A - 1 one reasonable offer which
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is unlikely to be accepted'
pOSTAL delays caused by the recent dispute over pay do not seem to have affected the output of those seasoned writers of letters to the Press advocating the compulsory transfer of goods traffic from road to rail. Whether or not these eternal correspondents are supplied with ideas and other ammunition from one central source, it is evident that they all seize eagerly and simultaneously on any new idea or on a new development of an old idea. Comparative track costs have now become an important feature in their arguments and this follows closely upon the treatment of the same theme in the evidence presented by the railways to the Geddes Committee.
The fashionable protest is that hauliers are getting their trunk roads on the cheap. This is represented as the crowning reproach against a Government or a society which allows heavy goods vehicles to speed up and down the motorways to the great danger of the motorist and other road users, or alternatively to hold up the rest of the traffic by crawling along belching poisonous smoke. The alarming results of the intensive roadside checks have added bite to the criticisms; and it must give considerable satisfaction to be able to add, on the authority of the railways and Dr. Beeching, that society is not even receiving a good commercial return for the horrors and discomfort which it allows the heavy lorry to inflict in the name of progress.
There need be no doubt that road operators through their associations are making their own analysis of what the railways in a question-begging mood call the "relative true costs " of rail and road goods transport over trunk routes. The Ministry of Transport are also busy on a study of what amounts to very much the same thing, namely the proportion of total costs of road construction and maintenance attributable to different classes of road User. The Ministry and the associations will make their findings known to the Geddes Committee and in this way help to confirm the somewhat unexpected contention of the railways that a committee appointed to look into goods transport licensing' must also concern itself with the equally important issue of track costs.
Cost of a Motorway ?
Hauliers and others may find a good deal of entertainment in demolishing the railways' figures. The fun began a day or two after the figures were Published, with a letter in The Times from Mr. James Drake, president, County Surveyors' Society, a formidable figure in the world of road planning who should certainly know what he is talking about. Mr. Drake was puzzled by the railway calculation that £200,000 would be sufficient to build a mile of motorway if its use were to be restricted to light vehicles, but that the current cost is 000,000 because provision has to be made for the heavy lorry.
The mysterious arguments advanced by the railways to justify their figures had no interest for Mr. Drake; It was quite simple, he said to estimate the saving in cost if a motorway were built for light vehicles only. There were seven main items, and if the savings on each item were
c26 added together they would not exceed £48,000 per mile, as against the figure of £500,000, more than 10 times as great, put forward by the railways. Having virtually demolished the railway case on the road construction side, Mr. Drake politely offered the assistance of his society in helping Dr. Beeching to arrive at the correct figures for road maintenance. Here is at leasf one reasonable offer which is unlikely to be accepted.
In a sense the damage has been done. The railways have put the case that they are being unfairly treated in that their chief competitor, the heavy goods vehicle operator, is not paying his fair share of the track provided for him at public expense. A complete refutation of the case can hardly be expected. The problem of reconciling road and rail track costs has been the subject of many studies, both national and international, and no satisfactory solution has so far been put forward. Road operators and their supporters may be able to cast doubts on most of the figures submitted by the railways but they will find it more difficult to provide irrefutable figures in substitution.
They may well go beyond this point and maintain that the whole controversy is irrelevant. The railways are the owners as well as the users of their track. It is hardly possible to imagine any other method of running a railway. From the accounting point of view the railways may find it convenient to assess the various items of cost involved in the movement of a particular item of traffic and to include track costs in the assessment. There is no good reason why, this process, which may be essential to the railways, should have to be applied arbitrarily to another form of transport where the circumstances are different.
The shortcomings of such a comparison become apparent as soon as it is applied to some other part of the road system. The railways are solely concerned with trunk route competition, but if their arguments are valid they should be valid all along the line. The value of roads in the centre of London, for example, must be so high that only a millionaire could afford what the railways would call the
"true cost of using them. The latest results of the London traffic survey seem to show that no more space can be made available for, roads and that some system of rationing is inevitable.
Fortunately for goods vehicle operators the survey also shows that the commercial vehicle is not the main cause of congestion. Even if this were not the case any system of rationing would be bound to show a preference for the goods vehicle following the distinction in the Buchanan report between essential and optional traffic. The best possible provision must be made for the lorry. This applies just as much when plans are being considered for trunk roads and motorways. Trade and industry will use road transport whether or not new routes are provided. The trunk routes are a national asset just as the railways were a hundred years ago. They must be provided and exact questions of cost and allocation Qf cost are secondary considerations.