ONE OF the legacies of the Beeching closures in the 1960s has been a wonderful inheritance of old railway bridges, tunnels and trackbeds which have melded into the landscape and are often used by cyclists, walkers and other rural explorers. I referred to these romantic landscape features in my book ‘The Trains Now Departed’ in which I write: “Sometimes you come across a lofty railway viaduct marooned in the middle of a remote country landscape. Or a crumbling platform of some once-bustling junction buried beneath the buddleia. If you are lucky you might be able to follow some rusting tracks to explore an old tunnel leading to,,,well, who knows where?”
Well, where indeed? Now Highways England, the government-owned company charged with the maintenance of disused bridges, viaducts and tunnels, is set to destroy 134 structures across the country, arguing that they are old, unsafe and costly to repair. They argue that the bridges must be fit for 44-tonne lorries (hardly common on country roads) and that tunnels pose a danger. What they mean is they want to save money, minimise liability for these elegant Victorian structures and avoid the responsibilitie allocated to them by the Department for Transport.
Luckily, as ‘The Times’ reports, more and more councils are refusing to allow bridges to be ruined, tunnels filled in and footpaths blocked. Herefordshire council has recently refused permission for two bridges on a disused line between Hereford and Wye to be blocked. Other councils, where footpaths and cycleways are valued, are opposing plans to vandalise their valuable railway heritage. It is ironic that when the goverment is officially encouraging the idea of Beeching re-openings that the tracks of future railway routes are to be destroyed for ever. It is up to us – who value transforming old railways for modern uses or simply retaining them as an asset to the landscape – to make our voices heard.