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Sustrans active travel study could save 50 rail bridges and tunnels


28 March 2022
Sustrans carried out a ‘light touch’ assessment of the 75 structures in the HRE?Major Works Programme
Sustrans carried out a ‘light touch’ assessment of the 75 structures in the HRE?Major Works Programme


Plans to demolish or infill 50 rail bridges and tunnels have been paused after a report by Sustrans found they might be suitable for active travel purposes.

The Historic Railways Estate (HRE) Major Works Programme is on hold while the charity carries out further assessments of the structures. 

Its initial ‘light touch’ assessment of 75 structures found that 11 of the structures were “likely” to be “useful” additions to the National Cycle Network while 15 were “likely” to be “useful” for Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans. Meanwhile, 24 structures “might be useful for local networks” but not part of current plans. The other 25 structures were deemed to be “unlikely to be useful for active travel”.

Sustrans will now carry out a more detailed assessment of structures to understand if and when they can be turned into viable projects. 

This will include looking at: structural condition; planning permission and consents; ecology and community support; as well as more comprehensive engagement with the local authority. 

 Matt Winfield, executive director for England at Sustrans, told LTT: “In 2021, Sustrans undertook a light touch pilot assessment of 75 structures that form part of the Historic Railways Estate (HRE) Major Works Programme, to inform a DfT report. 

“As leading experts in this area, Sustrans is keen to understand the HRE’s potential for active travel and our assessment was made with active travel considerations in mind; further analysis and follow up with stakeholders will be required. 

“Our work has established that a significant minority of HRE structures that were examined have potential for active travel routes. This assessment did not include structural surveys, any activity required to create an active travel route, nor any assessment of the other 3,000 Historic Railways Estate structures. 

“Many former rail structures are currently used as active travel corridors across the UK, often as part of the National Cycle Network. Without funding to maintain these there is a risk to their future use – this applies both to those structures in use and those that may be useful.” 

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