Pete Owens wrote:There is a place in the world for converted rail trails. They are not greatly significant in terms of transport, so properly the role of a charity.
If a fairly level, fairly straight, fairly stable route usually into a town/city centre is not greatly significant in terms of transport, then I think you're doing it wrong! Three of the most popular routes into King's Lynn (the Sandringham Railway, the Sand Line Path and Harding's Way) and two into Norwich (Marriott's Way and Lakenham Way) are rail trails. From memory of other places, I don't think that's unusual: the Newport Nobby in MK, the former WC&P Light Railway route into Weston-super-Mare, the Two Tunnels into Bath and of course the Bristol&Bath Railway Path.
The quality is not of a great concern if they are just aimed at a bit of a leisure activity in the countryside - and since all the serious engineering has already been done by victorian railway engineers the cost is not too great. They probably will not go anywhere particularly useful (they wouldn't have become disused otherwise) but may be in scenic parts of the countryside.
There are many reasons why railways may have become disused. We lost a large rail network in Norfolk because most of it was a duplicate built by competitors of the Great Eastern reputedly deemed not worth the cost of replacing a few bridges and rebuilding war-damaged stations and then market town branches were cut back by Beeching based on oft-questioned accounting.
The duplicate Midland & Great Northern network was insulted as the Muddle & Go Nowhere but that was more because it mainly offered services to the less popular Midlands and North and not London. It connected Lynn and Fakenham through North Walsham and Stalham to Yarmouth and Cromer to Norwich in a fairly sane X pattern, marked in red on this map:
You can tell these former railways would be useful by how they're already being used:
· More than half of Fakenham to Norwich has already been converted into the Marriott's Way national route 1
· Aylsham to Stalham was converted into the Weavers Way local route (both resurfaced but not paved)
· Lynn to Fakenham is basically shadowed by local route 2 and there are (stalled) plans to convert that railway: http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/greenways
· Half of Fakenham to Cromer survives as the North Norfolk Railway heritage line, much of the rest was taken by A and B roads and much of Stalham to Yarmouth was taken by A/B roads, so they aren't available for conversion.
The GER branches are shown in blue and most of those been reused for transport too:
· Still in mainline use: Norwich to Yarmouth and south, Norwich to Cromer, and Lynn southwards, plus part of Lynn-Swaffham is still used for quarry trains.
· Still in heritage use: Wymondham-Dereham and halfway to Fakenham is another heritage railway (the Mid Norfolk Railway) with long-held hopes of building north to connect to the NNR; Wroxham to Aylsham is a narrow-gauge conversion (the Bure Valley Railway) with a cyclable stone track alongside; Walsingham to Wells is a narrow-gauge conversion.
· Stolen by motorists: the Dereham end of Swaffham-Dereham was taken by an A road.
· Shadowed or used by actual or proposed cycle routes: Thetford-Swaffham (shadow), Lynn to Hunstanton (mostly shadow) and Walsingham to Fakenham (mostly shadow - NCN1).
So, as you can see, rail trails could form a decent direct interurban transport network near me. Using the actual railways would be flatter and more direct than the shadow routes while still serving the desire lines.
The main missing links would be Thetford to Norwich (still a live railway) and Dereham to Norwich (which never had one) and Highways England might provide the latter alongside the A47 Dereham to Norwich upgrade, if they don't shirk and screw that up like the A11.
And for completeness: Downham Market to Swaffham and Thetford has just-cut-by-Sustrans cycle routes which have more to do with forest roads than railways.
If Sustrans went back to doing what they were doing before 1995, rather than seeking public funding by pretending to be running a national transport network, then they would be judged much more favourably.
By whom? If that sustainable transport charity now repurposed itself into "Leisure Rail Trails UK" then I feel it would become an annoying irrelevance and a "bait and switch", having hoovered up millions of cycling funding and then given up on the challenge.
No, right or wrong, they took the money to create a national cycle network. They cannot undo history and I bet they can't afford to pay that money back or on to someone willing to do the job, so they really ought to do it to the best of their abilities.