounded by the ticket barriers is 0.4 compared with 0.2 by bus and coach on non-urban roads. Our critics have not challenged that.

(2)         Speed: Basis of complaint that the advertisement did not take account of the safe speed of coaches on urban roads

Response: We contend that the use of rail rights of way could be presumed from the context. If that is not clear we would be happy to correct by adding the words "Given rail's rights of way" before making further distributions of the advertisement.

(3)         Subsidies: Basis if complaint - a challenge to the basis of the figures used to calculate subsidy

Response: The scale of railway subsidies is substantiated in the attached see web site facts sheet 4. Separately from that we note that Roger Ford writing in Modern Railway February 2005 suggests that the taxpayer's subsidy to rail in 2005 was £5.9 billion.

(4)         London 's commuters: Basis of complaint that the advert misleadingly impoled that more London commuters could be transported by road than by rail

Response : We contend that, given rail's rights of way, all London's rail commuters could have seats using one quarter the space required by rail on the line haul as evidenced by the performance of the express coach lane serving the New York bus terminal. There 700 45-seats coaches per hour pass in a single express bus lane on weekdays providing 30,000 seats - 4 times as many as the crushed passengers arriving per track at Victoria's main Line. 70-seat coaches would increase the seated capacity of the bus lane to 49,000 per hour.

(5)         Environment: Basis of complaint: that the advertisement and particularly the claim that "express coaches and lorries could discharge the national rail function using 20-25% less fuel than rail" misleadingly implied that road transport causes less environmental damage than rail.

Response: The advertisement is confined to a factual statement about the relative fuel consumptions of road and rail. However we take this opportunity to point out that 25% of electricity is from Nuclear, 70% from fossil fuel and 5% from renewables - themselves causing significant environmental damage. Further, fuel and air pollution are only some of the factors to consider - there is the matter of wasted land - rail requiring 4 times as much as equivalent competing road transport. Road congestion and hence pollution would be much reduced if the 10,000 miles of right of way substantially disused railway were available to road vehicles. The advert does not pretend to be an exhaustive analysis of all of that. Instead the reasonable purpose was to alert the reader to the fiction that rail is overwhelmingly environmentally friendly compared with equivalent road transport.

(6)         Fares: A challenge as to whether the comparison of rail and road fares between London and Birmingham were misleading.

Response: The comparisons are a matter of fact. When referring to bus fares we say they " may be as low as low as £3. That may be checked on the inter net. If the rights of way available to trains were available to express coaches journey times would be cut by a factor of at least two so doubling the productivity of the vehicles and drivers. Consequently fares might then be halved.

After protracted correspondence and after overturning none of our points the ASA upheld the complaints but in peculiar terms, concluding with words “The Authority told Transport Watch to tone the advertisement down and urged them to consult the CAP Copy Advice team for help doing that. Here is the full text of the ruling – where we object ot the use of the word “extrapolation”.  We extrapolated nothing.  Instead we applied the rules of arithmetic to the national statistics.  The text of teh Advertising Standards Authiority's ruling (excluding the advert's text) was as follows:


"The advertisers said the claims in the advertisement were based on published data and sent figures extrapolated from Government statistics, Railtrack Network Management Statements and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to support them. They also submitted a feasibility study conducted in August 1974 entitled "Better use of Railways" by Hall and Smith.

The Authority acknowledged that the feasibility study conducted in 1974 made some plausible arguments for converting some railway lines to roads, in terms of costs, but noted the report did not substantiate the specific claims made in the advertisement, which were presented as "fact".  The Authority noted the claims in the advertisement were based on information collated from various studies of existing railway conversions and the advertisers' projection of the potential benefits of converting railway lines into roads for express passenger coaches and goods vehicles in the UK, and especially London.  It noted the advertisers' comparisons between the safety, the financial cost and the environmental impact of road and rail made assumptions such as that all existing track and environs were capable of conversion to roads on which coaches could match or surpass trains for speed, whereas the complainants believed this would not be possible in all cases because of the variations of verges on some roads and because the coaches the advertisers advocated would have to travel at speeds that would not be attainable given the national speed limit.  The Authority also noted the advertisers had included subsidies to national rail in their calculations for the cost of rail transport, but had not included the unavoidable cost of converting railways to roads in their claims for the financial benefits of road transport.  The Authority was concerned that the quoted fare of £3 was an unrepresentative example of the cost of return coach travel from London to Birmingham, because not all travellers would be able to book tickets online and in advance.

The Authority noted, although the claims appeared in a strongly-worded campaigning advertisement, they were presented as fact, not opinion.  It considered that, while the large amount of evidence presented by the advertisers constituted an in-depth assessment of the shortcomings of rail travel, it reflected only one side of a hotly debated issue and did not set out comprehensively the assumptions on which the claims for the benefits of conversions to roads were based.  It considered that citing specific examples of previous rail to road conversions in the UK and in the US did not, in itself, show those benefits would extend to the situations quoted in the advertisement.  The Authority concluded that the advertisers were entitled to express their opinion about the shortcomings of railways and how factors such as rail safety, speed, and the circumstances of London commuters might be improved by converting some railways to roads, but considered that the tone of the advertisement, which presented the advertisers' claims and comparisons as "facts", was too strongly worded.   The Authority told Transport Watch to tone the advertisement down and urged them to consult the CAP Copy Advice team for help doing that".


Wp Ref. Websig/Topic 5 The advert


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