GRAND DESIGN FOR STRAPHANGING
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By T. I. Lloyd
MANCHESTER is not conspicuously short of railways: from within its central area of radius two miles there fan out no fewer than 10 doubleor multi-track lines; the addition of two more would complete the clock-face pattern.
Actually, the construction of two extra lines, combined in the form of a trans-city passenger railway, extending out to Langley in the north and Ringway Airport in the south, has now been recommended, with very few reservations, by a working party of officials drawn from the Ministry of Transport, the City Corporation, and British Railways; they and their professional consultants promise great things of this 16-mile trans-city railway.
However, a glance at the map reminds us that this would just be one more dead-end railway among many through ones; and we should not, by now, need any reminding to be chary of putting our trust in railway promises. We accepted on trust not only the original £1,240,000,000 railway modernization plan launched in 1955, but also thereafter an almost biennial succession of White Papers bolstering it up, as a result of which we shall shortly find ourselves in the position of having purchased the emaciated 1968-69 railway timetable at an interim price (far short of the final one) amounting to £1,719,000,000 in increment to the national debt, plus £1,085,000,000 in outright subsidies paid to BR over the eight years 1960-67.
Viewed against those figures the Manchester project may seem of little account; but if it goes through it is likely to be copied in a dozen other cities, swelling it to about the same size as the 1955 plan. Conceivably, if people will give it the same prompt and stringent examination the 1955 plan deserved, but scarcely received, they will be spared certain further disappointments, both as travellers and as taxpayers or ratepayers, in the years to come.
The project has been published as the "Manchester Rapid Transit Study". Volume 1 gives the report and recommendations of the working party of officials; Volume 2 contains the thesis of the transportation consultants who (for a fee approaching £40,000) advised that the new trans-city line should take the form of an electrified railway, of standard 4ft 8iin. gauge, "similar to the London Underground".
Concerning the title of the study, it needs to be understood that "rapid transit" is–the American term for city passenger railways. The trains stop at every station, and the stations are normally less than a mile apart, with the result that, in terms of journey speed, these are possibly the very slowest form of railway. To avoid confusion it is therefore as well to think of this class of passenger transport, which has a right-of-way to itself
approximately, only as "transit", or when appropriate "rail transit".
The scheduled passenger journey speed along the new 16-mile line, which will have 20 stations, is set at 26 mph, which would be a world record. For this the management would need to rely very much on limiting the stops at stations to 20 seconds, which again, at peak travel times, would be something of a record, especially at the train loadings specified in the consultants' calculations. The promised speed may ultimately be achieved, of course; it is remarked upon here first as typifying the absence of any discernible slack in the calculations, indicating that to expect more of this line than the study claims for it would be a mistake; and secondly as a factor of immediate interest to the commuters concerned, for the great question is will they, or will they not, be drawn to rail transit at 26 mph; but there are other factors to influence them and it will be necessary to revert to this question.
There should be no difficulty in forming a mental picture of the line duly constructed, for the study assures us that it will be just like the London Underground—a term meaning in this context, as it did formerly, only the District and Metropolitan lines, including the Inner Circle, which originated a century ago, not the tube railways which are another variant of rail transit of more recent origin.
For much of its length the Underground remains just ordinary railway, at ground level or in open or roofed-in cuttings or elevated. Similarly, the Manchester line will comprise: cut and cover. 5.7 miles; tunnel, 1.6 miles; at ground level, 1.3 miles; open cut, 2.5 miles; elevated, 5.0 miles. There will be little or nothing new about it to offend people, which is certainly a point in its favour.
The line could hardly be in operation before 1972; but meanwhile anyone curious to know what the Ringway-Langley journey would then be like could get the feel of it, though not at record speed, by riding on the London Underground for an equal distance, say from
Wimbledon, via Kensington High Street and Baker Street to Wembley Park. The decor of the trains and stations here would be inferior, one learns from the study, also there would be at least one break in the journey to change trains, with no doubt other minor occurrences that similarly need never happen on the Manchester line: but otherwise this particular piece of Underground route seems to match its prospective Lancashire counterpart well enough.
And, over the years, especially before the coming of the motor age, this 16-mile section of London Transport's 214-mile rail transit system must have contributed to the prosperity of Kensington High Street in much the same manner as its counterpart is expected to contribute to the prosperity of Manchester's central business district. On that expectation, of course, the entire project is founded, perhaps soundly enough, although its imitative character may seem somewhat out of keeping with the Lancashire tradition.
The train loadings, on which the calculated performance (and costliness) of the line hinge, allow a car floor space of 2.5 sq.ft per passenger; the standard car 70ft long by 10ft wide is given a capacity of 279 passengers-74 seated and 205 standing. The equivalent would be a telephone kiosk containing three people, with a fourth half-way through the doorway, one of the three having a well upholstered seat. Presumably the city health authorities have acquiesced in this; but will the people?
The foregoing comparison may be thought a little unfair in that the trains will be crowded only at the peak of each peak travel period, morning and evening, and then only along the midway sections of the line, not at its extremities. However, the immediate aim of the project is to cater for the peak of the peak commuter movement along the Ringway and Langley corridors, to and from the midway area, forcing or enticing it to cease using (and overloading) the roads on which it is at present mainly dependent.
Existing railways flank the corridors, but do not seem likely to lose any high proportion of their passenger traffic to the new one; indeed there is a supplementary plan to modernize (or "up-grade") these railways to help them retain, or increase, their traffic in competition with the new line.
Thus most of the commuters who are to be attracted to the line go at present by bus or private car, chiefly by bus one can be sure, for statistics show that out of a grand total of 159,000 people travelling to work in Manchester's central two square miles, 100,000 arrive by bus, 32,000 by car, and 27,000 by rail. (The entire city centre, of radius two miles, provides employment for 278,000.) Present bus passengers along the route are therefore the largest class of potential users of the rail transit line, and it would be interesting to speculate on the willingness with which they would exchange their present 6.75 sq.ft. (including a seat) per person in buses for the 2.5 sq.ft., already described, available to them in the faster, 26 mph vehicles of rail transit. Though, overriding these two factors of comfort and speed, the relative convenience and frequency of the two means of public transport would probably govern most people's choice; but all this is academic: under the recommendations of the study, the present bus passengers will get no choice.
What is proposed is that there shall no longer be any bus services to and from Manchester along the two north and south cord
dors; instead there will only be short-distance lateral services taking people to and from their nearest rail transit station. The details of these feeder services have not been worked out. This is a blank spot in the study. There is nothing to show, for example, that the aggregate of benefit to people who do not need to use the feeder services, through living only a short walk from their station, will exceed the disbenefit to people who must use them. Without clear proof, based on residential distribution throughout the area, supported by full particulars of the feeder services, there should be no ready acceptance of the study's novel assumption that, on the approaches to a city, a broken journey is an improvement on an unbroken one.
Matter of degree
Concerning the car commuters, the study implies that the project will produce public transport "competitive with the private car, predominantly in terms of speed, cost and comfort". There is also convenience to be considered. But these things are all a matter of degree, and people have ample experience of the extent to which well-run commuter rail services around our cities compete (or fail to compete) with the car, so the study's claim need not be further discussed here, except in respect of cost, which is something we are dangerously being indoctrinated to believe does not matter when it is incurred in aid of public transport.
As has been mentioned, the officials' enthusiasm for the project is tempered by certain reservations; these hinge on the volume of patronage the rail transit line will receive, which has not yet been predicted. Meanwhile three alternative sets of cost calculations are given in the study based on peak flows (in one direction) of 10,000, 20,000 and 30,000 passengers an hour respectively. The reservations will come into play, and there may need to be second thoughts, only if a flow of less than 10,000 passengers an hour is forecast as a result of a wider study, still incomplete, covering SF Lancashire and NE Cheshire, ranging forward to 1982.
The wide spread of the three sizes of flow selected for study calls for comment: it denotes complacency over the possible one-third or two-thirds under-utilization of a transport facility of capacity 30,000 passengers an hour. If the shortfall in the demand can be predicted accurately, permitting the line to be providently under-equipped with rolling-stock, the savings will not be considerable, as is shown in Table 1. In addition to figures extracted from the study, the table includes estimates of two important factors scarcely discussed in the study: (a) the average occupancy of the rail cars, here estimated at 16 passengers per car, which was the corresponding London Transport figure for 1966; and (b) the average receipts per passengermile, estimated at 3.08 pence, which again was the corresponding London figure for 1966.
Speed, comfort, and frequency of service will remain the same for all three design flows—only the number of cars per train being varied. So far as the fourth criterion, of cost, is concerned the table shows that the costliness of the project will worsen as the design flow exceeds 10,000 passengers an hour. There is thus no immediately apparent reason for sparing the project further thought if a design flow of 10,000 or more is finally prescribed for it.
Again, each limb of the line serves, at the most, a 25-degree sector of a circle with a present central working population of 278,000, of whom 30 per cent are expected to continue commuting by car; so the SEL NEC forecast does not seem very likely to set the design flow higher than 10,000 passengers an hour. And this is not an exact figure defining a precisely critical flow requiring rail transit: for example, it is the expressed view of the chairman of the working party that at lower flows, per track or lane, rail transit is ,'unnecessary", and at 30,000 passengers an hour rail transit is "essential"—a wide spread. (Mr. R. F. Bennett, general manager, Manchester Corporation Transport, in answer to a question when delivering the annual Henry Spurrier memorial lecture to the Institute of Transport, December 4 1967.)
