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

Topic 26. Letters to Local Transport Today and the New Civil Engineer

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A Sample - mostly published

All by Paul Withrington BSc MSc MICE C.Eng except where stated

Our response (unpublished) to John Helm's below

Fatal to credibility

(May 2020)

John Helm’s letter of 17th April is fatal to his credibility. The letter has the title; The UK’s rural road system is more under-used than railways.  Here we address a sample of his points.

Firstly, the ludicrous comparison of rail with the entire road network. Here there are two minor errors in John’s work, namely (a) he says the road network carries 152 billion tonne-km.  That refers to domestic freight. It should be increased by 10% to allow for freight in foreign lorries (b) John appears to be comparing road with national rail.  However he cites 81 billion passenger-km, a number which includes London’s Underground.   The value for national rail is 67.7 billion.

However his strategic mistake is to compare rail with the entire road network. After all, 87% of that network consists of B-roads, C-roads and the unclassified.  Those minor roads include county lanes with carriageway widths down to 3 metres, endless residential roads, and back streets.  To compare rail with such roads is ludicrous.  When the minor roads are excluded, leaving the motorway and A-road network, we find that, length for length, that is used twice as intensively as is national rail’s with regard passengers and nearly three times as intensively with regard to freight; the reverse of John’s conclusion.  That despite rail serving the hearts of our towns and cities.

Secondly, John asserts that, “no transport manager with a brain in his head would divert his trucks or his coaches from motorways and shoehorn them onto narrow rail formation where they are likely to be buffeted or blown off viaducts .... by strong winds”.  Well, nearly all A-roads are single carriageways. The standard carriageway width is the same as the clear distance between tunnel and viaduct walls on double track railways, 7.3 metres.  Most A-roads are little better than tarmacked cow trails with twisting alignments passing over hill and dale, through town and village alike.  Further, useful verges are a rarity.  Has John not noticed that, despite these shortcomings, these roads carry vast numbers of lorries and other vehicles?  If the railways were convert to roads, managed to avoid congestion, countless lorries and other vehicles would transfer to the superbly e*ngineered railway alignments from the unsuitable city streets and rural roads which they now clog.  The environmental benefits, particularly in London, would be vast.

Thirdly, John goes on to point out that a four track railway is 50 feet wide – not enough for a four lane motorway complete with verges and hard shoulders.  Quite so, but the 50 feet would be wide enough for a four lane road shorn of those luxuries and perhaps divided centrally by a crash barrier.  Often it would be possible to widen by a couple of metres so providing greater driver comfort. 

Fourthly, he talks of railway tunnels needing escape routes and walkways if converted to roads.  Doubtless walkways and escape routes are desirable.  However they are even more desirable in tunnels used by trains than in tunnels used by road vehicles.  The lumbering train is wider and terribly difficult to move if broken down or crashed.  Nevertheless rail has managed without walkways and escape routes for over 150 years (and the tunnels are unlit).  Why then would one go to the cost of such provision if the tunnels were converted to roads? Oh, I forgot – obviously we need to gold-plate so as to make it impossible to make the best use of what we have.

Lastly John says I raise the “canard” about the Government raising money from the road system.  Well, it is not my fault that tax from road-users exceeds expenditure on roads by a factor of roughly five (The ten year average to 2018 provides expenditure of £10 billion pa compared with £57 billion taken in tax. (In the calculations we included estimates of VAT on new vehicles and vehicle maintenance).  Similarly it is not my fault that rail drains the Exchequer of roughly £8 billion per year, after counting loans, never to be repaid from the fare box, as subsidy. 

Certainly it costs the taxpayer around eight times as much to move a passenger or tonne of freight by rail as it does by road, see page two of the spread sheet available from topic 2 in

As to speed, the current timetable shows it takes the train 87 minutes to cover the 82 miles between Southampton Central and Waterloo, implying an averaging speed below 60 mph. An express coach on that alignment may match the train for speed whilst providing a service frequency several times that of the train.

And, Oh yes, 1,000 express coaches motoring at 60 mph in one lane of a motor road would have headways averaging 100 metres.  If the coaches were double-deckers with 75 seats apiece there would be nearly four times as many seats as offered by the supposed 18 1,100-seat trains per hour, canvassed by HS2 and 50 % more than the 50,000 crushed rail commuters entering Waterloo in the peak hour in trains requiring four inbound tracks.

Time to get real.

John Helm's response to ours below

LTT 759 17th April L2020

T W File ref LTT 128

Ten points that expose the big railway lie

LTT 794 22nd March 2020

T W File ref  LTT 127

Man-made global warming claims are over-cooked

LTT 788 20th Dec 2020


Further to your report, ‘CO2 The hottest topic for summit speakers (LTT 6th Dec 2019) the Warmists, aided by their supporting journalists, routinely (a) assign 100% of climate change to mankind and (b) claim that climate change is the cause of natural disasters round the world when nothing could be further from the truth, leading school girls to fear that the world will burn in 10 years.

John Helm, in his letter of Dec 6th, points out the futile and damaging nature of the UK’s attempts to decarbonise.  I go further.

