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18:00 - 01 June 2006
The former rail line from Portishead to Bristol could be used by cars if an innovative scheme being unveiled today takes off.

The world's first rubber highway, made from recycled tyres, was due to be opened on a private branch line into a car depot at Corby, Northamptonshire.

But rail enthusiasts campaigning to reopen the Portishead line believe it would be a recipe for disaster to install something similar in Portishead.

The group behind the government-funded project, Holdfast Rubber Highways, proposes to install the same rubber surface on scores of lines shut in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

The rubber roads are designed to allow cars and light rail to use the same transport corridor to solve traffic problems.

And it has emerged that the Portishead to Bristol line is on a list drawn up by Holdfast of the strongest candidates for rubber highways.

Portishead Railway Group chairman Alan Matthews said: "Where the abandoned line is double track, it could be possible for it to be used for cars and light rail. But I would suggest it would be dangerous.

"On the Continent, Ireland and UK, where light rail is used, the light rail runs parallel with the road and the only dual use is for short sections or crossings.

"The idea is to provide a separate fast public transport system.

"Once cars start to use track we end up with the same situation as in Bristol, where the buses are held up because they are using the same space as cars.

"The system cannot work on the Portishead line because it is mainly single track and through tunnels.

"We are sure that Network Rail would also not consider it as an option as part of the line is used for freight.

"Again we have a situation where someone's bright idea is being discussed and proposed without any serious consideration of whether it is actually feasible."

Holdfast managing director Peter Coates Smith said: "Rather than have an endless debate about whether we should be investing in road or rail, we can allow these trains and cars to use the same corridor."

Several other routes around Bristol are also being considered for the rubber highways, plus lines in east London, Dagenham and Cheltenham.

Each mile of rubber highway uses 354,000 tyres, which will help with disposing of the 50 million worn tyres removed from vehicles each year and which, under EU rules, will be banned from landfill sites.

It costs 1.4 million per mile, compared with 20 million for a new road.

The track panels can be installed at a rate of 100 metres per day and should last at least 25 years.

The Corby line is a quarter of a mile long and has had its durability tested by 8,000 cars running on it.

Corby suffers many of the same traffic problems as Portishead.

It is a rapidly growing town with inadequate road infrastructure and is the largest town in Europe without a railway service.

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