How not to avoid Milton Road

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 48.

Map featuring roads around Milton Road

We’ve covered issues regarding the problematic section of shared use paths near the Golden Hind pub on Milton Road before (see Newsletter 36 ‘Milton Road bus stop cycle and pedestrian counts’). Some years ago I realised that the development of the Cambridge Business Park could give an opportunity to provide a link to Nuffield Road by crossing the disused St Ives railway line. This would give hundreds of cyclists an alternative route. With the imminent arrival of the A14 bridge and the consequent increase in cyclists in this area it seemed a good time to make some informal contacts to see if a temporary route could be arranged until the major developments proposed in this locality provided a more permanent solution.

All the parties I approached appeared very supportive, with the exception of one. We’ve crossed swords with Railtrack before, because there are two recognised and signposted cycle routes that cross active rail lines at locations where there is legally only a footpath. Having had an ‘interest’ in railways for 35 years, I’m well aware of the dangers caused by unauthorised access to rail lines, but hadn’t expected the response I received to my query addressed to Railtrack’s successor, Network Rail.

Such a route needs to cross over a 10 metre strip of the abandoned St Ives line, the only section which is not paved and easily accessible. No train has passed this way for some 15 years, and this section is now securely segregated from the main line (a ‘real operational railway’) by a high metal fence. Network Rail replied:

Nuffield Road side
View from Nuffield Road side, towards the Cambridge Business Park. Only the wooden fence, along the disused railway line, physically prevents access between the two sides.

‘Essentially you are asking whether we would support a new level crossing over the route. Our position is that we do not support the provision of new at-grade crossings of our infrastructure. Whilst I understand the reason for your comment about a ‘real operational railway’ there is no legal or regulatory basis for making such a distinction.’

Not being easily deflected, I contacted the Railway Inspectorate, now part of HSE. Their reply also shows the level of the bureaucratic problem. ‘Although the railway in question is not in use, it is still a statutory railway in status. The Railway Inspectorate therefore does not currently support the installation of any new level crossing over this line.’

Have we hit the buffers? Do we really need to wait some two years until a ‘Transport Works Act’ formally changes the status of this line for a temporary crossing of this 10 metre strip to be allowed?

Jim Chisholm