  1. There is good evidence that most of the alleged warming since pre-industrial times is natural:  By pre-industrial the IPCC means 1850. That year was within the recovery period from the Little Ice Age.  Further, prior to 1950 accumulated CO2 emissions were trivial compared to today’s total.  Those two factors suggest that the warming trend up to 1950 was largely natural.  A continuance of that would leave little for mankind, suggesting that the IPPC claim that all the warming is man-made is unsustainable. 10% may be nearer the mark.
  2. Decline of bees:  A typical headline in The Times claimed that the decline in bees is due to climate change and pesticides.  Nonsense.  Bees exist all over the world. A small change in temperature would not trouble them.  The decline will be due to pesticides, herbicides and destruction of habitats.
  3. Death of coral reefs:  The IPCC, and pundits such as David Attenborough, say the reefs are dying because of climate change.  More pure nonsense.  Search “death of reefs and pollution” on Google and find that pollution is a main driver.  Further the seasonal changes in sea temperatures are far greater than the alleged one degree rise in air or land temperatures.  For example, see 18 and find that at Cairns, close to the Great Barrier Reef, the annual range of surface sea temperatures is up to 8 degrees.  Against that background why do they continues to claim that a one degree rise over 170 years is the killer?
  4. Extreme events:  Climate alarmists claim these are becoming more frequent. However, Roger Pielke, who spent several years investigating, concluded that, if anything, these events were becoming less frequent.  For his pains he was the victim of ad-hominem attacks, despite being a believer in the anthropogenic theory.  Web searches now identify a number of studies claiming that extreme events are getting more frequent.  However, difficulties include changes in reporting rates, changes in definitions and cheating by either combining two events as one or splitting a single event into its component parts.  E.g. are the seven year famines reported in the Bible to be counted as single events or as seven?
  5. It’s been put about that the World Will Burn in ten years if nothing is done – pure nonsense, scaremongering on a grand scale.  It’s been significantly warmer in the past e.g. in the Holocene maximum and the Roman and medieval warm periods.
  6. A two degrees rise is said by the IPCC to be a tipping point. Well firstly the two degrees is plucked out of the air; it has no basis.  Secondly, as CO2 rises, so incremental increases make progressively smaller contributions to warming.  Hence rather than a tipping point, beyond which warming is supposed to accelerate uncontrollably we have the reverse.
  7. 97 percent of scientists are said to concur with the IPCC.  The truth is any criticism of IPCC “findings” risks ending a career.  Instead of concurring. 97% fear to put their heads above the parapet.  Pielke’s experience above illustrates.  Such ad hominem attacks greatly undermine the IPCC’s credibility.

Against that background why does anyone believe these Climate Change Alarmists?  Instead the true threats are plastics and effluent of all sorts poured into the sea, pesticides, herbicides, destruction of habitats, burning forests, and, above all, the demographics.


An obsession with rail

The headline Urgent rail decarbonisation Proposal (Nov 8) highlights the obsession we have with the trivia which the railways are.  The diagram below appears in The DfT’s white paper Delivering a sustainable railways, July 2007.  It shows that eliminating all rail’s carbon  emissions would reduce the UK’s total by, Oh Wow, about 0.1%.

Likewise, LTT’s and the media’s coverage of rail is out of all proportion to its importance, carrying as it does, only 3.5% of passenger journeys,10% of passenger-km, and 10% of (freight) tonne-km.

Instead the headlines aught focus on how to bring this vast, but substantially disused, rail network, into effective use.  Answer: pave it and replace the trains with express coaches and lorries.  That would cut costs by a factor of at least four and enable tens of thousands of lorries and other vehicles to divert from the unsuitable roads and city streets which they now clog.  After all, even in central London and at peak times those express coaches would fill only between one seventh and on fifth of the highway capacity available, see topic 15 at

Title to letter by Bil Wyley in LTT787 OF 6th Dec 2019:

We need HS2 for the ribbon cutting ceremony

T-W File ref LTT125

Demolishing the benfit:cost ratio for building HS2 - LTT 786 22nd Nov 2019

Click to read

As in LTT 779 16th Aug 2019
TW file ref LLT 124

Newspaper clean air campaign is fuelling hysteria

The Times has been running a vast campaign demanding a right to “clean air”, whatever that is.  The campaign is lazy, misplaced scaremongering, which will inspire polices that damage the nation as a whole.  The campaign is focused largely on road traffic and particularly the diesel. The key journalists who write the articles are environment editor Ben Webster, transport correspondent Graeme Paton, science editor Tom Whipple, and science correspondent Rhys Blakely.

They should consider the following points:

1. The 2010 report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP), The mortality effects of long-term exposure to particulate air pollution in the United Kingdom, claimed that man-made PM2.5 caused 29,000 premature deaths – an average reduction in lifespan of six months, representing 340,000 life-years lost – in 2008. The media and our journalists leapt on that scary headline. But wait, the headline was based partly on “elicitation” (asking “experts” what they think, presumably in the absence of data). The process is heavily criticised by Professor Philip Hopke, who says: “I would suggest one be very careful using the guesses of experts as the basis of policy decisions” (Appendix 1 to the COMEAP 2009 report, Long-term exposure to air pollution: effects on mortality). Worse still, the 75 per cent “plausibility limits” used for estimating deaths, range from one-sixth to double the cited numbers – meaning COMEAP has only the vaguest of ideas.

