die belebende Bedenkung

Close to the Marylebone

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London Reconnections has published an article about the Thatcher government’s (and British Railways Board) attempt to close the Great Central tracks into Marylebone in the 1980s. The proposal, part of a wider vision to convert railways into roads, had the backing of Lord Howell, and the geographer Peter Hall.

Now, Peter Hall is one of the proponents of the £50 billion HS2 ‘Andrew Adonis memorial railway’, which is also championed by Lord Howell’s son in law, Gideon Osborne. That would destroy the Great Central’s former trackbed in Buckinghamshire (which could otherwise be reactivated to provide better connectivity, for less money).

Written by beleben

February 21, 2014 at 10:36 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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  1. Transport-watch continues the work or the Railway Conversion League, founded after the seminal paper by Brigadier Lloyd, with the title ‘The Potentialities of the British Railways System as a Reserved Roadway System”, read to the Institution of Civil Engineers on 26th April 1955. That paper and a selection of the League’s archival material is available here

    One quote from the past available from Item 6 of the Archive reads:

    “………. 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.

    Why should we go on pouring money into the railways? If British Rail were Concorde or Maplin this endless drain on public funds would be regarded as a national scandal. Think, we would be constantly told, how many schools, hospitals, council houses could be built with all that money. When the railways were built in the nineteenth century they evoked the same squeals of anguish from Wordsworth and other Victorian environmentalists as new road do today.

    The people who use BR’s passenger services are mainly the better-off. The poor suffer from the diversion of resources out of improving roads and bus services, into keeping up the railways. It is the suburban owner-occupier who supports BR’s commuter services. It is the businessman who uses Inter-City: the poor go by car. If the resources had been pumped into bus transport that have been lavished on the railways, we would no doubt now have a flexible system of rural transport based on post-buses, instead of a sporadic system of branch line services. We would no doubt have a fast and comfortable express inter-city bus service, on the lines of Trailways and Greyhound in the United States. We might even have taken note of the series of studies which suggested that for town commuting, buses are faster, cheaper, less polluting and use less fuel than trains.”

    The author was Frances Cairncross writing on 29th April 1974. She was then the Economics Correspondent for The Guardian. Now she is CBE and the Chairs the Executive Committee of the Institute of Fiscal Studies among other.

    There can be few greater scandals than the railways. The network absorbs billions of pounds of taxpayer’s cash every year whilst carrying only 3% of the nation’s journeys on a system which, if converted to roads, would provide seats for all London’s crushed railway commuters in express coaches occupying one seventh of the capacity available at a fraction the cost of the train.

    For the arithmetic, a map and pictures see For comparisons see and the associated links

    Consider Bombardiers evidence to the Transport Committee’s Inquiry into the Future of the Railway, seventh report of session 2003-4. In Volume 2 at Ev 479 we find this train manufacturers saying, “To give a few figures – to carry 50,000 people per hour in one direction we would need a road 175 m wide used by cars, or a 35 m road used by buses or a 9m wide track bed for a metro or a commuter railway. In contrast to that we have the New York Express coach lane, 4 miles long including 1.5 miles in tunnel, a lane which is a mere 11 feet wide, offering, 30,000 seats in the peak hour in close to 700 45-seat coaches. Moreover, as long ago as the 1970’s Don Morin, Chief of Public Transport in the USA said that there was no movement corridor in the world which could not be satisfied by one express coach lane. To illustrate, 1,000 coaches per hour travelling at 100 kph would have average headways of 100 metres. If those coaches each had 75 seats they would offer 75,000 per hour. In comparison, at Waterloo main line we have less than 50,000 crushed passengers in the peak hour travelling in trains requiring four inbound tracks. Express coaches to satisfy that would occupy less than one-quarter of the space there available.

    Here I cite Stewart Joy, Chief Economist to British Railways in the late 1960s, or early 1970s. He wrote in his book ‘The Train that Ran Away’ that “… 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”.

    Now, some 40 years later, we have the same – at immense cost to the nation, and particularly to London commuters, let alone HS2.

    Peter Hall was once a supporter of the Conversion Campaign, see the Hall Smith Report at items 13 and 14 here However, the professor claims to have had a Damascene moment and now supports rail.


    February 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm

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