The Historical Railways Estate (HRE) is a collection of more than 3,100 disused bridges, viaducts and tunnels, owned by the Department for Transport (DfT) and managed on its behalf by Highways England (HE). This includes around 600 structures in Scotland and a further 350 in Wales, despite responsibility for transport matters generally resting with the devolved administrations.
In January 2021, several general media outlets and specialist railway/engineering publications reported that Highways England was intending to infill 116 disused structures and demolish up to 18 others as part of an asset management programme lasting five years. These numbers were based on a spreadsheet issued by HE in response to a Freedom of Information request.
The HRE Group evaluated these bridges and tunnels and found that around one-third were already proposed for reuse as part of new active travel routes, railway reopenings and heritage line extensions - or had the potential to play such roles in the future - and infilling could not therefore be regarded as the “most appropriate option” - as asserted by Highways England - due to its wider negative impacts.
In May 2021, HE told The Telegraph that only 69 structures were proposed for infilling, although the company subsequently refused requests to provide a list of them for verification purposes. This disenfranchises stakeholders who might want to make representations about a particular bridge or tunnel.
In response, The HRE Group questioned how the condition of 47 structures that Highways England had previously claimed were “unsafe” could have improved without any intervention. The company claimed that they were being “reassessed for maintenance”, prompting the question as to why this work hadn’t been carried out before the decision was taken to infill them.
The HRE Group is an alliance of walking, cycling and heritage campaigners, engineers and greenway developers who regard the Historical Railways Estate’s structures to be strategically valuable in the context of building a better future.
Last updated 19 October 2023
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