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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Disused trackbeds need protection

RDS campaigning to protect former rail routes for reopening has been paying dividends, with more consideration being given by the Government to this vital issue for the future of public transport.

The new approach was revealed in June when 200 miles of disused railway were handed over to Sustrans which is trying to create a national cycle network with 400 local councils.

Initially RDS had been alarmed by the proposed transfer because no consideration seemed to have been given to what would happen if the routes were needed again for rail. There have also been reopening proposals for some of the land transferred, for instance, Mickle Trafford to Dee Marsh junction.

Now Transport Minister Glenda Jackson has assured the public: "There will be a covenant between Sustrans and the Secretary of State under which Sustrans will undertake not to develop the routes in any way that would prejudice their future reopening for rail use."

Some of the trackbeds are already in use for cycle routes, such as Airdrie to Bathgate, parts of Lincoln-Boston and Liverpool suburban routes.

Lengths to be converted include Newark-Bottesford, Llanelli-Cynheidre and Walsall-Brownhills.

Viaducts being taken over by Sustrans include Hengoed on the London-Fishguard cycle route over the Rhymney Valley, Larpool which spans the River Esk at Whitby and Big Water of Fleet in Galloway.

Sustrans says that many of the old railway bridges will take cyclists safely across busy roads.

Of course it should be the norm everywhere that cyclists are able to cross busy roads without risking their lives. Both Government and highway authorities should ensure they are able to.

RDS is continuing to campaign for proper protection for many other former rail routes.

We are still trying to persuade Railtrack to be more pro-active and to back our calls for a Route Protection Bill. Railtrack is already considering reopening the Bedford-Sandy corridor and the March-Spalding route for a freight alternative. Both possible reopenings have been partially blocked by building development and only two years ago, neither reopening was being considered by Railtrack.

Railtrack could enhance its green credentials by supporting our proposals because they will benefit others, including cyclists, walkers and horse riders.

The root of the problem was the 1994 division between operational land which went to Railtrack and other land which stayed with the BR Property Board.

This land is still being sold off by BRPB's successor Rail Property Ltd.

For example there was a station reopening proposal for Borrowash, Derbyshire, supported by Central Trains but the land was auctioned off last month for £30,000 despite appeals from local councils. At West Horndon, Essex, the county council planned to improve disabled access but the land was sold off without the council being told.

At Cambridge the station taxi rank has been sold without consultation with the local councils.

At Bristol, land needed for a rapid transit scheme is being sold off.

A new assessment is needed to see whether "surplus" land could have future transport use. At the very least, Rail Property Ltd should make full lists of its current land holdings available.

The railways need to be able to cope with growing demands.

"We have already lost a freight site at Battersea and a station site in Derbyshire," said RDS executive officer Nat Taplin who has been meeting with other campaigning groups. "These continuing BR land sales are undermining the future of integrated transport."

Axed rail routes need protection

Now for East-West

The future of the proposed East-West rail route could be decided this summer, the Rail Reopenings Conference was told on 20 June.

"But the White Paper on integrated transport is the final missing link," the consortium's administrator John Jacobs told rail campaigners.

Routing through the Bedford area is still a sensitive issue with rail campaigners urging a direct line through the middle of the town providing good rail connections while some local politicians are keen on the railway following the route of the southern bypass road.

An all-party group of MPs, led by Phyllis Starkey from Milton Keynes, has been formed to help the project along.

During the summer, Transport Minister Glenda Jackson will be considering the consortium's revised business case.

The consortium has also launched a regeneration study as a way of illustrating some of the link's economic and financial benefits.

Mr Jacobs said the consortium had to be careful to explain the benefits of the new rail link because the project would be the third most expensive rail project after the Channel Tunnel rail link and the West Coast main line upgrade. It was now costed at £237 million. But the importance of the rail link to other areas is also recognised. For example, Hackney Council has joined the consortium because it recognises the strategic value of the link and that it can reduce rail traffic on the North London line.

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