Serving communities neighbouring the Historical Railway Estate

In our role as custodian, we explore ways that former railway structures can provide community amenities

Our responsibilities extend beyond the roads we manage.

Take the Historical Railway Estate for example. By this, we mean the 3,100 former railway structures across Great Britain that we're responsible for maintaining.

But our job isn't just to make sure that these structures aren't a danger to people. Where we can, we seek opportunities to:

  • create new amenities to benefit neighbouring communities
  • maintain or create access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders

Here are two examples:

Castlefield viaduct - Manchester's garden in the sky

Inspired by New York’s High Line, Castlefield Viaduct is the result of a unique partnership with the National Trust, alongside lead community partner Castlefield forum and other local groups.

Built in 1892 by Heenan & Froude, the firm behind the iconic Blackpool Tower, the disused structure had been closed to the public since 1969.

Then, in February 2022, work started to transform the 130-year-old viaduct into a floating urban park. Green space is important for wellbeing, especially in an area where 52,000 residents don't have access to private gardens.

National Trust's vision was to create an walkway for people to explore, surrounded by plants and flowers. It would give visitors a space to connect with nature and learn about history. It's part of the trust's ‘For everyone, for ever’ strategy to provide people with permanent access to nature.

It's our responsibility to maintain the structure on behalf of its owner Department for Transport. We worked very closely with National Trust and the project team, making sure the public could use the viaduct safely.

The project has been open to the public as a pilot since 2022. So far, nearly 50,000 people have visited the viaduct. Feedback is positive, with 98% of visitors wanting to have permanent access to the site. Permission to operate has been extended for another two years.

Serving communities neighbouring the Historical Railway Estate
Castlefield viaduct before work started. Images ©National Trust Images James Dobson
Open to the public
Open to the public. Image ©National Trust Images Paul Harris

Tidenham Tunnel and the Wye Valley Greenway

Tidenham Tunnel connects Chepstow and Tintern as part of the Wye Valley Greenway on the border between Wales and England. The tunnel is 1km long and runs 100m below the surface at its deepest point.

In 2019, after decades of disuse, Sustrans made a proposal to integrate the tunnel with nearby popular Wye Valley cycling and walking routes. We agreed that the Sustrans plan would be a great way to bring the tunnel back into public use.

The Department for Transport granted permission for us to lease the structures long-term to Sustrans and partners Greenways and Cycleroutes who undertook project delivery and future maintenance.

Local volunteers carried out a lot of the preliminary site work and main contractors completed construction in April 2021. Friends of Wye Valley Greenway helps to maintain the route. We continue to maintain the tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport.

The tunnel also hosts a colony of bats, which are legally protected. Special low-level downlighting minimises disturbance to the bats. The tunnel is closed for part of the year while bats are roosting.

The entrance to Tidenham Tunnel
The entrance to Tidenham Tunnel
Inside the tunnel - illuminated with bat friendly downlighting
Inside the tunnel - illuminated with bat friendly downlighting

Find out more about the Historical Railway Estate.