Can grass tracks transform Britain’s train and tram routes?

Source: RTM June/July

Chris Haworth, partner and infrastructure lead at multidisciplinary property and construction consultancy Ridge and Partners LLP (Ridge), explains why the UK has been slow on the uptake of grass tracks and what benefits they could bring.

Grass tracks are used extensively on the continent, providing greener and aesthetically pleasing transport corridors from France all the way to Japan, but in the UK examples are limited.

Aside from a small section of the West Midlands Metro and the Manchester Metro Link at Salford Quays, the UK is slow on the uptake, facilitated in part due to a more stringent approach to risk.

With the government’s increased focus on improving the sustainability of transport in our cities, grass tracks could offer a multitude of benefits to support these aims.

Not only are grass tracks aesthetically pleasing, they also go some way to supporting town landscapes that lack green space. This can have significant benefits for health and well-being, making cities more attractive.

Grass tracks can provide support for additional urban habitat for wildlife and with dwindling numbers of insects, providing a home for wildlife in cityscapes is vital to ensure they don’t disappear altogether.

Grass tracks support cities in managing rainwater issues, sound contamination and urban heat build-up. Green spaces in cities provide a relief for town planners in their ability to reduce rainwater run-off, easing flooding and reducing the quantity of water going back into the surface water drainage system.

Furthermore, embedding rails in grass acts as a better absorber of sound and vibration than traditional light rail embedment materials such as concrete and other hard surfaces.


A final consideration when deciding whether a grass track is a suitable option is how to manage potential vehicle incursions. As with many light rail services, tracks are often embedded and level with the ground, making it easy for lost or illegally driven vehicles to make their way onto the tramway.

For grass tracks, this can lead to churning up of the surface and unsightly vehicle tracks that need to be fixed alongside the safety issues and the obstruction caused by a trespassing vehicle.

Tramway owners must consider the location specific risk of trespassing vehicles, particularly in open public realm environments and put in place methods for prevention.

Grass tracks offer a multitude of benefits, but for them to be seriously considered by tramway owners and operators, robust risk strategies and maintenance programmes must be developed.

Whilst it isn’t green lights ahead for the wider use of grass tracks in the UK, it’s safe to say we’re on the way to amber.



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