2. Even worse, COMEAP’s 2010 report, at figure 3.2, showed that only around ten per cent of PM2.5 across the UK are attributable to road traffic.

3. Further, the latest report of the Government’s Air Quality Expert Group finds that the overwhelming proportion of particulates from traffic will, by 2020, be from tyres, brakes and the road surface (‘Brakes, tyres and road surface create more PM than exhausts,’ LTT 19 Jul). Hence it is clear the particulates from exhausts are of vanishing importance.

4. Meanwhile, in 2017 the Government quietly reduced by 83 per cent the monetised health benefits of reducing nitrogen dioxide concentrations, largely in response to new advice from COMEAP that reduced the estimated risk of mortality from NO2 (LTT 01 Sep 17).

To put matters in perspective, frying bacon in an airy kitchen produces PM2.5 amounting to 200 parts per million, ten to 20 times the World Health Organisation’s guideline recommendations. Furthermore, volatile organic compounds in dwellings are often above 1,000 parts per million. Searching Google suggests pollution in the home is by far the larger issue.

Heaven knows how anyone can ever say anything discreet about the separate impacts of the various pollutants which we are exposed to.

On the back of the scary headline numbers in the COMEAP reports, The Times campaign, and green hysteria, the Government appears hell bent on banning the internal combustion engine in favour of the electric.

Apart from the diesel being one of the least culprits, the environmental impact of electric vehicles could be worse. Where is the data on the environmental cost of disposing of millions of lithium-ion batteries? Where is the plan to produce clean electricity? Only 3.4 per cent of our energy needs coming from wind, solar, tidal and hydro, the only truly renewables. Bio fuels are worst than coal unless one believes the trees can be grown as fast as they burn.

So, yes these influential journalists are scaremongering; guilty of prodding the Government down a vastly expensive and largely ineffective route, instead of towards one that might actually be of some value.

My advice would be to fry no bacon, do not eat burnt toast, give up beer and do not die of eating chocolate biscuits. See topic 34 in the Transport-Watch website for a lazy man’s catch up.

The Times should be ashamed of itself for its lack of investigation and consequential lack of balance.


As in LTT 778 of 2nd August 2019

Memo to Boris: scrap the monumental waste that HS2 is. 

In LTT 19 July 2019 we have Lord Berkeley’s allegation of an HS2 cover up.  How right he is.  HS2 is a vast project likely to make a financial loss in the hundreds of billions of pounds.  It has been sold to politicians via analysis which we believe amounts to malfeasance in public office. Here are some of our reasons.

The January 2012 and October 2013 economic appraisals provide benefit to cost ratios which were immaterially different from each other and which marginally supported the case.  In the 2012 study the ratio was 2.5 for high growth, including Wider Economic Benefits.  The value, also including Wider Economic Impacts in the 2013 study was 2.3.  The similarity was remarkable. After all, the value of business time was reduced by 32%, the passenger forecasts were reduced by 15% and the net costs to government were increased by 26% for the full network. Had those changes been simply substituted into the January 2012 study the economic case would have collapsed.  The matter was “rescued” by, among other, vastly increasing the percentage of business trips which have a value of time five times that for other trip purposes - the smoking gun – or more plainly, fraud.

Additionally both studies contain benefits from improbably sources, namely better access, better interchange, less walking and improved reliability, all of which are difficult to defend in a discussion devoted to finding the truth.  As for the wider Economic Impacts: Bah! The 100,000 jobs allegedly created will have cost the taxpayer £1 million each!  How many will that destroy in that part of the economy which makes a profit? Then we have values of time which we suspect should be at least halved - people can enjoy time on trains or use the time productively.

We find that, if the improbable, or difficult to defend, benefits are stripped out, and if the percentage on business is set at survey levels, then the benefits (at the 2011 price and discount base) fall from £71 billion to £22.5 billion compared with costs of £31.5 billion.  That, reduces the crucial benefit to cost ratio to the unacceptably low value of 0.7.

In 2017 Michael Byng, an expert, was asked to check the capital cost of the scheme, set to £57 billion by the DfT.  Byng concluded that the outturn cost would rise to £111 billion,  The DfT refused to recognise that value but, in July 2019, the Chairman of HS2 Ltd., Allan Cook, warned that the cost may increase by £30 billion. 

The effect of doubling the outturn cost, in line with Byng’s estimate, increases  the scheme’s  present value cost from £31.5 billion to £51.5 billion.  Costs then exceed benefits by £29 billion or by £62 billion if the discount base is moved to the opening year of 2033.  The benefit to cost ratio then falls to a hopeless 0.44!

The capacity argument is spurious.  Euston is one of the least congested of London’s Terminals.  Off peak 60% to 70% of the seats are empty.  If capacity cannot be increased at reasonable cost then demand should be reduced by increasing peak or super peak fares.  An alternative, hitherto not considered, would be to remove the seats from some carriages in favour of “stand-easy”, enabling passengers to stand in relative comfort.  That would double the capacity of some carriages. As for the passenger forecasts, these depend on exponential growth over 26 years, inflating base flows by 80%, Ha, Ha!

The obvious conclusion is that this scheme should be cancelled immediately.  Those responsible for spending billions of pounds on the supporting studies should be investigated or prosecuted for malfeasance in Public Office.  Such an action would send a message to others serving government. The corruption which we have in the West does not consist of brown envelopes.  Instead it consists of officials, their consultants and other lobbyists accepting vast fees and salaries in exchange for the unpalatable task of tricking the Government on a mammoth scale.  Such corruption needs to be beaten out of the system if the nation is to profit.

Our overriding recommendation is that, if a scheme such as HS2 makes a loss, let alone one in the tens of billions of pounds, then DO NOT BUILD IT! In any event HS2 is unpopular across the nation.  Hence any party promising to cancel would enhance its electoral chances.

Our Ref LTT 122
Local Transport Today 773
Dated 24 May 2019

 Guided bus Version as published

Why is there this mania for guided bus?  After all (a) bus drivers will be needed in any event (b) such people have long been capable of steering buses at 40 mph down roads as narrow as 6.5 metres (c) guided busways are more expensive to build and maintain than ordinary roads and require more land on a account of service roads (d) the guidance systems prevent other vehicles from using the right of way thereby (i) guaranteeing trivial use and (ii) sabotaging the relief on existing roads which would arise if the systems were built as ordinary roads managed to avoid congestion.

Ltt 29th March reports the particularly lunatic 88-mile guided bus network, proposed by Steer, for Cambridge.  The reported cost is between £3.69 bn to £4.5 bn, providing a mid-range estimate of roughly £4 bn.  That amounts to an astonishing £45 million per route-mile, or 20 to 40 times the cost of a single carriageway road.  The product will be a bus ever ten minutes or thereabouts.  Could there ever be a bigger waste of resources than that? 

The environmental impact of a few buses at street level would be trivial, whilst providing convenience to passengers who would otherwise love to stagger up to the surface from the proposed stops in tunnels, should Steer’s proposal see the light of day.

Bah! Total nonsense at huge expense.

However, that stupidity pales into insignificance compared with the lunacy of imposing a 15 mph speed limit in London’s Square Mile, a location where attaining such a speed is a rarity.  Likewise with the dash for 20 mph limits (LTT 10th May) and for lowering the limit on minor rural roads where all but lunatics drive to the conditions, typically allowing speeds of 40 to 50 mph.

Worse still is this daft notion that spending vastly more on rail than on road in the North and Scotland will bring benefits, overlooking the fact that rail, in those areas, carries an entirely trivial 2% of passenger journeys.  Instead the rail network should be paved and managed to avoid congestion.  It would then be brought into effective use rather than sporting flows so trivial they would pass unnoticed on a motor road.  Fat chance there.  Instead the lunatics “in charge” may advocate paving the roads with railway lines thereby bring the place to a complete standstill.

Our Ref LTT 121
Local Transport Today 772
Dated 10th Mayh 2019

Published but without the diagram


Following Paul Biggs and Malcolm Heymer’s letters, criticising the man-made climate change thesis (LTT 12 April), and their many citics (LTT 26 April) I ask, does Malcolm Heymer not have a point when he refers to previous warm periods and the long term downward temperature trend?  This diagram, taken from a well researched article on Wiki, says it all. It represents the temperature anomaly from a collection of different reconstructions and their average. 

Further, why is it that two degrees above pre-industrial times is said to be a disaster, bearing in mind that (a) pre-industrial times means the depths of the little ice age (b) around half the warming occurred in the 19th C when carbon emissions were, in today’s terms, negligible (c) a continuance of that natural trend would leave little or nothing attributable to mankind in the 20th C? 

Worse still, why is it that anyone who raises these points or who criticises the official line is shut down or ignored?

It’s the same in the gender and race debates.  Suggest for one moment that there could ever differences and get shot at dawn, however strong the evidence may be.

I comment, policy based on sentiment and hysteria may doom us all, leading to the real threats being ignored.



Our Ref LTT 120
Local Transport Today 768
Dated 15th March 2019

Rail and Develpment

Published without the map

LLT of 15th February 2019 has, on its first two pages an advert (probably paid for either directly or indirectly by the taxpayer) publicising the Rail stations and property summit of 27th February. The first page starts with the words, “It is common knowledge that commercial and residential properties within easy reach of metropolitan train stations are in relatively greater demand  ......” and on the second page there is the headline, “Station-led regeneration schemes can be complex, expensive and time-consuming (you bet they are) and need careful risk management”.

It is indeed true that offices cluster around, metropolitan rail stations.  However, provincial rail stations attract nothing but those forced to use a high cost and environmentally damaging system, the legacy of the great age of steam. For example, the stations at Milton Keynes, Bletchley, Didcot, Oxford, Northampton, Rugby, Wellingborough, Corby and nearly all others are some distance, if not remote, from the town centres and are often girt around with dereliction typified by rusting railway sidings full of gravel.  Likewise on the approaches to Euston.

