It's more than 40 years since the
Government closed a third of the country's railway network,
transport experts believe reopening the disused lines could
solve the current gridlock.
Some say it sounds potty,
but the idea is to lay thick rubber mats on former railway
tracks so they can be shared by light rail and cars. It is no
small irony that Bristol's railway infrastructure -
drastically pruned by the "Beeching Axe" - is now being hailed
as an answer to our traffic problems.
Beeching was part of an advisory group set up to help the
1950s Government modernise the country's public
Later appointed chairman of British Railway,
in 1963 he decided it was not being used enough, and embarked
on a massive closure programme. It was argued at the time that
buses to replace trains would be just as effective - and
Forty years on, anyone who commutes into
Bristol every morning knows just how effective the city's
public transport system has become.
But the problem
with deciding to reopen the railways now is that many have
been built on or returned to farmland.
Some are still
used to carry freight, but doubts have been raised as to
whether they would be wide enough to accommodate both light
rail and cars. And many of the former tracks are now used as
cycle paths - which would hardly be safe for cyclists if
trains and cars shared the same route.
Alan Matthews, a
former director of Avon Valley Railway and the current
chairman of the Portishead Railway Group, which campaigns for
the former line to Portishead to be re-introduced, said the
city was still suffering from the closures in the
He said: "It's a real shame they were closed.
They could have at least kept the strategic routes, because
they go straight into the centre of the city.
transport has to get people from A to B quickly. We have to
have routes in Bristol for fast public transport. People
living outside need to get in quickly, but people coming into
Bristol are finding themselves stuck in a queues of
"Portishead is being built up but on the roads
there is only one way in and out. There's a huge jam in the
mornings. It can take an hour to get out.
would not work on the Portishead line because it is single
track a lot of the way, including the tunnels, so how would
you keep the cars and the trains separate?
"It may work
on the double track at Mangotsfield to Yate, but I find it
difficult to imagine the concept in use, with the dangers of
running cars and trains on the same track.
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 'rubber roads' system
would use mats made from recycled car tyres, which would be
laid over sleepers on disused or rarely-used railway lines.
The designers of the rubber roads say they could significantly
ease congestion and make light rail routes feasible and
affordable. It is thought many of the road routes would become
toll roads, financing themselves as well as cutting car
numbers on busier, major routes.
Each mile would cost
£1.4 million to build, instead of the £20 million needed to
construct the same length of a modern motorway.
Lomas, local representative of the Light Rail Transit
Association, said: "In many cases, the railways have
regrettably closed. Sometimes there aren't the passengers to
support it, but a few of them were closed for the wrong
"Much of it is cycle track, and getting it
back from the cyclists would be very difficult.
rubber roads could be used on some existing routes, but in
this country making these sorts of changes seems very
difficult because of bureaucracy. There are safety concerns,
the need for advanced signalling. It's a good idea in the
right circumstances but we have got to be
"People talk about the line to Portishead
because they are huge difficulties trying to get in and out of
"There's freight, so it could share with
passenger trains. That would make it possible for a passenger
service about twice a day, but really it needs it needs to run
every 10 minutes, which means freight would have to be
The main cycle route out of Bristol, going
all the way to Bath, is on a former railway track, but that is
now the flagship of Sustrans, the charity which promotes
cycling. It is understandably reluctant to see cycle paths
returned to railway use, or shared with cars.
Harrison, of Sustrans, said: "The national cycle network began
in Bristol. It's a flagship for us.
"It shows what you
can do with disused railways. We use them because they're flat
and good for cyclists. We would not want to see cars on them.
We're not sure how it would work."
In fact, nobody
seems exactly sure how rubber roads would work. But that does
not mean new ideas on how to solve Bristol's transport crisis
should not be discussed.