The final part of a cycleway on a former railway line in Utrecht was opened this Summer by the alderman for traffic. Together with 30 residents, the executive councillor had cycled the full length of the park first. Then, she literally cut the ribbon to open the missing link which connects the new cycleway with the existing cycle network in the city centre. Residents had come up with the plan to convert the railway. The full conversion took 5 years from the purchase of the land from the railways to completion.
Alderman Lot van Hooijdonk had festively opened Park Oosterspoorbaan (Park Eastern Railway Line) once before, in January 2017. So why did she do it again on 15 July 2020? That has to do with the fact that the park was built in stages. In January 2017 the cycleway was finished for the most part. It wasn’t very green at first, but that changed quickly. Right away, many foreign groups were taken to the disused railway to proudly show them what you can do with such a nice linear space. In 2018 most of the planting was done and started to grow. The rest of the park was finalised with information panels and the playgrounds in 2019. That the cycle way could not be finished at that time had some reasons.
First of all the railway was not completely closed in 2012. The railway had been opened in 1874 and was a passenger line from the east of Utrecht north to Hilversum. The railway cut through the area where Utrecht had grown its vegetables for centuries. The fields with fresh produce, close to the city centre are all gone now, but you can still see them. There is a very nice mural on one of the buildings next to the former railway. This mural, based on a picture from 1938, was opened in 2017. In 1939 the line was closed to passenger trains, after Utrecht Central Station (West of the centre) became the main railway hub. Until 2012 the line was used for goods. At the beginning of the 21st century there had been plans for the future of the Utrecht railways that saw potential to re-open the line for passengers and thus create a full railway loop in and around Utrecht. For some reason the plans were abandoned and in 2012 the line was partly closed. The former railway station on this line was the Utrecht Maliebaan station. The building, opened with the railway in 1874, is now a national monument and houses the national railway museum since 1954. To transport future exhibition trains and for the museum train service it is essential that the building can be reached by rail, also in the future. That is why some of the line had to remain in use. However, a strip of land, 900 metres long and in total 22,000 square metres, became ready to be repurposed. After a few years some residents joined forces and asked the city to turn the disused railway into a linear park with a cycle route. This idea was taken up by the city and the plans for Park Oosterspoorbaan were drawn up the same year the city bought the land, from the railways in 2015.
The small part of railway line that was still in use made it a bit harder to connect the new cycleway to the existing cycling network at the north-end. There was a small footpath between some buildings and the railway that could be converted. But houses were planned to be built there too. That meant the builders needed an access road to the building site for their tools and the building materials. The strip of land where the cycleway was planned was exactly where the builder’s road would be best located as well. That meant the city gave permission to build the nine houses first. Once they were finally finished the temporary road could be converted into a cycleway. Quite a few possible connections were explored, but in January 2020 the construction of solution “Model E” started. There would be a new cycleway with a wider new bridge, next to the existing foot path that would remain where it had always been. The old pedestrian bridge was repurposed in another park in Utrecht.
This delay also had an advantage. When the ribbon was finally cut for the missing link, most of the park had been developing for over three years. This means the plants have grown and the young trees no longer look like twigs. Park Oosterspoorbaan lives up to its name. It is a beautiful linear park right in the city centre that includes a useful link for cycling to the south-east of the city from the city centre and vice versa. When I filmed for this post. last July. the route was very well used in the evening rush hour. An almost surprising number of people found the new route quickly. The rides show a much quieter situation. They were filmed at a dreary rainy day outside rush hour. Both videos make clear, however, that Utrecht has gained yet another beautiful space with this park.
Video about the park
Video with a ride on the 900 metre long cycleway in the park