Claims by the Conversion League
The League’s 1970 booklet catalogued sections of railway already ‘converted’ to roads. Tragically - for their cause - there were only 29 sections from 109 yards up to maximum of six miles with an average 11/2 miles. Most involved widening outside the railway boundary, including a single line widened to 190 feet to create dual carriageways. The list was in a minute font, requiring good eyesight and dogged determination to elicit the facts. They did not explain, why, despite this evidence of a handful of clearly minor cases, and ‘conversions’ requiring significantly wider areas, they still believed in conversion.
In their book, following the
chairman’s introduction, they squeezed in a NOTE referring to the term ‘motor
road being frequently used in the Report’. It claimed that a
So desperate was the League, after preaching their dreary and uninspiring sermon to the clouds for fifteen years, that they tried to expand their pitiful catalogue of claims of conversion, with nine pages of ‘maybe’ conversions. These pages list 112 different sections of mostly single line, in 45 different local authority areas and totalling 211.5 miles. This equates to a monumental average of 1.88 miles per scheme, which is hardly breathtaking. These rejoice under the heading ‘Railway conversion schemes under construction and proposals for future schemes’. Once again, they scrape the barrel with proposals for ‘converting’ 500 yards here and 500 yards there, and even down to 207 yards (190m). Of these 112 items, 35 had no length shown. It is safe to conclude that they were ultra short lengths, as no opportunity would have been missed to list any item which was of any significant length, whereas including them would have exposed the League to further ridicule. Eighteen were so unspecific as to location that it was impossible to even identify the precise location of the railway line expected to be converted.
Regrettably for their cause, the total mileage from this list, actually “converted” fell well short of their hopes. Inquiries of the local authorities concerned, revealed that many routes were not used at all. A large number were converted to cycle tracks and footpaths, some were crossed at right angles, one in a very deep cutting was filled - at unspecified cost - to gain the required width of road required and most of the rest required substantial widening, involving land acquisition and property demolition. Some closed railway lines have re-opened as tourist attractions - rather than as part of the transport infrastructure, and some were sold off to other parties to use for non-transport purposes.
Specific comments by local authorities on the relevance and value of conversion of closed railway lines set out in the 1970 ‘maybe’ list are as follows:
Argyll: Referred the inquiry to the Scottish Executive, who were unable to assist. No distance had been specified in the 1970 booklet.
Ayrshire: No section of the 2.25 mile railway has been converted to road due to the cost implications. It is now a footpath/bridleway.
Brecon: Five separate schemes were listed, but no mileage was shown for any of them. The locations were inadequately identified for them to be traced by the local authority. Without more detail as to the precise locations, the local authority demanded an up front payment of £450 for further research, but that did not guarantee any productive outcome.
Buckinghamshire: Neither of the two schemes which were forecast to cover 2.5 miles were progressed as roads, one is a walkway, the other is merely a disused railway.
Caernarvonshire: Part used as a road, part as a footpath, some route was resold, some became footpaths or cycle ways, and there were various other non-road applications. The League claimed that 23.95 miles was to be converted to roads, the length converted was about 2.2 miles. The council said that little data is available on the extent of widening, but a single carriageway would be wider than the trackbed of a single track railway. A glossy report on the A487 improvement states for much of its length, the new road runs alongside the Caernarfon-Afon Wen railway, now the Lon Eifion cycleway.
Cambridgeshire: A bypass was built on the closed single line listed, but additional land had to be acquired on both sides for verges and drains. Only four miles of the forecast 7.5 miles of railway was used. The new A141 has a carriageway 8.3m wide plus verges 2.3m each side = 42 feet. A new bridge had to be built with deep piling because the depth and stability of the foundations of the existing railway bridge were unknown. Drawings supplied show that the new width required for roads including drainage was about 3.3 times as wide as the former rail formation.
Carmarthenshire: The 0.85 mile road is twice the width of the old line.
Denbighshire: No mileage was shown. One scheme was not pursued and the railway became part of an industrial estate; a second forecast road was not constructed; the third forecast road was not constructed, and part was used by the Llangollen preserved railway and part became a carpark.
Glamorgan: Due to re-organisation, the locations fall into other areas.
Now in Caerphilly CBC: One scheme, claimed to be 0.85 miles. The location was insufficiently clear for them to relate it to a road scheme.
the City & County of
Now in Neath & Port Talbot CBC: Two of the three schemes were progressed, but the lengths were less than forecast by the League - a total of 2.6 miles instead of 3 miles. One has been abandoned.
Now in Bridgend CBC: One of the two schemes was progressed, one is footpath, with part subsumed into an industrial estate.
Unidentified locations in a number of unknown local authority areas: The 1970 list included a claim, that in Glamorgan, ‘further sections of railway are to be used for trunk road construction’. Obviously, it is impossible to ascertain whether there was any such development in this attempt to clutch at straws.
Hampshire: Four schemes were listed, with no mileage shown. Each one related to part of a line. The council stated that some disused lines were known to have been converted to public rights of way, but further research would not be carried out without payment of an unspecified sum. There was no guarantee the information sought was still available.
