De-railed

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The old rail line through Brownhills makes a lovely cycling and walking route to Pelsall.

There was a great letter last week in the Walsall Advertiser from friend of the blog and Clayhanger Kid himself, Brian Stringer, who’s a noted local author and community activist – Brian is concerned, like most of the people in Brownhills – with he fate of the former South Staffordshire Railway Line through Brownhills.

Brian would ultimately like to see a rail service return to Brownhills, as I think most townsfolk would – I’d certainly make great use of such a service, and there’s been a lot of waffle on the matter in recent editions of the paper by some very worthy correspondents.

Sadly, a return of rail is highly unlikely – the restoration of a line here would cost many millions, bridges would need to be rebuilt, track laid and stations constructed, competing between Brownhills and Walsall with a very frequent, inevitably cheaper bus service. The economics just don’t pan out – remember, we can’t resurrect services on existing metal even when Centro own the land to build stations – thinking particularly here of Aldridge and Walsall to Wolverhampton.

I wrote about this in the early days of the blog, and my feelings haven’t changed much.

I get what the enthusiasts want, and want it too, but with the closure of Rugeley Power Station imminent, the freight pressure has eased on the Chase Line and I can’t see passenger traffic alone driving such a costly line reopening – particularly in times when bus services are being axed, public spending is being stripped back and austerity biting.

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Brian and other volunteers have made a wonderful job of creating the route and maintaining it – can you help it expand?

With that in mind, Brian would like to see the route turned into a cycle and walkway, as a section has already been created between The Butts in Walsall and Pelsall. It’s bizarre to anyone who knows the line that it wasn’t continued to Brownhills originally, but sadly plans to do so around 2005 were kicked into the long grass by political chicanery and we are where we are.

Sadly, Brian has found Sustrans less than enthusiastic, which disappoints me greatly, but he has been working with an army of volunteers to convert the parts of the line he can to a nature walk and cycleway, currently extending wonderfully from the old barrow crossing behind the Swan pub to Ryders Hays. It’s a lovely route and the work has been wonderful.

Brian needs more volunteers, and would like to be able to get the absolutely foul, rubbish-strewn mess where the old track runs under the Miner Island sorted out, which many of you have complained about. If you can offer help or materials, please do get in touch and I’ll hook you up with Brian. No skills needed, just a willingness to work and an ability to get your hands dirty.

I wholly support Brian and stand ready to help with anything he needs. If you can assist (or have any other view), please get in touch – either comment here, or mail me BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Walsall Advertiser, 7th March 2016
Vision needed for disused line

MR Batchelor, Mr Worrall and Mr Birch MBE, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments re the Lichfield/Brownhills disused railway line {Advertiser, March 3 and 10).

Sadly, trains won’t be running anytime soon according to my recent chat with Centro consultants at Walsall railway station. So what happens in the meantime?

Well, in 2006 Sustrans and their partners Railway Paths, submitted a wonderful plan to Walsall MBC to create a cycle/walkway between Pelsall and Brownhills ending just under the Miner island. This would then join the path that already exists from Walsall to Pelsall.

The plan was rejected but it was suggested to make a few changes and re-submit. Sustrans decided not to bother and since then have left the track in an appalling state, culminating in something akin to an open sewer, running under Brownhills Bridge.

In October 2014, Brownhills Local Committee received an email from Sustrans asking for help in creating a wildlife corridor along the track. Myself and others, along with Sustrans rangers, tackled the problem and cleared brambles, nettles and weeds etc while at the same time installing nest boxes and planting bulbs and seeds.

During the past year we have maintained this piece and have been surprised by the number of walkers, cyclists and bird watchers (who get clear views over Clayhanger nature reserve), who made use of it.

As time went on, a vision appeared of a wonderful cycle/walkway that would connect Walsall with Brownhills and perhaps later Lichfield. Not only would this be a leisure facility, but a safe haven for commuters.

So we set up a meeting with Sustrans in November 2015 and got told in no uncertain terms to forget it. They have no money and they want us to keep off the track. As regards the mess under the Miner island they blame the Brownhills public while WMBC say Sustrans have a duty of care to clean it. Meanwhile nobody does anything and the only wildlife thriving down there have long tails and whiskers.

Mr Cameron, Walsall Council, Sustrans and the Greens all bang on about their commitment to get off the roads and open up these possibilities but talking is easy Don’t tell me there’s no money please, like the rest of you, I’ve seen the waste and the useless projects that they fund when they want something.

Like Richard Worrall writes, he campaigned to keep this section open which cost a tidy penny, and since then millions have been spent on two bridges on the Lichfield end, one over the M6 Toll and one near Waitrose. It could be money well spent with a bit of vision. Rail enthusiasts would have nothing to fear either, as it’s a double line with plenty of room for a dual cycle and railway track. I live in hope, but not much.

Brian Stringer,
Brownhills.

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10 Responses to De-railed

  1. What a fantastic idea. I wish them well and am sorry that I am not in a position to volunteer at the moment. Are Sustrans really interested in local cycle routes? All I ever see is money going into parts of national routes that don’t need it whilst the outer reaches of such routes that are convenient for locals are left to rot. NCR 5 around Pelsall and Brownhills is a prime example of this as but I can name many more 😦

  2. Paul Newby says:

    I often use the section between The Swan and Ryders Mere to walk/run/cycle and have noticed the work that has gone on (I’m sure I spotted a newly planted tree recently!?). I looked at walking further up towards Brownhills and the A5 by the Chase Inn but it is in a right state. Would be great if one day this section was accessible. I would be happy to lend a hand clearing it up.

  3. Neil says:

    Hi bob, it would be great to get this section of old railway sorted out. I used to ride it a lot in the 90’s and it was a lovely traffic free ride between brownhills and Walsall. As a sustrans member for over 20 years I’m annoyed that they focus on projects everywhere but west midland (apart from odd bit of canal tow path). Their attitude stinks and I’ll email them telling them as much and cancel my membership…for the good it does. Fantastic work clearing and trying to bring a disused area back to life. Walsall to lichfield, that would be a great cycleway! If I live to 100 I won’t see it, shame. Keep up good work Bob. Cheers, neil.

  4. Paul H says:

    Happy to help get stuck in to this project with my limited available time and happy to provide financial skills in looking at any bids if looking to pull in funding. Only saw this through this blog as unfortunately we haven’t seen a copy of the Advertiser delivered on the north side of the A5 for some years.

  5. Den says:

    The Sustrans PR mechanism is in self destruct mode with this negative attitude to be involved in this project. Lets hope that the people with the capacity to influence and convince Sustrans from Pelsall and Brownhills look at this proposal and take it forward to give local residents a facility they want and deserve.

  6. Graham Smith says:

    how can I contact Brian Stringer ?

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