If the rights of way currently sterilised by rail were paved and managed to avoid congestion then development would soon replace the rusting sidings and the gravel. Those wanting to reach metropolitan areas would mostly have shortened journey times and enjoy fares a fraction of rail’s.  Passengers would also (shock horror) all have seats!  At the same time tens of thousands of other vehicles could divert from the unsuitable rural roads and city streets which they now clog.

Metropolitan terminals would also benefit since the rights of way serving them would be used several times as intensively.  After all, in central London, and in the peak hour, surface rail commuters, if all seated in express coaches using rail’s rights of way, would fill between only one-seventh and one-fifth of the capacity available, see topic 15 at

Meanwhile there is this ludicrous push by the Campaign for Better Transport – probably it will succeed – to reopen 33 disused rural rail lines so that one or two-car “trains” can again trundle up and down once an hour (or two) carrying a few passengers at immense cost to the taxpayer.

In a larger vector, the Poor House of the North might indeed transform itself to a Power House, if its benighted leaders had the courage to pave its vast rail network.  Instead they are lobbying hard to have tens of billions spent on rail, despite rail carrying less than 2% of the regions passenger-journeys. 

Just imagine the boost the region would have if the system in the diagram below were open to road vehicles and managed to avoid congestion.

Sadly that is unlikely for, as Alexander Pope put in the Dunciad, published 1742, ‘Dulness o’er all possess’d her ancient right, daughter of Chaos and eternal Night’, a quote amply illustrated by one of my critics who said that the Settle to Carlisle line “connects England to Scotland”.  Well so it does – via a one or two-car train once an hour.  I comment, if the roads were so use Scotland would be cut of from England rather than connected to it.


Our Ref LTT 122
Local Transport Today 754
Dated 17th August 2018

HS2: Stop this absurd project in its tracks - major letter. Click to view

 Our ref LTT 121
To Local Trasnport Today,
Not published dated 16th May 2018


John Helm, Letters 11th May, claimed that Japan’s private railways are profitable.  He says they have achieved that by diversification.  The companies have acquired real estate and benefited from the increased land values created by the railways.  The inference is that the transport element of these companies is loss making.  That method of funding may or may not be better than subsidy from the taxpayer, but it nevertheless amounts to subsidy.  In any case John’s statement appears to be based on “gleanings” from the rail companies’ fact books.  My experience is that that one needs to see and analyse accounts.  Even then opacity may be the rule. 

The better question is whether the transport function would be less costly if carried out by express coaches using rail’s rights of way.  The answer for the UK is an emphatic yes.   It costs the taxpayer five to seven times as much to move a passenger or tonne of freight by rail as it does by road, see the spread sheet associated with topic 2 of the Transport-Watch web site.  The arithmetic divides the Government expenditure by passenger miles (but ignores the fact that taxes from road users far exceed the expenditure).  Moreover those coaches would fill only a small fraction of the capacity available even in the peak hour and in central London.

John then berates me for with regard to American railways, claiming that he has previously provided data proving that those those railways are profitable.  Well, inspection of Amtack’s Consolidated accounts for 2017 show, on page 5, a net loss close to $1billion.  Amtrack’s “General and the “Legislative Annual report &Grant requests” for 2018 requests $1.6 billion.  Profit?  He must be joking.

If the North wants to improve transport links between its urban centres it should pave the railways.  The converted routes would be used many times as intensively as is the railway, fares would be a fraction of the train’s and journey times the same or shorter, after allowing for a vastly higher service frequency. Imagine the impact. 

For an expose of lunacy in the North see the point of view piece of 15th April 2016 available via topic 35 of the Transport-Watch web site.

Our ref LTT 120 Myth bust
Local Transort Todady 745
Published 26th April 2018

Railway myth-busting only works if you know your facts

The heading to John Helm’s letter of March 16, “Myth-busting on the railways”, is misplaced.  Myths can only be busted by reference to facts.  He gives us none.  Taking his headings in turn:

1 Foreign railways:  John claims that routes in the US are profitable but provides no data.  Probably those routes are profitable only be virtue of excluding all but a selection of operating costs.  After all, Virgin West Coast makes a profit only because interest charges on the £10 billion West Coast Main Line Modernisation are ignored - now effectively part of the national debt.  The idea that private railways in Japan make a profit is silly.  So does network rail and almost all the TOCs.  However, that arises because subsidy is counted as income and the cost of capital ignored.  Bah!

2. Beeching:  John claims that changed demographic have made nonsense of the Beeching cuts.  What nonsense that is.  Many, if not all, rural lines, particularly in the “Power House of the North” carry almost nothing.  Converted to roads the rights of way would be useful.  Instead they are a drain on the economy.

3 Low patronage: In support of opening long dead lines, John cites lines opened in the 1990s in Mansfield (population 100,000).  He says passengers have risen to 600,000 pa.  Well 600,000 pa is equivalent to a piddling 2,000 per day, or 1,000 each way,  requiring 50 half empty buses or five per hour each way.  Good gracious, five per hour!!  Is it possible to imagine a vaster waste of vast resources than that!