Hertfordshire: The League listed three schemes with a total mileage of 2.2 miles One route was converted to a cycle track, footpath and horse trekking route, the others were abandoned.
Huntingdon & Peterborough: No mileages were shown for the two schemes listed. No reply was received to repeated letter and phone calls asking if conversion occurred.
Leicestershire: Three schemes were listed totalling 5.9 miles - all to be motor roads. Not one of these schemes was progressed. One of these lines is still in use as a railway. Part of one closed line became a footpath. The County converted 24 miles of railway to paths
Merioneth: The forecast 1.2 mile length of railway was converted, but mostly to single carriageway, not to dual carriageway as claimed.
Monmouthshire: One 0.37 mile length of line was replaced by a 7.3m carriageway road with 3m verges, about 3-4 times the width of the single track railway. The other line (now in Caerphilly CBC) was only 0.25 miles and the road was also wider than the land occupied by the railway and required lowering by one metre to match the road level.
Northamptonshire: The League gave no information regarding the proposed length of railway to be used in the one scheme mentioned. A short section of line was used for a bypass. It required a new bridge over a river and a new roundabout - costs ignored by the League. Inclusion of its length would invalidate comparison with the League’s aspirations, because it would compare their zero miles with a specified distance.
Nottinghamshire: The League had claimed a 2 mile length was to be converted. The council was unable to provide any useful information.
Oxfordshire: A 1.1 mile line was bought in 1972. The bypass was not constructed. The ‘railway width was 15-28m, a road required 30-60m’.
Renfrew: None of the 6.3 miles lines listed have been converted to roads.
Selkirk: One 1.75 mile scheme was listed. The council said that ‘majority of the line was used’. No drawings could be traced. A further inquiry produced the response that it was assumed that land alongside the railway would have been acquired, but records are no longer available.
Staffordshire: Six schemes were tabulated by the League totalling 26.5 miles. Two were to become ‘all-weather roads’, (which seems to imply under surface heating to keep roads clear of snow and ice, and some means of clearing fog). A 6.5 mile line was converted to a cycleway; another to a 2.5 mile footpath; a third to a 5.5 mile footpath; a fourth 8.5 mile line is now a preserved railway; and a fifth became a footpath. The whole of the 26.5 miles of railway forecast to be converted to roads in the county was, thus, not used for roads. Altogether 42 miles have become footpaths or cycleways.
Suffolk [East]: Two locations shown by the League, viz. ‘Belton, near Great Yarmouth’,
with a total length of 0.4 miles, have apparently always been within the county
boundaries of Norfolk. This careless error caused difficulty in trying to track
down what had happened to the proposed conversion. Maps provided by
Warwickshire: Of the three schemes listed representing 5.5 miles, only one scheme was progressed and that was 0.9 miles in length.
Westmoreland: A 4 mile section of closed
railway was used to lay an improved road. Some widening was required. This was
designated by the League to be a
Wiltshire: Neither of the two forecast conversions totalling nine miles took place. Part was sold to adjoining landowners; the other became part of a long distance cycle track and footpath, some 7-8 miles long!
Workington Borough (renamed Allerdale): There were three schemes totalling 3.25 miles; 2.5 miles was used partly as a service road to shops, and partly for carparking. A 0.3 mile road to a swimming pool and sports centre was built on a closed railway line. Another section of road was built over 0.18 mile of closed railway. The rest became a cycle way, or was landscaped.
Several conversions involved
property demolition to provide adequate widths and to create large roundabouts
to connect into existing roads (one example in
The response from the local authorities covering the maybe lists was mostly very helpful, varying from answering the questions posed, to providing detailed scale maps. Only three local authorities did not reply. Two others replied, but only to seek payment for providing the answers. Four councils were unable to provide information, due to the length of time that has elapsed, or due to local authority re-organisation. The vagueness of the League’s data as to the location of a disused line was not helpful in some cases. In total, the data from local authorities reveals that only 48.1 miles of closed railway have been replaced by roads, instead of the 211.5 miles which the League forecast in its ‘maybe’ list. Add this to the 43.7 miles listed in the 1970 Report as already converted (see page 65), and it produces an underwhelming total of 91.8 miles compared to the 9,000 miles of railway route closed by 1980. Moreover, most of the closed lines converted had to be widened to create the width necessary for a road.
 By no stretch of imagination can a closed railway
line, which has been crossed at a virtual right angle be regarded as a
conversion. That word implicitly means that a road has been built along the
length of a closed railway. There were two such examples in
 In contrast, the County had converted 40 miles to cycleways, footpaths, bridlepaths - 40 times as much as to roads. It drew attention to the high costs of repairing and maintaining fences, culverts, bridges & viaducts, (Times, 31.5.83)
 Evidently, Freedom of Information comes at a price, which the ordinary man in the street may not be able to afford.
 The concept was greeted with derision at Alston, which was at the end of a branch line from Haltwistle and was closed in 1976. (See The Railway Closure Controversy). Such roads are still conspicuous by their absence. (See also page 50 for misplaced belief in all-weather roads).