Historical Railways Estate
Our job is to keep safe more than 3,200 former railway structures across the length of Great Britain.
From tunnels to bridges and viaducts, these structures date back to the 19th century and we recognise their potential wider social value. That’s why we’re working with local authorities and others to help find ways to re-use them where it’s possible.
What we do
In 2013 we became responsible for the inspection and maintenance of historical railway structures across England, Scotland and Wales. This is called the Historical Railways Estate and we look after it on behalf of the Department for Transport. Many of the structures were built more than a hundred years ago. So, it’s no surprise that they need a lot of attention.
Our team of engineers manage this work, making sure that the structures that need the most urgent attention are prioritised. It can involve repair and strengthening of structures. Very rarely it may include demolition, or partial or full infilling. Infilling is where we put material, such as crushed rock, underneath an old railway bridge to make sure it’s fully supported.
We will only move forward with demolition or infilling work after we’ve first checked with the local authority to see if they’d like to take-on the structure, perhaps for a new walking or cycling route. Where others propose a viable new use, and it is safe to do so, we will delay any work so that they can develop plans to take over responsibility for the structure.
Of the Historical Railway Estate’s more than 3,200 structures, we are working with partners to enable re-use of 22 of them. Just six abutments and nine bridges look set to be removed over the next five years, along with 69 bridges that must be infilled for safety reasons. But infills can be removed again if a future use is identified. These figures may change over time.
Working with partners
To ensure the safety of historical railway structures we work closely with other organisations. For example, we help local authorities to understand where they may need to apply vehicle weight restrictions, to reduce the stress placed on aging bridges.
We also provide technical and practical support to organisations that are interested in taking on ownership of structures. We aren’t funded to make structures part of new cycling or walking routes, but we support others who may want to do this - helping to transfer ownership of the structures over to them.
We’ve already got agreements in place to transfer several structures to local authorities, helping to restore active travel routes. We’re also discussing many other opportunities with possible partners across England, Scotland and Wales.
Where local authorities or other organisations are unable to immediately take-on ownership of structures we may occasionally have to temporarily infill them. This is to make sure we keep the public safe. This infilling can be taken out by other organisations if they decide to use the structure in future.
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