4 Adequate clearance.  The clear distance between tunnel and viaduct walls is 24 feet or 7.3 meters, the same as required by the carriageway of a two way trunk road and the same as is met with on the overwhelming majority of the nation’s A-roads.  Elsewhere there is room for marginal strips.  Roads on those alignments would be vastly superior to the tarmaced cow trails, which is what most of our A-roads are.

5 Settle to Carlisle:  John points out that this route is double track, linking England to Scotland etc. So it is, but the Settle to Carlisle timetable sports only one train an hour.  John also points out that the line serves Sheffield to Nottingham.  That timetable is really, really busy – one train every 20 minutes (are the trains two or four car, do tell)!!  Can anyone imagine a greater waste of resources than that, bearing in mind that, if paved, the route would extract countless lorries and other vehicles from the unsuitable rural roads and city streets which they now clog. Some trains on this line have only one carriage, if pictures in LTT are to be believed. Oh Wow!

Imagine the North’s railways paved, see map.  The North may then become a powerhouse.  Keep the railways and the North stays a poor house; see Point of View LTT 15th April 2016

It costs me over £50 to get to London and back on an open return (65 miles each way taking between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes depending on the train).  The cost cuts me off from the capital.  Replacement express coaches on those rights of way would match the train for speed whilst providing fares a fraction of rail’s, perhap a £10 return.  

Railways do not connect places.  Instead the high fares and infrequent services thrust us apart.

File ref LTT 119 Subjects of no importance
Local Tranpsort  Today 742
Part published 15th March 2018

The railway lobby has impaired rational policy-making

Element not published

The extent to which the media is besotted with rail and trivia concerning it, whilst ignoring the important issues is astonishing. 

After all, rail carries only 3% of passenger journeys (nearly half of us use a train less than once a year), 10% of passenger miles and 10% of freight at a cost to taxpayers several times that of equivalent road transport.  Moreover, in highway terms the network is empty.  Pave it and tens of thousands of lorries and other vehicles would transfer to it from the unsuitable roads they now clog.  The environmental and economic benefit to the nation would be vast.  As previously, all London’s crushed rail commuters would have seats at a fraction of the vast fares they now pay.

So what does The Times report?  Well, some weeks back the Transport Correspondent, Graeme Paton, wrote that the TOCs and Network Rail were to phase out emptying toilets onto the track.  Jolly, jolly good I say, but scarcely something which will set the economy alight.  On 9th February he wasted more time reporting better train delay compensation.

Meanwhile on 12th February Ben Webster, the Times environment correspondent, reported  the Minister, Jo Johnson, calling for all diesel trains to be phased out by 2040 and for the use of other fuels, such as hydrogen, to be investigated.  The reason, to reduce carbon emissions, overlooks at least three of the obvious. 

Firstly the rail industry as a whole emits a vanishingly small proportion of the nation’s CO2, itself a vanishingly small proportion of global emissions.  Secondly, the difference in emission between a diesel and an electric train will be negligible, after allowing for the emissions of the generating industry and the carbon footprint of electrification.  Thirdly, there are no hydrogen mines.  Instead, hydrogen is generally produced by “gas reforming”, a process which produces loads of CO2.

On 10 February, Ben Webster excelled himself under the headline that, “Air pollution fuels crime by causing stress”, an article based on nonsense but, if true, imagine how close some of us are to rushing out to rob a bank when, week after week, we suffer the vast stress of finding the big picture ignored in favour of trivia, misrepresentation and ignorance. 

There I would have ended this letter but, lo and behold, I have critics. 

Element mostly published

John Helm (LTT 16th Feb) asks why railway conversion has not taken off.  He says the network had 25,400 route- miles in 1926, equivalent to 44,000 route-km. Now there are close to only 16,000km.  Why, John Helm asks, have these closed lines not been converted to roads if conversion is such a good idea? 

Firstly, most closures were in areas where there was no road congestion and little traffic, secondly, since the rest of the railway remained the closed lines could not form a network, thirdly, the railways sold to the highest bidders, usually developers on the outskirts of towns, thereby further fragmenting the routes, but most important of all, a simple lack of vision and the subliminal determination of the railway lobby that, if the railway could not be used as a railway it had to be abandoned to rabbits and hedgehogs.  The result, bliss for rabbits and hedgehogs but the loss of a vast and important national asset.

An example is the Great Central Bus-way, proposed by conversion people.  It would have used a substantially disused railway to provide a fast route into Marylebone whilst leaving sufficient for the remaining railway.  That proposal failed when those determined no such thing should ever be allowed to succeed persuaded the planning authorities to refuse permission.

John goes on to say, “His idea that the Settle to Carlisle line (LTT Letters 20 Mar 15) could be converted is so patently and self-evidently absurd that it barely deserves a response”. Well, my letter did not mention that line by name but did refer to a picture (possibly of that line). Here is what I wrote. “.... What is important is the magnificent use which rail makes of its track. That is illustrated by the picture gracing the article (one about whether the diesel train had a future).  The picture displays four superbly aligned tracks carrying a one-car “train” believed to be a “Class 144 Pacer”, Oh Wow!!! .............  Train-spotters go mad.  Oh, my gosh! ... The waste of space is mindboggling.  That is mirrored across the network where, if the railway function were carried by express coaches and lorries, the flow per track would be less than 500 vehicles per day, a flow so small it would be entirely lost in one lane of a motor road”. 

