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Road / Rail Future December 3rd 2006

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Subject: Road / Rail Future

In competition with Robert Kirby's humorous article in the FT of 2/23/06 Margaret and Shirley Osmaston in Essex wrote as follows.

Unlike poor Pamela who had had to get her bike out just as it was beginning to rain, Pauline was not worried by having suddenly to go to the supermarket. She knew that when she walked down to the bus stop (there were lots more of these now that all parked cars had been cleared off the
streets) one of the new railbuses would be along soon. She remembered the old days when her Mother would take her down to the bus so they could go to the shops or visit a friend, or even take the bus to the station for a real adventure on the train. It was with only a tinge of regret that she recalled the unpredictability of any journey in those days.

The Eddington revolution had made travel predictable because he had gradually incorporated the road and the rail systems, which for generations had been separate entities, into one. Coming from neither the road lobby nor the ranks of the railway enthusiasts, before he sat down in his office chair he thought he might start his researches by looking at the operation of each system. Not being one to waste time and money on learned reports which would end up taking months to compile he hopped in his car and drove off looking for a railway line. He looked over a few railway bridges and could not, at first understand why so few trains passed beneath him, when the road he stood on was chock-a-block with traffic.

For most of the time when he looked down at the railway the lines were empty. For most of the time the road was full. From that moment he resolved to apportion the traffic more fairly between the road and rail. How had this road/rail dichotomy come about? Two parallel transport systems running together yet never the twain shall meet! It was too ridiculous.

The tunnel vision of the rival camps he found quite unbelievable. No railway man could conceive of a rail vehicle taking to the road, road men could never stomach the loss of face implied in railway usage. He hit them hard.
Rails were torn up and rubber tyres substituted for steel ones. Stopping distances were reduced by 90% so the rail roads could be populated thickly with vehicles which were interchangeable between the two systems.

There was no need for Pauline to go to the station - her bus could run where the rails used to be if that was the best route. For long trips the buses would be linked into trains. Her station became just another bus stop. All the stations did. Even the great pillars of the railway establishment. How many, actually, work at Victoria? Everyone used the new system, it was so simple and cheap. No subsidies were needed for this ‘railroad’.

At first the ‘Eco’ lobby were in a frenzy. Steel railways were sacred because they had been persuaded that electricity to drive trains came from heaven rather than inefficiently, from coal-fired power stations. But the lobby groups changed their tune when they saw the former railways transformed into a popular form of transport which could be used by the majority rather than a cosseted few.

Grandparents still bought ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ for the youngsters, but few remembered why the wheels ran in a wooden trough instead of on the carpet.


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