[Borders Rail paragraphs updated 7.1.13 and again 28.1.13]
The Scottish Government has allocated £500k for improved cycle/pedestrian access to stations on the now 2-year old Airdrie-Bathgate railway – a welcome sum and also a tacit admission that the original plans left a lot to be desired …
The £500k is part of the £3.9m cycling investment announced in mid-December by the Scottish Government as a consequence of the UK government’s Autumn ‘mini-budget’.
From early on in planning the rail re-opening, Spokes had called for safe and welcoming access for cyclists and pedestrians from nearby towns and communities to rail stations. Instead, Transport Scotland and Network Rail provided large car parks at stations and told us that if cycle/pedestrian connections were needed that would be up to the local councils – and no money would be provided as part of the rail reopening project.
So much for Scottish Government integrated transport policy, let alone joined-up thinking between transport, environment and health!! Whilst the reopening has been very successful in rail-only terms, it is truly shocking that a rail project could be planned and implemented with so little attention to how people can get to the stations from local communities by healthy transport modes.
The result has been widely criticised, with some stations connected to nearby communities only by roads on which few cyclists would venture – especially in commuter times and in the dark or wet. Towns with poor or very poor cycle connections to the railway include Bathgate, Armadale, Blackridge, Seafield, Blackburn, East Whitburn, Whitburn and Harthill. For more detail, see the notes on the project [rtf 16k] on our West Lothian page.
There are similarities to Edinburgh tram – a project largely planned and implemented as ‘tram-only’ – with cycle routes and accesses then having to be fitted in around the predetermined tramline layouts, bringing difficult and dangerous cycling locations. A similar project in the Netherlands would be holistically planned, with tram, cycle, walk and bus all part of one integrated design.
Now the Airdrie-Bathgate chickens are coming home to roost with other budgets having to fund cycle and pedestrian infrastructure that should have been part of a properly integrated transport project. Costs will be higher than in an integrated project, whilst some options will be ruled out because not designed in from the outset. Meanwhile rail commuters living nearby have already had 2-years to establish car-dependent habits for getting to the station.
The £500k government money just allocated will be used for “improving access to stations on the successful Airdrie to Bathgate railway and contribute to the greening of the route currently being taken forward by Central Scotland Forest Trust.” Meanwhile West Lothian Council is having to allocate £145k of its CWSS and Sustrans money to improve the poor cycle access at Bathgate station. Whilst welcome and necessary now, much of this government and council money could have funded cycling infrastructure elsewhere in Scotland and West Lothian had the Bathgate-Airdrie project been properly designed and implemented, with decent pedestrian and cycle access built in from the outset. And even with the new money, some nearby towns will probably still remain with poor cycling and walking access.
Local and rail historian and activist Ann Glen, author of the book Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link: Reconnecting Communities has ever since the rail link was first proposed campaigned for good cycle and walker access to stations. Campaigning on this neglected but vital issue remains a priority for her in the coming year.
Will the Borders Railway, Edinburgh to Tweedbank, improve on the Bathgate-Airdrie experience, and ensure that local communities are connected to stations by good cycling and walking conditions? Cycle parking has of course been promised at stations – but that is the easy bit! Thanks to lobbying, the profile of the issue has risen, but FAQs on the official www.bordersrailway.co.uk website only seem to promise bike parking at stations and the replacement of those existing cycleroutes which will be affected by the railway. We have asked them to add an answer to the question, “Will local communities and towns be connected to their nearest rail station by routes which are safe and welcoming for travel by bicycle and on foot?”
[Jan 28 update: We’ve had a reply from the Borders Rail project/ Network Rail. The above requested FAQ has been added to their website. Positively, all parties to the project seem to be cooperating to provide better cycling/walking infrastructure to stations than happened for Bathgate/Airdrie. Disappointingly, the specific proposals in the reply largely cover only replacement cycle routes, not new links to stations. Also disappointing, it sounds as if nearly all this is to be funded from existing Sustrans and council money, not from the rail project, meaning less money for Sustrans and council cycling projects elsewhere. In our view the government should be setting up integrated transport projects, not just building a standalone rail project and leaving it up to other bodies to fund cycling/walking station accessibility].
Some examples of situations for which good walk/cycle connections should be provided, drawn to our attention by a local activist, are below. This is not intended as an exhaustive list, but shows a few important example opportunities, some of which are in danger of being missed. In summary, rather than the typical single-access approach, designed primarily with car access in mind, as in Airdrie-Bathgate, there should be multiple walk/cycle paths and entries to stations – this is key to quick and convenient access – and therefore to extending the station’s walk-in /cycle-in catchment area.
- Eskbank station – connection to Jewel and Esk Valley College.
- Newtongrange station (south end) – connection to the Mining Museum and nearby housing areas.
- Gorebridge station – to the new housing estate south of to the station by a direct route, with a ramp down from the B6372 overbridge – not solely via the planned B704 car park access at the north end of the station, a much greater distance.
- Galashiels station – low car ownership and high population density in the town
- Tweedbank station – need links to local housing, Melrose attractions and to local and longer distance Borders leisure cycling routes
- Stow station – commercial opportunities for sustainable tourism, as well as commuting.
On the positive side, Sustrans has been invited to meetings of the rail project, along with Network Rail, Transport Scotland, the local authorities, etc, and is fighting hard for good pedestrian/cycle access to stations. However the extent to which access from communities to stations is considered an integral part of the project – integrated into and funded by the project – still seems very questionable.
For a truly integrated transport project, and to maximise railway patronage, there should be a full assessement of walking/cycling opportunities to each station from each nearby local community, housing area or public attraction. This assessment should cover (i) new and existing walk/cycle infrastructure, (ii) traffic management / calming of existing roads etc, and (iii) the extent to which walking / cycling safety / desire lines are prioritised at the station entrances themselves.
This issue is also raised in a couple of chapters in David Spaven’s recent book Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway. For relevant extracts, see the end of our 31 August post [ATOC bike-rail toolkit].
If you are concerned about cycle access to the railway from any local town or community contact the project through their above website, and contact your MSP if you are unhappy with the reply.
National Cycle Route NCN 75
As part of the Bathgate-Airdrie rail project, the existing NCN75 Edinburgh-Glasgow route, which used much of the old railway bed, was to be rebuilt. This was very welcome but, unfortunately, 2 years after the railway opened, the route is still not complete, and in several respects it is less good than the original – this is also covered in our above notes on the rail project. Nor was the path intended to provide connections to stations for the above ‘unconnected’ towns.
The Central Scotland Forest Trust, Sustrans and other relevant bodies, are consulting on ideas to improve the path – all ideas are welcome, including how to link the path to local communities, tree-planting to improve shelter, artworks, or whatever. Find out more, and submit your views at…
Questionnaire [the consultation meetings are past, but ideas are still wanted]