Meanwhile what exactly does this Settle to Carlisle line carry?  Apart for steam train excursions, for those who enjoy the romance of soot in the face all day, the timetable sports one train per hour each way.  Mostly, those trains have only two carriages, an unimaginably trivial use of a huge piece of infrastructure. (There is also the occasional freight train). Why John imagines the line cannot be converted is a mystery.  After all, it is double track - the clear distance between viaduct walls will be the same as required for the carriageway of a two-way trunk road.   

Earlier, John cites Ernest Maples as saying that, “the idea of conversion is open to insuperable objections”.  Probably Maples was right – the railway lobby is insuperable, but not the Engineering, which is pretty simple.  Where there is overhead electrification there may be headroom enough for a triple-decker.  Widths are generally adequate.  Railway gold-plating could kill it but why gold plate other than to defend a scandalous vested interest?

Incidentally Maples did want to shut the Central Wales line, pointing out that it would be cheaper to provide every passenger with a chauffeur-driven Bentley.  He failed because someone whispered that the line went through six marginal constituencies...

John then goes non­­­-sequitur -­ roads do not make a profit because the taxes are not hypothecated for road use.  Well of course they are not.  Nevertheless the tax from road vehicles vastly exceed expenditure on the roads – the profit being spent elsewhere, a misallocation of resources perhaps.

John blames bad management for rail’s historic woes.  He says that, prior to BR, management did not know how much it cost to run a railway carriage. (Today lease plus maintenance cost is around £250,000 pa!!).  John then cites the profitability of US rail freight, but fails to tell us that the trains there are 2.5 km long (four times the length of ours) or that the line haul, typically 2,000 miles, is nearly ten times the UK average.  John then makes the bogus claim  that Japanese lines are self-supporting.  Here is the truth quoted from a paper by Ian Bodman, available at topic 15 in the T-W web site.

 “Japan was the pioneer of high speed rail in the 1960s but within two decades had accumulated massive debts. The system was privatised by creating seven Japan Railway operators, and the $280 billion debt was transferred to the taxpayer and is still being paid off. Apparently four of the seven operators are still government owned, and it is thought that the privately owned operators receive concessionary usage fees. In addition, the three private operators receive another $2 billion annually from the government. And all of these subsidises are needed despite Japan having the highest rate of rail use in the developed world”.  Bodman’s paper also documents the fantastic subsidies to railways across Europe.

The Japan claim made by John is mirrored by Network Rail.  It makes a profit after counting subsidy as income while borrowing £billions which it can never repay (around £50 billion to date).

Do I use coaches, John asks?  Answer, no.  Why?  Because they take two hours to get to London Euston due to traffic congestion and there are not many a day.  However, given Rail’s right of way, the coach would take one hour and the fare would be perhaps a quarter of rail’s.  As to comfort, a thing John thinks impossible on a coach, in Silicon Valley, the wizards commuting by bus are paid from boarding, when they can use WI-FI and have leather upholstered seats.  In contrast, London rail commuters may well be standing in crushed conditions.

The truth is that the railway endures because, although we do not have corruption by way of brown envelopes, we have a far worse stink – far worse than the remote pongs from emptying toilets on the line.   In the words of Stuart Joy, Chief Economist to British Railways in the late 1960s, writing in his book, the ‘Train that Ran Away’, “There were those in the British Transport Commission and the railways who were cynically prepared 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”.  

The same is alive and well today.  For example, worse than John Helm’s misrepresentations, there is the evidence given by Bombardier to the Transport Committees at its inquiry into the Future of the Railway 2003-2004.   Bombardier said at Ev 479 (Huff Puff – the witness was huge):  “To quote a few figures: To carry 50,000 people in one direction we would need a 35m wide road used by buses or a 9 m wide track bed for a metro or commuter railway”.

Plainly the man was lying, yet he walks free and is believed by many.  Here is the truth.  A single lane of a motor road may carry 1,000 express coaches per hour.  At 100 kph the headways would average 100m.  Given 75-seats apiece those coaches there would be seating for 75,000 people, four times the exaggerated capacity of HS2.  As long ago as the 1970s, Don Morin, Chief of Public Transport in the USA, remarked that there was no movement corridor in the world where demand could not be met by a single express bus way.

We then have Malcolm Bulpitt following John Helm in slinging manure without any basis for his statements. It is because of such people, and vested interest, that the economy is held back.  Huge losses and lost opportunity costs are racked up in return for a fully modernised transport museum while commuters pay vast fares for crushed conditions.

Imagine the North’s railways paved, see map.  The North may then become a powerhouse.  Keep the railways and the north stays a poor house; see Point of View LTT 15th April 2016

Ooo Aaah, Greame Paton of the Times plays another trivial blinder, Feb 22; “Bosses get to the bottom of painful train seats” - passengers complain that a multibillion-pound new generation of carriages left them with sore backsides!

 Multibillion!!! Wow.

Local Transport Today 740
Published 2nd February 2018

The rail network is nothing more than a big train set

(Published version omitted the diagrams and consequently had slightly different text).

