Let me begin this piece by telling those who aren’t aware of Sustrans and their cycle-routes what Sustrans is: –
Sustrans is a charity that creates cycle routes by using money from environmental grants and public donations.
In itself that sounds like a good thing. –
But there’s a twist: They create cycle routes from the remains of railway lines.
Allow me to briefly tell those who aren’t aware a little about the UK’s railway history: –
In the 18th Century in England the steam engine was invented; and in the 19th Century, as well as pumping water, the Victorians found it useful for powering mobile engines that pulled trains on rails. – So everyone who could afford to build a railway started building railways and running steam trains on them – for the purpose of both transporting people from A to B, as well as delivering freight in the form of goods and mail. Railways did this a lot faster than canals; so canals became pretty much obsolete for the purpose. (Although there did remain a little residual canal freight for a while.)
Into the 20th Century, and a few of the railways started feeling the pinch as early as the 1920’s and the 1930’s: They just weren’t working out as intended, and so a few of them – only a few at the time – were closed down.
(There were a couple or three that closed down before the 20th Century: I’m thinking of the Watchet to Comberow West Somerset Mineral Railway; which branched off the West Somerset Railway at Watchet. It did reopen more than once for freight etc only; but it eventually closed forever in 1925.
The alignment can still be seen in places.)
After the 2nd World War, people started seriously using road transportation.
Trains couldn’t compete with road haulage and bus passenger services at the time on a number of levels, and so a few more railway lines that were losing money hand-over-fist were closed down or made to be freight-only in the 1950’s.
In the 1960’s a hatred of everything Victorian arose and took hold of everyone:
Steam engines and most of the other railway infrastructure was Victorian; so the Labour Government employed a statistician from the chemical industry to ensure that many of Britain’s railways, despite being the envy of the world at the time, were ripped up, the stations closed down and demolished, turned into industrial estates, hotels, whatever. This guy; Dr Beeching, also made sure that many of the bridges were blown up or otherwise demolished, and that houses or factories were built on the disused trackbeds and on the sites where stations had once stood – just to make sure that it was as hard a job as possible for anyone who wanted to rebuild the railways that had been closed down. The closures continued into the 1970’s, and even in the 1980’s and 90’s a few more lines were closed or mothballed.
Forward to the 21st Century;
and people had started to at last realise the value of what they’d destroyed in the 60’s. Some groups of enthusiasts had already started rebuilding the railways from as far back as the 1970’s, and even the Government was playing an active role in returning some of the vital railway infrastructure to a working condition again following that.
There arose a fly in the ointment;
an organisation that claimed to be to do with sustainable transport called Sustrans: Although Sustrans had government backing; their real intended mission was to cease and then tarmac-over all the abandoned railway alignments that had become disused in the 1960’s, and turn them into something that they called a cycle-route.
A cycle route was built with the aim of providing a long path that nobody ever used in the middle of nowhere, so that the occasional weirdo, strange people, or homosexual male dressed in psychedelic coloured lycra could pose along a part of the route and ring their little bell on their pushbike to signal their intent; whatever that may be. There was also the intention of providing a safe route for people to cycle to work; though this usually proved a futile intention – as the route often went nowhere near their place of work, crossed and mingled with busy trunk roads, intersections, and the like en route, and was subject to the British weather.
So as you can tell from reading the above; cycle-routes were a failure from the word go;
but Sustrans kept creating them despite this, and the only place that they created them -other than on existing roads – was on the former railway alignments – preventing the enthusiasts from reinstating the old railway lines that people were crying out to see brought back.
“cycle-routes were a failure from the word go”
Hence you will understand why I, as a trainspotter, railway enthusiast, and heritage-nut, am against most cycle-routes and against Sustrans
– Other than in the case where Sustrans helps to ensure the survival of a railway-route against the plough and/or urban or rural housing or industrial development by creating said cycle route.
While Sustrans do preserve the alignment to some extent, as well as repair and renovate the trackbed and bridges; they render it impossible to share a railway with their cycle routes. Conversely, however, there are a number of heritage railways that share the trackbed with Sustrans; the railway having got there first.
In short if Sustrans get first dibs on a disused or mothballed railway route; the railway is finished forever
– unless, by some miracle, parliament step in or something.
Sustrans seem to hate railways.
If the railway preservationists get there first, however, it is sometimes possible to share the alignment with Sustrans if they feel a desperate need to provide a cycle path parallel to the track. – And such cycle routes are not unused in all cases. I’m thinking of the Avon Valley Railway near Bristol, who share their alignment with a well-used cycle route…
But that appears to be an unusual case: Normally the railway vanishes and is replaced by an unused strip of tarmac heading off into the distance.
Wouldn’t you rather see a working railway with trains running on it; than a mostly-unused strip of tarmac on which strange people may well be lurking in the bushes?