Active railways

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Alex Bergus
Active railways

Hi I am entirely new here so please excuse me if this has been discussed and dismissed or discussed and implemented but just not near me.

Could cycle paths be placed next to existing active rail lines, cyclepaths on disussed rail lines seem to work well normally, even if they are a bit gravelly for my narrow tyres, how about next to existing rail lines. I know cycling through my native Cumbria following rail lines would flatten a lot of the hills. The railways go between the urban centres and might make a nice way to join up a lot of local disconected cycle paths.

Obviously there may be problems with bridges, viaducts and cuttings but would the trains thundering past make insurmountable problems? They are noisey but the drivers can't get target fixation and run of the tracks.

With HS2 in the planning and further plans to get extensions up to Glasgow and Edinbough could we get a big flatish cycle path spine to a national network?

If I have dropped any bobos with regards to thread starting and posting please let me know.


James Gleave

Hi Alex,

Its not such a silly question - indeed it has been looked at many times by many different organisations. But as you can imagine there are a number of difficulties with doing so - not least the technical challenges associated with tunnels and bridges.

Thinking strategically, the first question is of the usefulness of any routes. They may provide access to town and city centres, but does the route alignment serve a large catchment area, with easy access to facilities and services? Nearly all of our railways were built by 1900, with the needs of the railway in mind, and as such don't typically apply themselves to being a useful day-to-day cycle route. Even routes on abandoned lines suffer this problem.

The second issue is again a problem of history. The built form of many urban areas means that they have built right up to the railway boundary, with barely enough room for track access let alone cycle paths. This is not an easy problem to fix without demolishing houses, reprofiling embankments, compulsory purchasing land, or even removing running lines.

The final, and biggest, problem is Network Rail. To say that they are utterly anal about safety is an understatement, almost to the point where anything that adds additional safety risk is either rejected out of hand or heavily engineered beyond belief. We have argued with them for 2 years to do a risk assessment on a possible cycle route through a station car park, had cycle parking near platforms removed due to safety risks, and work we are doing to refurbish an existing bridge over the railway will mean that the bridge will be able to take the combined hit of an earthquake, a nuclear strike, and a train crashing into it. Ok, I exaggerated on the last one, but their standards make delivering anything a very difficult and exspensive process.

The idea that Network Rail will permit cycle paths near operational railways or on railway access routes is a noble one, but will not be delivered. In any case, is it not better to provide quality cycling infrastructure on routes (highways) to where people want to travel?

Alex Bergus

Oh well thanks for the answer I was trying to find a good route to travel south through cumbria to visit my brother in law in Kendal.  From the north into Kendal/ Oxenholme the rail route just looked so tempting compared to any of the roads.

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