10 years of caring for the Historical Railways Estate
This autumn marks a decade since we took over management of the Estate, which is owned by the Department for Transport (DfT).
It consists of over 3,000 former railway structures, including tunnels, viaducts, abutments and bridges, and is a reminder of the UK’s industrial past. Many structures date back to the 19th century.
Join us as we look back at some of our most memorable moments over the last decade.
1. Repairs to Lowgill Viaduct
In 2014 we invested £250,000 waterproofing and repairing Lowgill Viaduct in Beck Foot. Built in 1859 for the Ingleton Branch Line of the London and North Western Railway, it closed in 1954 and is closed to the public for safety.
The grade II listed structure remains a prominent reminder of its connection to the railways – enjoyed from the ground. In fact, it’s so big, it can be seen from the M6.
2. Transfer of Burnden and Darcy Lever Viaducts and Tidenham Tunnel
Historically we’ve worked with a range of partners to find new uses for our former railway structures, bringing them back into public use for walkers and cyclists alike.
Burnden and Darcy Lever Viaducts continue to help people escape the town thanks to Sustrans, who leased the structures from us and reopened the route in 2015.
3. Refurbishment of Westfield Viaduct
One of our standout moments came in 2022 when work finally completed on Westfield Viaduct. The substantial programme of repair work began in 2021, delays due to the Covid pandemic resulted in us taking the opportunity to carry out more extensive repairs.
Our investment of £2 million has secured its future in the landscape, enjoyed from ground level as part of walks.
4. Pensford’s future secured for many years in its 150th year
Pensford Viaduct has become a tourist attraction since it grew in popularity after Covid lockdown. People enjoy walks beneath its publicly accessible arches.
This year it celebrates 150 years of standing and we’re proud to have delivered much-needed repairs to prevent water getting in and causing further damage. Our contractors worked safely from a rig some 95ft off the ground, repointing 300m of parapet.
The structure forms a large part of the community and remains an important part of its industrial past.
5. Mosedale Viaduct back in full view
Following the infamous ‘Beeching cuts’ in the 1960s many of the miles of lost railways disappeared into the landscape and nature took hold.
Contractor Bethell completed work to remove tree saplings growing throughout Mosedale Viaduct's 12 spans, working at height using ropes. Without maintenance excessive tree and vegetation growth and root ingress can cause significant damage to our structures.
We’ve spent 1,800 hours removing vegetation from our bridges, tunnels and viaducts so far this year.
6. Taff Vale Railway Viaduct designed by Brunel
Taff Vale Railway Viaduct in Pontypridd was built as an extension of the Taff Vale Railway. The grade II listed structure remains a well-preserved example of a steel girder viaduct, making it extremely rare. The bridge continues to span the river River Taff as a reminder of its engineering greatness, with links to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
This summer contractors worked from ropes clearing excessive vegetation growth to prevent any further damage to the structure – this included the removal of a tree that had invaded the deck. The viaduct is one of 77 grade listed structures we conserve on the estate.
7. Structures form new links on the Strawberry Line and Somerset Circle
We’ve seen increased interest in our country’s heritage with a strong desire to repurpose historic structures for use today. This year we successfully secured a ‘permissive’ agreement with DfT for creation of an active travel route beneath a bridge in Somerset – forming a new section of the popular Strawberry Line.
We've many more plans for repurposing structures in the south west including Woodham Viaduct, Bath Viaduct and Windsor Tunnel – we invested over £300,000 in repairs, which has helped make the repurposing plans of Greenways and Cycleroutes Ltd possible.
We’re also working with the charity to safely open Stump Cross Bridge in Shepton Mallet for the creation of an active travel route passing beneath the bridge.
8. One year on from Teviot’s refurbishment
In 2020 we began extensive renovation work on Teviot Viaduct’s (also known as Roxburgh viaduct) footbridge. Used as part of a popular circular walking route along the Border Abbeys Waye years of floods had caused damage.
Working closely with Scottish Borders Council conservation officers, specialist engineers assessed each piece of the footbridge, refurbishing and reusing as many pieces as possible. Digital scanning helped us develop exact copies where elements were beyond repair. Each of the footbridge’s three spans were then reconstructed using a combination of retained and newly fabricated elements at the Barnsley workshop and painted.
We’re really pleased our work has meant people can continue using the bridge to connect with nature.
9. Learning from Great Musgrave Bridge
We received criticism for safety work delivered at Great Musgrave Bridge in 2021. We paused our major works programme and reviewed our ways of working.
The process has been transformational for us. We’ve listened to feedback and changed how we engage with our stakeholders, which informs our management of the estate.
We work with our Stakeholder Advisory Forum to evaluate future schemes. Members include key heritage, environmental and active travel organisations.
10. Transformation of Castlefield Viaduct
One of our proudest moments was seeing Castlefield Viaduct become a ‘garden in the sky’. The viaduct has links to the same engineers behind the iconic Blackpool Tower, Heenan and Froude and sits in the oldest part of Manchester. It had been derelict since its closure in 1969.
The National Trust approached us with a plan that would see it open, offering visitors a green space to connect with nature. Our role focused on ensuring people could access and use the deck safely. Some 50,000 people have walked the deck since its opening, and we look forward to seeing the project evolve.