National charity Cycling UK has backed walking and cycling campaigners Sustrans in a row over plans to run a new light rail link alongside a walking and cycling route between Bath and Bristol.
The Bristol Post reported that the eastern route of the city’s mooted 'underground metro train' could take the form of tram-like light rail system running alongside the cycle path between the two cities, which is which is partly made up of a former rail line.
Sustrans said the path has become a green corridor
Sustrans, which runs the National Cycle Network, said it was ‘disappointed’ by the report, adding that the former rail line would not be a suitable location for a rapid transit link and that there would be substantial local opposition to any plans.
It said the path has become the busiest dedicated traffic-free route for people walking and cycling in the country and is ‘seen by many as a community asset serving as a tourist destination, a place of business and a green corridor of wildlife habitat of significant value’.
James Cleeton, Sustrans' director of england south, said: ‘We fully support the principle of a light rail or rapid transit connection between Bristol and Bath. However, the route under consideration is the wrong one.’
Roger Geffen, policy director at Cycling UK, told Transport Network: 'The Bristol-Bath path enables huge numbers of people to travel to work or to school each day without using cars. It would be bitterly ironic to remove it for the sake of a light rail project aimed at doing the same thing.
'The real solution must surely involve removing some of the road space that will no longer be needed if the light rail scheme succeeds in its intended aims. That is what Manchester and other cities have done with their tram schemes. Bristol should follow their example.'
However, campaign group Rail Future said Sustrans had ‘got it wrong’ and ‘want to block future rail development’.
In an open letter to Mr Cleeton, Railfuture’s press officer, Bruce Williamson, said he was himself ‘disappointed that an organisation called Sustrans is trying to scupper new sustainable transport projects’.
Mr Williamson said that when the path was first established, ‘it was done on the clear understanding that it would be returned to rail use should the need arise’. He asked Mr Cleeton: 'Are you trying to renege on that commitment?'
He also disputed Sustrans’ argument that the route was too narrow to run a rail line alongside the path, pointing out that this has been achieved elsewhere with both rail and bus routes.
Mr Williamson added: ‘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.’