For a spell in the 2010’s, I did consultancy work for an environmental charity which was headquartered down south, but worked all over the country.  They were keen on Homezones, pedestrianisation and the like, but their roots lay in the construction of bike paths along abandoned railway lines. 

It’s ironic that many of the lines they chose to save became battlegrounds.  For example, when the Airdrie to Bathgate line was reopened as a railway, there was friction when the charity realised that their bikepath would disappear.  It raised a rhetorical question. Should bikes take precedence over railways, despite the fact that the infrastructure was built for trains in the first place? A compromise was struck, the trackbed was bought back by the railways (Network Rail, it had been owned by BRB Residuary before that) and a new bike path was constructed alongside it.

Of course, other organisations have utilised the trackbeds of dismantled railway lines for footpaths and long distance tracks.  Around Dundee, stretches of the Dundee to Newtyle line have become footpaths – such as the Miley, leading from Lochee towards the Kingsway along a muddy, litter-blown cutting.  Beyond Rosemill and Bridgefoot, its character changes completely: it was once a goods line serving the Leoch quarries which provided Dundee with building stone, now it runs through a completely de-industrialised landscape.

The goods branch to Fairmuir and Maryfield, both of which were early industrial estates, has largely disappeared under houses and parks. Just like the first mile of the Dundee to Forfar Direct line, which later becomes a footpath as it crosses the Seven Arches viaduct, then heads northwards beyond the city boundary and disappears into scrubland where railway bridges have been demolished, leaving only a series of stranded abutments punctuating the trace of a line along cuttings and embankments.

The photos show another former rail line a few miles north of Dundee, which once ran from somewhere to somewhere. It’s always cut through a rural district but it passes sawmills, oil depots with giant tanks, farm steadings with silos and grain dryers. Once, all those were fed by rail, now the trackbed is choked with brambles, birches and willow trees and thorn bushes.

I’m sure it’s far down the list of railway lines to be reinstated: the Borders railway, the Alloa line, the Levenmouth branch and perhaps the Peterhead and Fraserburgh tracks will gradually come back to life, but others have been forgotten for good. Perhaps that’s because this line is far away from the decision-making centres of the central belt. It’s also far from the heartland of environmental charities, populated by student activists on fixed gear bikes, middle class commuters on Bromptons with laughably small but lethal wheels, and the angry, angry men who take many-thousand pound carbonfibre cycles for Sunday races on public roads.

As I discovered when I revisited the trackbed with a friend, nothing has changed since my last visit a decade earlier. The irony is that this area – beyond bus routes, miles from post offices, corner shops, GP practices, village schools and further education colleges – and most of all, far away from opportunity and well-paid jobs in the city – is crying out for the better transport links that doing something productive (anything productive) with the trackbed would bring.

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