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After the Last Train has Gone
by Mr G Beecroft, Rail Property Ltd
16th March 1998

Greg Beecroft of the BR Property Board gave a fully illustrated talk on the structures left after the railway has been closed. Many railway Acts include provisions which state that the bridges and structures have to be maintained for ever. Of course, it is possible to sell them, and then the liability for maintenance passes to the new owner. If structures are sold to individuals there is the problem of what happens if the owner dies and it seems that legally the liability can come back to the Board. A sale to local councils or other railway companies is a better option as the new owners have their own legal provisions which place similar responsibilities on them for continued maintenance. Preservation companies were welcomed in this context by BR because they take on the liability.

Brick and masonry buildings are generally well made, the ones which were jerry-built have all fallen down long ago. The problems come with iron or steel-work. Maintaining the load-bearing structure to accomodate modern heavy traffic is a big headache. The design of bridges in a scientific manner only dates back to 1943 when the army was checking load bearing for tanks. These algorithms are still used, albeit computerised. They are now being used to test for lorry loading to 44 tons on bridges which were built mainly to accomodate horse-drawn vehicles.

When bridges are deteriorating, especially if small, they are in-filled. The best way is to use high pressure grouting to make sure that it is fully in-filled because if there are voids remaining, they are bound to cause problems sooner or later. The viaduct at Kirkby Stephen, which is a listed building, was in-filled in this way. English Heritage is satisfied because, theoretically, it could be recovered by excavating it. Trestles can also be used as a temporary measure to reinforce bridges. Once a bridge is up to current standard, the local council is responsible for upgrades to take the new 44 ton loads.

Any transport company planning a special movement which has axle loads over current limits can ring the property board to check on bridge loading; this service is free of charge and is considered worthwhile because if it was charged for there could be a lot more damage caused by illegal activity. All bridges are inspected annually. If a bridge is in poor condition it will be inspected more frequently. Bridge bashing is still a problem - but curiously they would prefer it to be hit very hard - the vehicle's insurance company then has to pay for the demolition. Even when bridges have been demolished the job isn't finished, they still have to service the abutment. Bridges over water have there own special problems. Often the deck is removed to cut down on maintenance and vandalism, but they still need servicing for example to replace batteries in navigation lights.

Tunnels are another problem. At two and a half miles long, the Catesby Tunnel on the old GCR is arguable the longest railway still owned by BR. Woodhead tunnel is used by the electricity company to take part of the national grid; Railtrack has, however, recently expressed interested in investigating the running trains through it.

There are some unusual demands placed on the Board because of the historic Parliamentary Acts. The Lincoln to Boston railway (GNR) Act of 1846 requires the company to maintain 17 miles of river-bank on the river Witham, despite the fact that the trains finished long ago. The River Authority are, of course, quite happy with this and have congratulated the Board on the standard of its work. The MSLR Act of 1883 has a clause to protect the property of Richard Attenborough (not that one!) of Catesby House. This includes a requirement to protect the water supply to his estate. This was serviced by the compay delivering water to its stations and, by the same system, to the houses on the estate. When the railway closed, they had to make alternative arrangements for the residents and the Anglian water board now sends the bill for the water supply for these people to the BR Board.

Many of the structures are of architectural interest. One at York needs no introduction - the arch through the town walls built to take the original railway into the old station; one wonders what the town planners would say if you wanted to do that now! Viaducts are the main structures which inspire interest from the public. Of 5000 bridges etc, 50 are listed, as worthy of preservation, and Greg gave us a slide tour of the most of these, giving some interesting snippets of information on each one.

The highest point on GNR on the Bradford to Keighley railway is the viaduct at Hewenden (near Cullingworth). The oldest surviving box girder bridge is the MSLR over the River Trent which, whist not very pleasing to the eye, is still a technical monument. There are now plan to put a footpath over it. Millers Dale viaduct is owned by the Peak Distract National Park but one of the two parallel viaducts is due to be transferred to a preservation society. In Limehouse, the GER viaduct is being re-painted by the Docklands Development Corporation. Newest addition the the listing is Vauxhall Bridge at Yarmouth. This is a swing bridge over the river Bure. It suffers from an unusual form of "bridge bashing" from boats because of a number of protruding bolts in the centre. Bath Road viaduct at Shepton Mallet is listed. It was originally built as a stone single track bridge, then widened in brick, and finally strengthened in WWII in concrete. A single span brick bridge on the branch to Tiverton is listed but no-one knows why since, although it is of Brunel design, it is no different than others in the areas and is not even in a prominent place, being hidden down a valley.

