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Everyone's railway

Posted by Paul F Withrington on November 8, 2003

Comment on the SRA's lobby document

Before making any judgement about the analysis in "Everyone's railway", or our comment, readers may care to take a few moment to consider the aside by Stewart Joy, Chief Economist to British Railways in the 1960's, who wrote, in his book, The Train That Ran Away ...... ."Perhaps some of them did know better but were prepared, cynically, to accept the rewards of high office in the British Transport Commission and the railways in return for the unpalatable task of tricking the government on a mammoth scale. Those men were either fools or knaves." Referring to that Dalgeish comments in the Truth about Transport: "there were no libel actions, but Joy was forced out, too honest to work with railwaymen".
The first heading of Everyone's Railway reads "People feel passionately about railways". We comment: those who feel that way are, for most part, trainspotters, a singularly small proportion of the nation. In any case it is not "passionate feelings" which count in the long run, but the reality. Turning to that:

1. Paragraph two of the Forward gives one of the reasons for the importance of rail as "nearly half the population uses the train at least once a year". Hopefully the Treasury will have seen that and laughed since far from proof of importance it is proof of precisely the opposite. At least the statement is in line with national statistics which show that less than one journey in 75 is by surface rail or less than one in 55 if walking and cycling are excluded (Table 1.3 of TSGB).
2. The penultimate paragraph in the Forward points out that we live in a crowded island where space is at a premium. We could not agree more. The pity of it is that trains need four times the land of equivalent road transport. E.g. at Waterloo 50,000 crushed passengers alight in the peak hour on a weekday. They could all sit in 1,000 50-seat coaches, sufficient to occupy one lane of a motor road. At Waterloo there is room for 3 or 4 lanes each way. The waste is lamentable. One consequence is that trackside and other industry pours its lorries out onto unsuitable city streets past the houses of the poor, leaving the immense rail network in South London used to only a quarter of its potential, if paved, in the peak and effectively disused off peak. At Euston the situation is even more dire. There 60,000 passengers alight all day. They could all sit in 3,000 coaches, each only 40% full. The 3,000 could pass in 90 minutes in the space available at Euston but the railway has run out of capacity.
3. On page 2 the document points out that congestion charging may increase the demand for rail. We comment, how much more would the demand for public transport be increased if express buses could use the rights of way occupied by rail, offering seats to all London commuters at perhaps half the rail fare and with journey times equal to or shorter than by train except for the longest few percent.
4. On page 3 we read that "Rail is essential to all large-scale developments". We have the same on page 19 where it reads "Rail is critical to London's economy because it provides access for a huge work force to central London...." We submit that that should be rephrased to say all large scale developments and central London in particular depend on mass transport. We should then note that express coaches would do substantially the same job as rail at one quarter the cost while offering 3 to 4 times the capacity of a railway to move people, see 2 above.
5. On page 6 we read that "Rail has a less adverse effect on the environment than other modes of Transport". Presumably the authors have not noticed that passenger rail returns the equivalent of 111 passenger miles per gallon of diesel whereas an express coach with 20 people aboard would return 200 if given the right of way. As to freight, our calculations show that rail returns the equivalent of 186 tonne-miles per gallon if the drag in and out to the rail head is ignored and 146 if the drag in and out is included. That compares with 120 tonne-miles per gallon for a lorry achieving 8 miles per gallon and delivering 30 tonnes but returning empty. Combining the data for passengers and freight shows that if buses and lorries carried out the rail function, 20-30% of the energy required by the trains would be saved.
6. At the foot of page 7 the document says "on average more road users die in accidents each day than rail passenger in a year". We comment: that is a misrepresentation massive in scale and typical of the railway lobby - for a start it ignores the fact that the roads carry nearly 20 times the passengers-miles of rail. The truth is that the casualty cost per passenger-km for rail within the envelope bounded by the ticket barriers is 2 to 3 times the equivalent cost for people in express coaches including an allowance for those injured shortly before boarding or after alighting. If staff are included along with those hurt at level crossings and as trespassers, then the casualty cost per passenger-km by rail is double that for motorways. See 14 below.
7. On page 11 it says we "cannot build roads as a way out of congestion". That is probably true but it does not mean we have to have congestion. Instead we may have congestion charging. Meanwhile there are 10,000 miles of railway right of way, often in corridors of intense demand, serving the hearts of our towns and cities which, if paved as roads, could be used many times as intensively as can be achieved by the steel tyred option .
8. On page 12 we read "If rail had to operate without subsidy then the necessary fare rises would price rail beyond the reach of most travellers". We ask: does that mean the subsidy has led to an unsustainable land use distribution? The answer is that rail would indeed vanish tomorrow without subsidy and central London could not exist without equivalent services. However, as noted above, those services could be provided by express coaches requiring one quarter the track and terminal space of the train. That option would cut costs by a factor of four, reduce fuel consumption by 20-30% and cut casualties by a factor of at least two. Additionally, thousands of lorries and cars currently clogging city streets would transfer to the newly paved routes and many thousands of hectares of derelict railway land and sidings would be developed.
9. On page 14 we read "Rail has a significance to the British economy that goes well beyond its market share". We comment that, contrary to the statement, rail is beggaring the nation. At one time the cost of Modernisation, as originally conceived, rose to £73 billion, over 5 times the cost of paving the entire network as roads. To that we may add the proposed East Coast High Speed Line at £36 billion over 40 years, the Channel Tunnel rail link at £5.2 billion and operating subsidy typically running at 1.7 billion per year. The end product would be a fully modernised, full sized, working transport museum offering transport at 4 times the cost of the rubber tyred option along with great joy to trainspotters.
10. Page 16 contains a reference to the value of rail. We encourage readers to note 2 and 8 above and that, despite the "value of rail to the nation", dereliction surrounds most railway stations and the platforms of central London Terminals are nearly deserted except at peak times.
11. There are pages extolling the value of rail to many places. We encourage readers to substitute the words "mass transit" wherever they read the word "rail" and to remember that the express coach would offer travel at one quarter the cost of the train while providing 4 times the capacity, using less fuel and imposing casualty costs a fraction of those suffer by rail passengers.
12. On page 21 we read that "over 100,000 passengers" use central Birmingham stations each day. If we allocate all those equally to the two major stations, half boarding and half alighting, we have 25,000 passengers boarding at each station. If 20% of those are in the peak hour we get 5,000, enough to fill 100 50-seat coaches, a flow so trivial it would be quite lost on one lane of a motor road. Page 31 provides other illustrations of the pathetic use rail makes of its facilities. There we find 1,700 daily passengers using the new £3 million station at Brunswick. If half are departing, 25% in the peak, we get some 210 passengers, enough to need perhaps 5 motor coaches but let us make that 10 just to be safe. Meanwhile the same page boasts of 10,000 passengers in the first month at Swinton. That amounts to a one-way flow of perhaps 250 per day needing 12 buses only 40 % full - a quite negligible matter.
13. Page 23 boasts about 75% of solid fuels (coal and coke) being carried by rail. We note that during the miners' strike of 1985 some coal freight to power stations temporarily transferred to road and stayed there since it was found to be 25% cheaper despite coal to power stations being one of the things rail does best.
14. Page 34 etc. propagates the myth that rail is relatively safe compared with equivalent road transport. We counter that by providing an extract from a Transport Watch paper, dealing with casualty costs, available in full on request.