Accordingly, it is felt that second thoughts on the project can usefully begin here and now, in advance of the SELN EC forecast, the aim being certainly not to argue against the creation of the proposed new route (which may well bring social benefits transcending its cost), but to bring to notice the advantages of creating it, to almost exactly the dimensions proposed in the study, but in an alternative form, as a controlled-access road, along which there could be bus transit matching (or out-matching) the proposed rail transit, The published study lists this as a possibility, and then discourses on it in an endeavour to explain (or explain away) its exclusion from investigation; in fairness to bus transit some description of it, pictured in the Manchester setting, seems called for.
No roads have yet been built, as this Manchester one would be, primarily for bus transit and only secondarily for other traffic, on sufferance. However, it can be foretold, from the US Highway Capacity Manual, that the roadway which could be substituted for the proposed double rail track on the Manchester route, within the width specified for the rail track (24ft. carriageway and at least 2ft. lateral clearance on each side), would cornfortably permit the free flow of bus traffic at the volumes and operating speeds given in Table 2. The table shows that, on this road, bus transit could have all the passenger-carrying capacity of rail transit, if necessary, The stations along the line would include lay-bys, or shunt lanes, for the stopping buses, in order to leave the running lanes at all times clear for the through traffic which would, as a matter of course, include express and limited-stop buses. It is, perhaps, necessary to elaborate on this, for the published study asserts that the stations would reduce the capacity of the road far below the Highway Capacity Manual's figures given in Table 2. They would not. The manual is explicit that its figures hold good even for a road with a crossroads every mile! There would be no roads at all crossing the special, grade-separated road we are considering: the local roads would cross under it, or over it, The stations would simply be junctions where the road is linked on both sides with the local roads by means of conventional station access roads; vehicles joining the road would simply drive up to it, on the appropriate side, wait for a gap in the traffic, and then join in, turning left—never right.
The procedure for a bus rejoining the traffic from a lay-by bus stop would be equally elementary, but since the study raises difficulties over it, and since it would in practice provide an opportunity for establishing the priority of buses, the procedure will be touched on here. A point not to be overlooked is that there would be a code for drivers using the road. One of the rules would certainly lay down that when a bus driver flashed his intention to pull out and rejoin the road, vehicles corning up from behind would have to slow down and let the bus go on in front of them.
Non-observance of the code would lead to forfeiture of the driver's season ticket or special licence or other passport that might be devised by the management of the road in order to control its use. The daily control of the road, required in order to keep the traffic density well below congestion level, would be exercised by intermittently closing accesses (US "on-ramps") to all traffic except buses, as is already common practice on certain freeways in the USA.
The express bus services, which could be Superimposed on the basic stopping-at-everystation service, would be possibly the feature of bus transit of greatest commuter-appeal. Throughout each two-hour morning and evening peak travel period a suburb along the line producing, say, 600 peak-hour city commuters would qualify for its own express service to and from the periphery of the city centre: the commuter could be confident of never having to wait longer than about 5 minutes for a bus departure, and he would then travel all the way steadily, at between 40 and 50 mph; the buses would be full.
There is novelty in this, for plainly each express bus would set off as soon as it was full, and there would be no sense in laying down an exact timetable; that may seers too obvious for remark, but it needs to be mentioned here because the study assumes it essential for transit to operate strictly to a timetable in the traditional railway manner. However, this timetable factor figures only secondarily in explanation of the study's ad verse attitude towards bus transit; the main adverse factors are given the appearance of stemming from a well-known Rand Corporation research study published in book form in 1965 with title The Urban Transportation Problem: the working party claims some familiarity with this book.
But, in fact, the book provides no support whatsoever for the study's adoption of rail transit and rejection of bus transit: quite the opposite. The book contains a detailed comparison of the economics of rail and bus transit, at peak periods only, along typical commuter routes. To keep the comparison strictly fair (or favourable) to rail transit, the bus services are made to reproduce the tra,n services exactly, the buses being required to run in uniformly spaced procession for the full length of the line-haul, and to stop at every station, and to observe a speed limit of 35 mph, and so on; despite these unrealistic limitations, and the total disregard of off-peak conditions, bus transit emerges more economical than rail transit.
A similar direct economic comparison between rail transit and bus transit, under the particular conditions of the Langley-Ringway route, would appear to have been essential in the Manchester study; but the study does not even apologize for failing to include one; instead it seeks to divert attention from the omission in the following manner.
