Press release 13th February 2018

Sustrans has got it wrong, says rail group

Rail campaigners locally are fighting back against cyclists who want to block future rail development.  Replying to a recent open letter published by Sustrans, Railfuture spells out its support for re-using the Bristol and Bath railway path for rail, and dismisses the objections put forward by Sustrans.

"Sustrans have always known that they were allowed to operate the railway path on the understanding that they would have to give it back if it was needed for rail.  Now it looks like that time might be coming, and they're trying to renege on the deal" said Bruce Williamson from Railfuture, who wrote the response. "We all agree that we need solutions to Bristol's gridlock, but only rail has the potential to attract people out of their cars and make a real difference.  There simply aren't any realistic alternatives to re-using the old railway line.  Tunnelling is monstrously expensive, and any other route - well take a look at a map - would involve mass demolitions and major civil engineering."

The response to Sustrans ends by saying "If you succeed in blocking this scheme you will be perpetuating the pollution and gridlock of our current road-based transport system. I urge you to drop your opposition."

The full text of the letter:

James Cleeton   
2 Cathedral Square
College Green
Bristol BS1 5DD

Dear James,

I read with interest your recent open letter to local politicians objecting to use of the Bristol and Bath railway path for rail.  You say that you are disappointed.  I, too, am disappointed - disappointed that an organisation called Sustrans is trying to scupper new sustainable transport projects.

You say that you fully support light rail between Bristol and Bath in a letter containing reasons why you don't support it.  Hardly a consistent position.

When the Bristol and Bath railway path was first established, it was done on the clear understanding that it would be returned to rail use should the need arise.  Are you trying to renege on that commitment?

Your claims that the route is too narrow simply do not stand up. The original railway was double track through its entire length, and the current tarmacked section uses only approximately half the width of the trackbed, so what's the problem?  Experience around the Bitton area has shown that it is possible for the cycle track to be shared with rail, and other examples such as the reopened Borders railway and the Cambridgeshire busway also demonstrate that it is possible to accommodate cyclists alongside public transport routes with little difficulty. There may be some places where the trackbed has been narrowed by modern development, but these are relatively few and it's always possible to find a solution, usually by a small diversion for the cycle route.

You claim that reusing the route for rail would "require significant engineering and reconstruction."  Of course it would, but the amount of work pales into insignificance compared to the alternatives.  How much cost and local opposition do you suppose there would be to bulldozing a completely new route out of the city?  How many billions would it cost to put it in tunnel? If, as you claim, "the route under consideration is the wrong one" then what is the right one? It's pretty obvious that the answer is, in fact, the Bristol and Bath railway path.

"Enabling business as usual to persist on our road network whilst displacing foot and bike traffic from a green corridor is not a solution." Of course it's not, but that's not what being suggested here, is it?  Providing a new public transport route as an alternative to road transport is not "business as usual", and foot and bike traffic can be accommodated along the green corridor too. As someone who works in the transport sector, you must know that the only way to achieve significant modal shift is to provide rail-based alternatives.  And the only realistic way to achieve that is to use the railway path for what it was originally built for - rail.

Railfuture and Sustrans share many objectives.  If you succeed in blocking this scheme you will be perpetuating the pollution and gridlock of our current road-based transport system. 

I urge you to drop your opposition.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Williamson

Railfuture press officer

Notes to editors:

Sustrans's open letter opposing rail use on the railway path can be read here: 

Railfuture is the UK's leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight.

Railfuture's website can be found at: www.railfuture.org.uk

Follow Railfuture on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Railfuture

For further information and comment please contact:

Bruce Williamson, media spokesman
Tel: 0117 927 2954 Mobile: 07759 557389
media at railfuture.org.uk