An e-petition to 10 Downing Street has recently been launched with the aim of protecting disused rail corridors – and cyclists are being urged to sign and help prevent the disappearance of this valuable future cycle route resource.
The petition was the brainchild of Martyn Bolt, keen road cyclist but also a local councillor with responsibility for green transport in the Kirklees area of West Yorkshire. He was appalled by the lack of commitment to protecting disused rail corridors in the current proposed rail law – which effectively leaves the protection at the discretion of local councils – and is aiming to reverse the situation.
Martyn is aware of the uses of old rail corridors as he led his council's efforts to construct a wide ranging greenway network in his local area, which currently amounts to around 30 miles of tarmacked traffic-free route with more than 30 miles on the drawing board. It includes the award-winning Spen Valley Greenway, a hugely popular railpath running through a densely populated area of Kirklees, which attracts more than 200,000 users annually.
It was trouble in extending the Spen Valley Greenway north through another council's area that first alerted Martyn to the problem.
"We had a great resource in Kirklees in the form of the Spen Valley Greenway – a two metre wide tarmac route plus softer verges for other users such as horse riders. However, plans to extend the route to Bradford were held up for something like eight years because a developer owned the disused railway section in question and refused to cooperate," he told BikeRadar. "A way round the problem was found eventually but such a law would have prevented wasting time and money. Disused rail corridors are too important to be left at the whim of local government – they need national protection as a strategic resource."
Martyn has been in contact with ministers and senior civil servants but despite apparent interest in his proposals has yet to hear back from them. He's hoping that significant numbers will sign his petition and this will help him make a stronger case.
As well as threats from building development, there is fierce competition between different transport modes for disused rail corridor space.
A section of the Bristol-Bath railpath is currently under threat from use as a bus route. Further north in the Peak District the closed and blocked Woodhead Tunnel under the Pennines is the subject of an attempt to run electricity cables along its length, thereby preventing any other use (there are plans to reopen it as a new Manchester to Sheffield rail link which would provide new rail access opportunities to the popular cycling, walking and horse riding route the Trans Pennine Trail - though some of it would then have to be realigned).
A good example of current cycle route integration with other transport use is on a former rail corridor linking Cambridge and St Ives. Here cycle paths are to run alongside the world's longest guided bus route, due to open in 2009.