The grand opening of the Two Tunnels shared path in Bath on Saturday April 6 will finally re-activate a key stretch of the old Somerset & Dorset line. However heritage expert James Edwards from Colliers International believes more can be done to restore the region’s dormant railway network.

James Edwards, based at Colliers International’s Bristol office, said: “Fifty years after Doctor Beeching decimated the British railway system it is clear the brave new transport system envisaged at the time has gone completely off the rails. Although I welcome the launch of the Two Tunnels link for cyclists and walkers in Bath there is plenty more that could and should be done, such as restoring a fully functioning rail link to Portishead.”

The Two Tunnels path provides a direct link from the city centre to the existing cycle walkway network at Dundas on the Kennet and Avon canal. The route incorporates two re-opened tunnels at Combe Down to the south of Bath.

James said: “The shared path scheme is sure to become a fantastic resource not only for the people of Bath but also for legions of cyclists and walkers from all over the area.

“It is rightly being seen as a major success in not only furthering the cause of sustainable transportation but also in retaining a part of Britain’s railway heritage. It can only be a positive for tourism and the economy.”

James Edwards acknowledged that not every old railway line could be sensibly restored to full service: “The practicalities of re-opening many of these old Branch lines are such that many will never rise again, as they have either been built on or are just too costly to reopen. However the Portishead link is clearly a practical and cost effective solution to the chronic traffic levels in the town, which is one of the largest in the country without its own station.”

Both the old Somerset & Dorset line and the Portishead rail link were shut down following the Beeching Report, which closed 2,128 stations with over 8,000 miles of track and the loss of 67,700 jobs.

Edwards went on: “There have been few Government initiatives which resulted in such a significant cultural shift for the country. Not only did we lose of a great swathe of Britain’s railway heritage, the knock-on effects on Britain’s industrial heritage were immeasurable, as well as the loss of livelihoods.” 

He concluded: “Learning from the errors made under this report, there has been much talk about re-opening railway lines and stations, which may hopefully secure our railway heritage but also show a marked improvement in sustainable transport provision, with a reduction in private car usage.”