Some of the bridges which are not listed are still very impressive; equally, some which are listed have questionable credentials for the title. Historic Scotland have just completed a whole exercise of re-evaluation of their listed structures. As a result some have been de-listed.

Leaderfoot viaduct , also known as Dry Grange viaduct is listed. It was suffering and only avoided demolition because of the financial support given by Historic Scotland and other preservation charities. The restoration of Smardale Gill viaduct on the Tebay to Kirby Stephen line of the NE was supported by the Victorian Society. Some of the viaducts and buildings have been transferred to charity trusts, for example the Northern Viaducts Trust. Viaducts are also transferred to preservation society. Largo viaduct in Fife was preserved by the local council with a donation of £70k from the board to help with support. Monsal dale viaduct was transferred to the Peak District Park. These days people are very keen to seek viaducts preserved, but originally they were protests when they were built and the protests over Monsal Dale were particularly vehement.

The big scheme for 1998 is Bilston Glen Viaduct on the old railway south of Edinburg which used to lead to some coal mines. It could be the biggest truss viaduct in the country. It will be renovated and the transferred to the Edinburgh Trust. Outwood viaduct at river Irwell near Bury has just been sold to Bury Council for the princely sum of £1 but will be responsible for renovated and intends to put it to use as a footpath. It was the first scheme to have money from the Lottery, supplemented by the European Regional Development Fund. North Water Viaduct is supported by Historic Scotland and the two district councils whose banks it joins.

Meldon viaduct near Okehampton was restored last year. It comprises two structures, not quite to the same design and you can have an interesting time spotting the diffirence. We saw a step by step guide by photographs as the work progressed. It was a tough job as the work is 900ft up Dartmoor, the paint had a high lead content and the Environment Agency would not allow any pollution to enter the river below. To avoid this a tent was installed while the paint was stripped but high winds could easily blow it away. Now complete, the whole thing now looks like a seaside pier stranded half way up a hillside. It is owned by Devon County Council and will be open to the public this summer.

Chelfham viaduct near Barnstaple was closed in 1935 and will shortly celebrate the fact that it has been standing longer in a disused state than when it was used by trains. It is on the Lynton & Barnstaple line, so the Board is very supportive of the plans for reopening. The viaduct is filled with concrete made from seaside sand. There is no weather proofing so the salts work through and gradually come out producing a strange mottled effect. This is thought to provide protection from frost damage and explains why the structure is so well preserved. This shows that it is worth researching the background before taking restoration steps which may be counter productive. The Board aims to renovate to full railway standards.

Hengoed Viaduct is a massive structure on the ex-Rhymney Valley line and is one of the two listed viaducts in Wales. It is planned to be part of the London to Fishguard cycle way. The second Welsh listed viaduct is at Tredegar, the so-called Nine-Arch Viaduct. It is also possible that Kendrum Viaduct in Scotland will become part of a cycleway, but a central span is needed. Discussions are taking place with Historic Scotland as to the design.

Riddings viaduct on the Langholm branch spans England and Scotland. It is therefore listed twice, to two different grades with Scotland listing it to a higher classification. At Haltwhistle the viaduct over the South Tyne River has arches with a design feature to allow a pedestrian footbridge but this was never built. Some of the property even has literary connections; the viaduct on the Scarborough line at Whitby, for example, is mentioned in Dracula. It, too, may become a cycleway.

There are some strange structures as well. Pensford on the GWR Bristol to Radstock is curious because the piers and arches are of different sizes. Cannington is an early concrete structure on the Lyme Regis branch. Unfortunately they didn't get the foundations right, so a reinforcing brick infill was needed for one arch. It has recently proposed for use as a bungy jumping site.

With so many buildings to look after, all to be covered, as the Acts say, in perpetuity , there will continue to be a need to service for a while!