Green Tracks Gliding Beyond Europe

I always lived near railroad tracks until I came to rural New Mexico. I sure miss the rumble of a train that could be heard miles away up the narrow corridor of stripped forest that carried the rails. My house was so close to the tracks in Newmarket, New Hampshire that little glass jars on the dresser in my 3rd floor bedroom would rattle when a train went by.

I’d walk up those tracks for miles with my dog always trying to pace my step with the railroad ties. They were too close together for a normal gait and too far apart to step on every other one. Trying to jump to every third tie landed me on the ties’ gravel bed.

Gravel may become a thing of the past on railroad tracks. To combine attractive landscaping and railroad tracks is a common practice in Europe, but Canada and the US are catching on.

green tramway in Paris

“Green” tramways in Paris (image: Patrick Stahl)

Greening up green transportation

Train travel is one of the most eco-friendly modes of transportation. A train can carry hundreds of people per unit of fuel used, which makes for a very small carbon footprint for each passenger. Now tracks are being planted with grass to cut noise for people and wildlife, making rail travel even more environmentally friendly.

The vegetation acts as a sponge for stormwater, filtering out pollution before flowing on to small streams or the municipal sewer system. Greenery also lowers urban temperatures and reduces the heat island effect. These are all goals of earth-conscious urban planners.

A more life-affirming commute?

Grass planted between the rails and off to the sides of the tracks makes the train appear to glide over a beautiful ribbon of green carpet! Borders of shrubs and trees define the area and create buffers while adding greenery maybe in a previously paved over area.

Who wouldn’t want to start their daily commute with that sort of image? The overall effect feels soft and gentle to me. How can that not improve the well-being of people riding the train or living in those areas? It reminds me of small rural villages, not concrete, bustling cities. Psychologically, I would think it would make people slow down a little bit.

Extra cost

Combing landscaping and railroad tracks costs a bit more than laying gravel. Irrigation and good growing soil must be added to support the grass, and crews must maintain it. Some cities mow the grass, others let it grow wild and let the train’s passage cut it back naturally.

Some cities are experimenting with sedums, which have fewer needs to get established and be maintained.

Either way, I think green tracks are an asset to a city, making it more attractive, giving a mundane and often dreary area like a train station a park-like feel. What a lovely way to come into a city – via a park of grass, shrubs and trees! This is an idea that cities everywhere need to add to their green planning.

Sadly, my game of jumping from tie to tie would end, but that’s a small price to pay for improved well-being and a more environmentally aware city!

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