MPs intervene in disused railway structures debate

HIGHWAYS ENGLAND has come under more pressure over its proposals to demolish or infill more 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.’