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High Line railway park_©

With the widespread high-speed rail transportation system that has been an incentive towards urban growth in the twenty-first century, the train systems of normal speed have gradually been replaced, either being reused as aerial parks and catalysts of urban regeneration or completely get abandoned if they did not fit into the urban structure of the city. The adaptive reuse of these abandoned railway lines is beneficial for urban space regeneration by increasing leisure functions, supporting sustainable local development, and promoting urban public space.

Reasons for Abandonment 

The old railway lines are abandoned due to historic and economic factors, that is a less new development in corresponding areas, lower property values, diversion or replacement of a line, decreasing in demand railway transport with the increasing popularity of cars, and bringing about a change in the urban structure of the city. Railway lines built especially for mines or logistic sites are abandoned mostly because either mine is exhausted or the company has gone bankrupt. These abandoned old railway lines impact land development, traffic flow, and the urban environment. 

Many former railway lines, railway stations, or railway carriages are being reused with new functions, breathing a new life into these old structures and promoting urban quality life for people.

 An example of reinvented abandoned wagon is the Seabank situated at the beach of Seasley where two old railway carriages have retired and converted into the beautiful beachfront villa, offering panoramic sea views to its visitors. Several railway structures were converted into museums, focused on showcasing railway transport, its interesting history, the symbolic and cultural role of rail transport in the past.

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Museum of transport in Rajecke Teplice, Slovokia_©
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Seabank- Accommodation facility for tourists, Seasley_©

Reuse of Old railway lines as Urban Public Space

In recent times the idea of Rails to Trails is growing especially in the United States and other European Countries, where these abandoned old railway lines are transformed into multipurpose trails for walking, cycling, horse riding, ice skating, etc. The greatest example of this is Highland Park in New York, in which old elevated freight railways that transported food along the West side of the city have been transformed into a beautiful park. Other countries like Australia, Germany, China, United Kingdom are following the footsteps of the United States, where these abandoned rails have been repurposed into living rails. 

Let’s look at the three unique examples that justify the adaptive reuse of the abandoned railway lines.

1. Rosheim- St Narbor Railway in Alsace

Project Name- Rosheim-St Nabor Railway In Alsace
Location- France
Purpose- Art Cycle and Walking Track.

This adaptive reuse project was collaborated by Oslo-based Reiulf Ramstad Architects with Parenthèse Paysage, to repurpose the old site of the Rosheim-St Nabor railway and breathes a new life. Once used for transporting both goods and passengers have been rediscovered in a new refreshing way, inviting hikers, and cyclists to explore the meandering landscapes of Alsace. 

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Chemin-des-Carrières-Rosheim-France_©Florent Michel

The route measures a distance of 11 km, in which various train stations have been renovated. Along the path goes a story that splits into five chapters of different sequences of  landscapes that aim at arousing visitor’s senses in order to relax or enjoy their leisure time. Rosheim tells the history of travel, with the old train tracks being conserved, benches  are built, maze-like pavilion and opening are created that allows the visitors to enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

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Chemin-des-Carrières-Rosheim-France_©Florent Michel
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Chemin-des-Carrières-Rosheim-France_©Florent Michel

2. The Goods Line, Sydney, Australia

Project Name- The Good Line.
Location- Sydney, Australia.
Purpose- Elevated city Park

Goods line is a welcome green addition to the beautiful city of Sydney. This unique elevated park provides a throughout fare for pedestrians and cyclists from railway Square to Darling Harbour, repurposed and energized as a vibrant Urban Hub in the heart of Sydney’s most densely populated area. Goods Line was once a part of the cargo rail system that runs along from Dulwich Hill to Sydney Central via Darling Harbour and used to transport wool, meat, and wheat into the area.

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the goods line_©

The linear park includes commercial outlets, amphitheaters, ping-pong tables, study pods with bespoke seating, and  furniture designed intimately offering working and social spaces for students, workers, and visitors. Also, this 500m pedestrian path connects some of Sydney’s best-known art and educational institutions along with Syndey’s Cultural Ribbon. Good lie sets an example for other abandoned railway structures to transform into creative and connective public destinations enhancing the public life of the city. 

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yellow table tennis and communal tables_©
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Parts of the old train track still visible_©

3. High Line, New York City

Project Name- High Line
Location- New York
Purpose- Public Park

Owned by the city of New York, running under the non-profit organization Friends of Line, the route of High Line is 1.45 mile long, elevated freight railroad on New York’s Westside that has been repurposed as Pedestrians Greenways on stilts. The last train left on the New York High Line on Manhattan was in 1980, after that it was demolished. In 2003 an open design competition was launched for High Line’s preservation and reuse as a public park. The team selected was James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, as well as noted horticultural designer, Piet Oudolf. 

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the goods line_©

The High Line planning design was inspired by the wild seeded landscape after the old train tracks had been abandoned while creating a paving system that promotes natural growth. The park features sundecks, landscaping, water features, ambient lighting that attracts visitors to enjoy the space. The High Line Park is a perfect expression of the beauty that emerges from blending old and new through adaptive reuse.

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the goods line_©
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the goods line_© 

The abandoned Railway Structures create a negative impact on the city and its surrounding areas. In these cases where old railway lines lose their function, the adaptive reuse of the abandoned structures can regain the charm, breathe new life,  and revitalize the urban space. Furthermore, these sorts of reuse projects adopted with different strategies have positive impacts on urban space, including sustainable environment, improvement of traffic conditions, and growth of tourism by reusing the materials and avoiding demolition. With an ultimate goal to build creative spaces where people can thrive, have fun, feel empowered, and get inspired. 

 Reference list

BigRentz, January 13, 2021,  Adaptive Reuse Explained With 3 Imaginative Examples.

Five Highline parks created from abandoned transport routes

Chun Zhang, Shujian Dai & Haishan Xia, 09 March 2020, Reuse of Abandoned Railways Leads to Urban Regeneration: A Tale from a Rust Track to a Green Corridor in Zhangjiakou

Marian Gogola, Dana Sitanyiova, UNIZA Version 3, June 2020, GOOD PRACTICE /

Damian Holmes, December 17, 2019, Chemin des Carrières | Rosheim, France | Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter

August 14, Top Five Abandoned Railway Lines Turned Urban Public Spaces

The Goods Line,

The New York High Line officially opens

Transforming Cities with Rails-to-Trails Projects


How to support the design and evaluation of redevelopment projects for disused railways? A methodological proposal and key lessons learned Volume 52, Part A, May 2017


Jahanavi Arora is an Architect by profession with a passion for writing, design & decor. She believes that writing and architecture are quite similar as they both are forms of art and beyond every building, there is a story to tell which she loves to explore. In her spare time, she would be found in the corner of her room reading, playing around with her 3-year-old boy, or grooving on her favorite music.