By Geoffrey Newson
Donald Stokes pushed his copy of the Beeching report aside yesterday, smiled, and began talking about a rosy future and super coaches… He had every reason to smile. For at 46, Stokes is head of the firm which makes seven out of every ten buses in Britain. The super coaches, soon to appear on Britain’s roads, will, he said, have Hostesses… up to 70 aircraft – type seats… a bar, toilets… and be capable of speeds up to 70 miles an hour.
Mr Stokes, managing director of Leyland Motors and boss of 12,000 workers, told me: ‘Dr Beeching has paved the way for Inter – city services on the lines of America’s Greyhound coaches. Over here it could mean the setting up of coach bases – on trunk roads with catering facilities similar to those on the motorways.’
He was optimistic about a new Britain’on the bus. ‘It won’t happen overnight, but within two years the rail closures are bound to mean increased demand for buses. And it could mean more jobs in our factories.’
Mr Stokes, slim, and as elegant as the express coaches his firm make for the Ml services, said: ‘I’ve had three inquiries for new buses already.’
Progress rarely pleases everyone. Someone always loses, someone always wins. Donald Stokes will be on the winning side. While expecting new coach orders he does not expect to lose road transport trade to the railways.
‘Firms will still prefer to send their goods by road at their own time without possible inconvenience and manhandling on the railways.’
Mr Stokes’s own form of transport is a black – and – white 110 – mile – an – hour sportscar. His home is a suitcase. He had just returned from the Middle East after winning a £3,000,000 contract for buses and lorries. His own home – town station of Bexleyheath, Kent, was not on the Beeching list. But Mr Stokes did not know. Or care.
‘If it isn’t listed it ought to be. I would feel no nostalgia in losing it. I think what Beeching did was obvious and logical. It should have been done years ago.’
What’s his idea of the ultimate in road travel? Donald Stokes was thoughtful.
‘In 50 years time we could see electronic coaches powered by underground cables. Or buses operated by tiny electric cells. But we will need more motor ways to cope with the new speeds, possibly on the old lines closing down.’
And with an other smile he patted the Beeching report affectionately.