John Helm misrepresents me.  In his letter of 5th Jan he says I use the ghost of Dr Beeching to justify dismembering the system.  Instead I canvas for putting the rail network to good use rather than preserving it as a kind of fully modernised transport museum – main function, enabling grown men to play with a VERY BIG train set.

After all, if the rail-freight and passengers were in lorries and express coaches using rail’s rights of way then the vehicle flow, averaged over the network, would amount less than 500 vehicles per day per track, see the spread sheet associated with Facts Sheet 1 of the Transport-Watch Web site.  That flow is so trivial it would pass unnoticed in one lane of a motor road.  Even in Central London, and at peak times, the rail terminals are places of dreams – on alighting try walking away from the exits and enjoy.

JH goes on to suggest that, if we should close branch lines then, by the same logic, we should close minor roads.  However, those railway lines give access only to substantially disused railway stations. In comparison the roads provide essential access to villages, towns and farmland.  The roads have been paved for very good reasons.  Moreover the road network makes a vast profit for the Government, taxes far outstripping expenditure, whereas the railway absorbs vast subsidy, costs far outstripping fares.

Instead of debating the matter, JH then goes on the offensive by way of attacking the reputation of Earnest Marples, the Minster at the time of Beeching, thereby effectively conceding defeat and going on to talk nonsense. For example, he says that at the time of Beeching rail costs were borne by the user whilst road costs were borne by the taxpayer!  Where has John been living all these years?  Here is some reality.

Stewart Joy, Chief Economist for British Railways from 1968, became disenchanted and, in 1973, published the book, “The Train that Ran Away”.  The first sentence of the introduction reads, “At the end of 1968 the British Government cancelled £1,262 million of the capital debt of the British Railways Board”, (£20bn at today’s prices). On page 13 we read that “with hindsight it is obvious that a set of assets which, after heavy investment, could produce operating results like those of the late 1950’s and 60s was, in aggregate, worth no more than scrap”.   

On Page 15 we have the annual cash flows from 1948 to 1968.  By 1968, after allowing for interest at 6%, Joy estimates the accumulated loss at £2,500 million, £33bn at 2013 prices. Data on taxes from and expenditure on roads is not readily available for the 1960s, but, whatever the ratio, and as above, roads had two functions, namely, access to every property in the land and the carriage of traffic. In contrast rail, particularly the Beeching lines, provided access only to substantially disused railway stations. The railways may have turned a “profit” in the period 1948 to 1955, as claimed by JH, but that will have been on some small fraction of its costs.

JH then talks of the effect of the Beeching cuts, but believe me, there is no signal in the data suggesting that the cuts reduced freight or passenger traffic.  Freight continued to decline, due to the lorry, but at a slightly slower rate.  Passenger traffic remained sensibly constant until 1995 (after which it increased dramatically - privatisation effect, by any chance?).  Those who care to look will find diagrams at Figs 1 and 2 below compelling .  That the Beeching cuts had an impereptibe effect on passenger and freight is hardly surprising.  The the cuts removed only one percent of traffic.

The truth is, compared with road, rail enjoys a very elevated playing field indeed - the taxpayer pays five to seven times as much to move a tonne of freight or a passenger by rail as by road, see the spread sheet associated with Transport-Watch topic 2.

I could go on to demonstrate that a railway converted to a road, managed to avoid congestion, would outperform most Chuff, Chuffs even in vectors such as journey time, safety, and fuel consumption.  Such a road would also enable countless lorries and other vehicles to divert from the unsuitable roads and city streets which they now clog thereby bringing vast environmental benefits.  The cost of conversion – a piddling £20 billion, see Topic 16.  All London’s crushed rail commuters would then have seats with fares cut by a factor of four.

There I ended my letter until seeing Malcolm Bulpitt’s of 19th claiming I have not read those who, he says, have demonstrated that railway conversion is a “non-starter”.  Well, firstly Malcolm does not say who those eminent people are or in what respect conversion is a non-starter.  I suspect he means from an Engineering view point.  If so he may recall that it was the late Brigadier Lloyd, the Deputy Chief Engineer at the War Office, who read the seminal paper with the title the Potentialities of the British Railways System as a Reserved Roadway System at an ordinary meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 26th April 1955., See item 1 in topic 7 in the Transport-watch web site.  

That paper led to three years of correspondence in the prestigious magazine of the day, the Engineer, and to the founding of the Railway Conversion League, peopled by Engineers and Economists.  The Engineering has not changed much since then – a road is a road.  Lloyd’s cost for converting the entire system was £600 million at 1955 prices equivalent  to £12 billion today, considerably less than my estimate of £20 billion cited above.

The idea that these superbly engineered railway rights of way cannot be converted to very good roads indeed is barking.  The width between tunnel walls on double track railways is the same as required for the carriageway of two-way A-roads.  Most A-roads have no effective verges whilst offering tortuous alignments over hill and vale, through town and village alike, before petering out on the edges of urban areas.  On tangents the level widths on double track railways are nearly two metres wider than in tunnels, and wider still on bends.  Safe speeds on such roads would be in the range 60mph to 70 mph.