"..................... the data suggests that the casualty cost per billion vehicle-km attributable to the Killed and Seriously Injured, KSI, category suffered by rail is over 3 times the cost suffered by bus and coach on non-urban roads. If the relatively weakly based slight casualties are included then the data suggests casualty costs by rail per passenger-km are more than 2.5 times those by bus or coach. If the bus/coach data back to 1990 is included, see table 3, the ratio rail/bus costs has the range 2.0 to 2.3.

"If trespassers and those injured at level crossings are added then the KSI cost by rail is more than double the corresponding value for motorways. If pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes, classes of people are not often met with on railway alignments, are discounted, then road and rail provide similar KSI casualty costs but if slight casualties are included then the cost by road is 1.4 times the rail cost.

"The most notable detail from other tables in the source note is that deaths in train accidents account for only 11% of the casualty costs suffered by passengers between the ticket barriers and to only 3% of all rail casualty costs, yet it is upon deaths in Train Accidents that almost all rail publicity is focused." 

We comment: those paid to propagate the railway safety myth (a) tend to ignore the fact that only 6% of motorised passenger-miles are by rail and (b) concentrate publicity on deaths in train accidents, a casualty class which makes an insignificant contribution to casualty costs as a whole. Using that sleight of hand Sir Robert Horton said in Railtrack's annual report of 1998/9 that rail is "27 times as safe as road in terms of fatal and serious injuries" which is in glaring contrast with the truth set out above. Against that background we suggest statements about safety made by the railway lobby should be ignored.
15 .On page 38 we have a chapter heading which consists of a quotation from a railway sales person (the photograph suggests a sweet girl). She says "I couldn't quote you the facts and figures, but I just feel that the railway is better for the environment than more and more roads.........." We comment, pity about the facts..... The chapter contains comparisons of the CO2 emissions for various modes of transport all of which we reject as deliberately misleading or just plain wrong. We provided the antidote to that at 5 above, source data and calculations upon request.
16. Against the above background we speculate, if Stuart Joy were the Chief Economist acting for the rail industry today would he resign and write as he then did and as cited at the start of this note? 
17. Meanwhile the magic of rail marches on, floating above the facts. E.g. Nigel Harris and Howard Johnston in the October 1st-14th issue of Rail writing under the heading "UK plc would collapse without a decent rail network, says the SRA"<.b> cite Richard Bowker as announcing that "the debate should not be whether the figures are right or not, but over the railway's role...copper-bottomed analysis not a begging bowl." Such a remark is breathtaking both for its folly and its internal contradiction. Let us hope that the quotation is wrong, otherwise we have a rail chief deliberately setting out to divert the government from the facts. If the Government were to base decisions on such a credo, heaven help us all.

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