The line-haul study in The Urban Transportation Problem is followed by a supplementary chapter on the economics of the commuter's journey between home and local station. Where feeder bus services ply on the local highways, to and from the line-haul stations, for the collection and distribution of transit passengers, plainly it is immaterial whether the line haul is by rail transit or bus transit: the same feeder services will do. In the Manchester study, as has been mentioned, it has been assumed, without special investigation, that there will be no difficulty in planning these feeder bus services to and from the stations along the proposed rail transit line. But, discussing the possibility that bus transit might be substituted for rail transit, the study at once discovers feeder service complications which would require investigation "beyond the scope of this study"—placing bus transit, too, beyond the scope of the study,
The said complications have been conjured up from the possibility, mentioned favourably in The Urban Transportation Problem, of arranging for some of the express buses to be dual-purpose, carrying out some of the collection and distribution by starting and ending their runs, like ordinary buses, along the feeder routes serving the suburban station on which they are based: many of the people picked up at bus stops along these routes would be saved the trouble of changing buses at the station. The problem of deciding which suburbs would benefit from integrated feederexpress services of this type, and which would be better off with separate feeder services (or with some mixture of the two), has been magnified into a problem placing bus transit beyond the scope of a £40,000 study. However, a contrast is available, from the city of Atlanta, USA.
The study lists Atlanta among 25 cities contemplating rail transit, and 41 with it already. The relevance of this gazetteer to a particular project, in particular circumstances, is for the reader to judge: not everyone will at once be swayed by the "everybody's-doing-it" type of argument which the study puts forward in support of rail transit for Manchester.
Concerning Atlanta, the long-term rail transit plan there is very like the one put forward for Manchester, envisaging a complete radial network of routes, including mainly existing railways suitably modified; like the Manchester one, it is still no more than a plan. Meanwhile the president of Atlanta Transit System Incorporated, which is the privately owned local bus company, has put forward in detail an alternative scheme, requiring only onetenth of the capital outlay, under which the proposed routes would be laid with 24ft. roadways instead of with rail tracks; being intended primarily for buses the roadways are named busways.
With the aid of consultants the company has taken in its stride the task of preparing a complete plan for re-routing its bus services as integrated feeder-express services, combining collection and distribution in the residential areas with express travel, along the proposed busways, to and from the city centre. There are no blank spots in this study. At the city centre the same buses would emerge on to the streets to carry out distribution and collection there as a function of their turnround. This function sets no new problem, for it is already performed by buses in Atlanta—and in Manchester, and virtually all other cities.
As one item of detail, of a type signally lacking from the Manchester study, the published Atlanta busway plan includes tables of journey times to the city centre from the farthest outlying bus stops, as at present (a) by bus, (b) by private car, and as proposed (c) by rail transit with car access, (d) by rail transit with bus access, and finally (e) by bus in normal local service, becoming express on reaching its appointed busway. Even on journeys from these remotest bus stops, which typically involve 6 miles of routine stopping service preceding 5 miles on a busway, the time savings predicted from busway transit are striking, giving the local people hope of greatly improved service. Broadly we have here an example of a practical, beneficial transit plan put forward by experienced men keen to operate it as an expansion of their business, profitably.
To revert to the Manchester project with road substituted for rail, there remains to be considered the traffic that would be permitted to share the road with the buses. Possibly the greatest single argument for constructing the route as a road, rather than as a railway, derives from the fact that ordinary vehicles would be able to use the road, and so use up some of the route's spare capacity, all of which would run to waste if the route were constructed as a railway, It is important to have some idea of the capacity of a road of this type in relation to the likely volume of its bus traffic. Table 2 shows that a lane-flow of 250 buses an hour (12,500 passengers), at an operating speed of 45 mph, would leave ample space for an equal number of cars mingled with the buses. Thus even during the peak two-hour periods, morning and evening, there should be no need to exclude other traffic totally; at other times of day (and night) there would be spare capacity for at least 1,000 cars an hour, two-way. In short, the road would be a very considerable asset, just as a road, irrespective of its transit function.
It is not proposed here to discuss how the road should be managed. The road would be built, and brought into use, section by section, which would enable the management to grow —and grow in experience—with the job. No doubt the central sections would be the last to be completed, and meanwhile the two limbs would be functioning as two entirely separate radials, linking the periphery of the city centre with Ringway airport and Langley respectively, in full use by bus transit and other traffic as has been described. There would be no long wait before beginning to get some return on the initial capital outlay.
It may be maintained that roads of this type, which would be priority ways for buses, are altogether too much of an unknown quantity. Well and good: a proposal for a pilot scheme will conclude this article.
The quickest and cheapest way of producing the required test road would be to acquire a double-track railway and pave it; at Southport, Lanes, the Borough Engineer has carried out the conversion of this size of railway into a 24ft. road for £30,000 a mile.
The working party for the Manchester study proposes the expenditure of sums ranging from £133,000 per mile to £390,000 per mile on four of the existing railways leading into the city, merely to up-grade them to "rail transit" standard. One of these might well be selected for pilot up-grading to bus transit standard instead. The four railways are those from Bury, Oldham, Wilmslow, and Altrincham respectively.