Posted 15th April 2021 | 7 Comments

MPs intervene in disused railway structures debate

HIGHWAYS ENGLAND has come under more pressure over its proposals to demolish or infill more than around 130 old railway bridges and cuttings to reduce maintenance costs.

HE is responsible for the Historical Railways Estate (previously dubbed the ‘Burdensome Estate’) in England, Wales and Scotland, which it inherited when the British Railways Board was finally abolished in September 2013.

Highways England had already sparked a debate when it revealed its plans to trim the size of the estate.of almost 4,000 structures. Transport and environmental campaigners protested that some are important as parts of heritage trails and cycleways, and pointed out that future railway reopening plans may also depend on some of those which are at risk.

Now the House of Commons Transport Committee has added its voice to the protests, and is urging Highways England to rethink its plans.

Committee chair Huw Merriman has written to Highways England acting chief executive Nick Harris and transport minister Baroness Charlotte Vere, saying that the Committee is ‘concerned’.

He continues: ‘We urge Highways England and the Department for Transport not to view the estate primarily as a risk to be minimised, but rather as assets to be preserved and enjoyed.

‘Many of these historic structures already have an identified use and many more have clear potential to be used in future.

‘We understand the average cost of infilling is around £145,000 per bridge, whereas the costs of strengthening to increase the capacity of historic bridges can be much lower, at £20,000 to £40,000 per bridge.

‘We would like to know why it is better use of public money to infill, rather than strengthen, the bridges affected by the programme.’

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Hugh Mason, Swindon

    Why are these structures in the care of Highways England, and not Network Rail??
    [Network Rail and its predecessor Railtrack never had responsibility for 'non-operational' railway land and structures, which remained with the British Railways Board until it was wound up in 2013 (as 'BRB (Residuary) Limited'). At that point Highways England took over.--Ed.]

  • John B, London

    These structures should be given over to Sustrans/local authorities. Those which have little or no potential for reuse should be infilled or demolished.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    I wonder whether it could be useful to investigate the setup in Sweden, where all surface infrastructure, road, rail and water ,is administerd by "Trafikverket".
    This is , it sems, an example of "horizontal integration".

    "Vertical integration" appears to not be feasible in GB, as the second Beeching Report effectively did away with duplicatory / competing lines between given centres.

  • Andrew, Ely

    This is so reminiscent of the battle to save the Settle & Carlisle line - also in opposition to the argument "we've neglected it so much, we need to destroy it"!

    Thank goodness the S & C battle was won, good luck to all those fighting to save rail lines and heritage, even better to bring them back into use.

  • Melvyn, Canvey Island , Essex

    Pity Highways England can’t spend the money on repairing Chelsea Bridge !

  • strawbrick, Watford

    It would seem that a number of bridges are considered "unsafe" because they cannot bear the weight of the heaviest HGVs. It seems the fact that the roads to and from the bridge are either too narrow or too bendy for such vehicles to reach the bridge is irrelevant!

  • Greg T, London

    Oh good!
    There's a fearful local "stink" over the proposals to close/fill-in the Queensbury Tunnels - which are "Dangerous because of flooding"
    And are flooded because Highways England were too mean to pay the small annual charge to pay for the water pumping.
    ( "We've broken it, so now we are going to smash it completely" seems to be the message )