How Would Boris' Railway Cycle Paths Work?

Andy Thornley
By Andy Thornley Last edited 71 months ago
How Would Boris' Railway Cycle Paths Work?

a cyclist in traffic

With the zip-wire season seemingly now over, our Mayor, Boris Johnson, has been back at the day job – coming up with ideas on how to improve the city. His latest brain-child, as told to the Times newspaper in an interview, is “to hook up mainline stations in London along the side of the raised railway tracks, with a new cycle path”.

Admittedly, this is still “back of the envelope stuff” but it is worth scrutinising further to gauge if there is any merit in the concept.

On the face of it, it sounds like a brilliant idea. It’s a scheme that could take cyclists – who are some of London’s most vulnerable road users – and allow them free-reign on dedicated thoroughfares. No more dodging deathly HGVs, no red lights to run through, and it enables the capital’s traffic flow to proceed that little bit quicker – a notion that seems currently incompatible with the design of safe roads.

Certainly, running a cycle path along the C2C route between Barking and the City would mean that cyclists could avoid deadly sections of road such as the Bow Road flyover where two people lost their lives last year. Other suggested routes could be the line running from Hackney into Liverpool Street and Finsbury Park into central London.

Because of the sheer density of the sprawl in this great city, however, many of the final approaches to mainline stations are through tunnels, which limits the number of lines that can be converted.

One of the routes Boris suggested was from Clapham Junction to Waterloo. It’s a route that we cycle daily and one that we’d potentially use, should this plan come to fruition. We recently took the train between these two stations to observe the track and imagined how it would look. Unfortunately, it seemed that almost all of the space, specifically at the tight bridge sections around Vauxhall, was being used by tracks – after all, Clapham Junction is Europe’s busiest railway station. To include a cycle path would require either losing a line (something Network Rail would not be so keen on surrendering), or by reconfiguring the lines to free up enough space – again, not a realistic or practical solution.

So, as ‘Yazz’ once said... the only way is up – and building elevated sections above the railway could be the solution. This is likely to prove costly however and in these austere times we currently find ourselves in, can we actually see that happening? Probably not. Most cyclists, if there was any sort of meaningful engagement, would perhaps ask for the money to be spent making current routes safer rather than an eye-catching vanity project like this. One thing is for sure, splashing some blue paint on to the road and hoping for the best is not an approach that has worked terribly well so far.

In the media, this time of year is known as silly season – when Parliament are off on their jollies and editors are desperate to fill their vacant column inches and almost any story can make it in to print. Until there are more concrete details of how Boris will achieve his plans, many people will treat this story as such.

What routes do you think would, or wouldn't, be suitable? Add your comments below.

Image by Capo from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 21 August 2012


Would be fairly cheap and easy to hang a cycleway off the side of the railway
arches. All you need is a lightweight frame clamped to the wall.

ASLEF shrugged

I laughed until I stopped.


Most of my routes are served by the tube. Don't fancy a subterranean cycleway much. That said, if it gets the debate started, great. "If we can't build next to the railway, where shall we build?" So long as they do build.


Instead of trying to build some expensive raised monstrosity, I'm sure there are tons of disused tracks that could just be tarmaced for half the price?


It would be pretty easy to make space at Waterloo - there are four unused platforms after all ;)

As an idea I support this, but it would have to be a dedicated cycleway rather than for pedestrians too as otherwise all cyclist go back on the road for a faster ride.

Oh and Boris if you just want to spend a few £'s on cycling you could do a lot worse that resurfacing roads in West London and ensuring continuity of cycle lanes rather than those piss poor, full of parked cars, on and off pavement jobs that we have now.


What a crazy idea. Even if they were somehow able to attach cycle lanes to the side of the railway lines it's only going to get you to the edges of the city. Great if you work next to Liverpool St station, not so great if you need to get to Mayfair.

I commute into Waterloo and there are a number of issues on the route from Clapham Junction where there just isn't any space available for cycle lanes - such as the Eurostar flyover or the lines around Vauxhall Station. Plus all along the route there are buildings right next to the railway and I don't see how they could get around them. And don't forget the engineering works required to build over/alongside railway tracks.

IMO a better use of the time, money and effort allocated to this project would be to develop a joined-up network of segregated cycle paths through zone 1.


This sounds a bit mad at first read, but I think it has merit as a way to link up a wider network. Side slung routes in the manner of the pedestrian routes at Hungerford Bridge would appear to be a useful example of creative use of space in a similar manner?

Roger Manser

What about dedicated railway carriages every 5 minutes for transporting bicycles from inner suburb stations such as Clapham Junction, Willsden, Dalston into the main termini - free of course. With parking at these inner suburb stations for those cyclists who don't need their bikes in the centre of the city.
And whilst we are on about cycle routes - how about a cycle bridge down stream of the City - if those around Vauxhall don't want a cycle bridge (where there are already loads of bridges), how about something from Greenland Dock to the Isle of Dogs... It would cost money of course, but probably less than we spent on the Olympics.
And a safer cycle system through the Rotherhithe Tunnel (eg a 5 minute shuttle service run by a London Transport bus that could also carry cycles) - the Overground access for bicycles is crap at both ends (Rotherhithe/Canada Water and Wapping/Shadwell).


There is probably scope to run cycle paths along chunks of railway line that would have to then hook back in to the regular road network in places. A dedicated path all the way along the side of the track looks unrealistic but there is definitely scope for a compromised solution

Svavar Svavarsson

There is an existing rail bridge, used by the Overground from Imperial Warf to Clapham Junction, that would benefit from a Hungerford Bridge style pedestrian/cycle path. You can see it on Google Maps here: