Stay in the know on the Historical Railways Estate.
Hanging around in the shadowy underbelly of Victorian bridges, swarming through dark, locked up tunnels and diving into the recesses of historic viaducts a secret invasion is under way – and it's good news for the nation’s bat population!
Data released for Halloween by our Historical Railways Estate (HRE) suggest that bats are roosting in 90 percent of our tunnels, 54 percent of viaducts and 35 percent of bridges.
Read the full story: New data shows bat populations thriving on HRE
The finalists for the National Railway Heritage Awards have been announced and include two of our extensive restoration schemes.
Two of our standout restoration schemes have been shortlisted in a national railway heritage competition.
Teviot Viaduct’s footbridge in the Scottish Borders and the 16-arch Westfield Viaduct on the West Lothian and Falkirk border have made it through to the finals of the National Railway Heritage Awards (NRHA) following extensive renovations.
Read the full story: Historical Railways Estate schemes in running for national award
We recently celebrated the work of Greenways and Cycleroutes and Friends of Wye Valley Greenway for the transformation of the former railway tunnel at Tidenham into an active travel route.
Measuring just over 1km, the tunnel links the five-mile route between Sedbury and Tintern, bordering between Wales and England. Running along the former Wye Valley Railway, it offers cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users a chance to connect with nature and learn about local history.
Read the full story: Tidenham Tunnel receives National Railway Heritage Award
Following discussions with Maldon District Council and the parish council representing the local community, we’ve received written consent from the Planning Authority that the works we delivered in 2019 to keep Wellinditch Bridge safe can remain. Please visit our project profile page for further background information.
Hélène Rossiter, National Highways Head of Historical Railways Estate said:
"We are passionate about our role in helping to protect Britain’s railway heritage and we always try to make the best decisions in the public interest.
“Safety is at the heart of everything we do as an organisation and the reason for the works to this bridge. The views of the local community and parish council were an important factor in the works being retained at Wellinditch. We’ll keep listening and responding to local community needs to inform our decisions on our management of the estate.”
We have been asked for retrospective planning consent to retain emergency work we carried out on Congham Road Bridge in 2021.
The bridge was in very poor condition, with signs of serious fractures and movements. Major repairs carried out previously had not been able to stop these from getting worse.
Infilling was the best available option and has enabled St Andrew's Lane, which runs over the top of it, to remain open.
We consulted with the local planning authority and highways department while planning the work and neither raised an objection. We also checked for any listed or conservation status affecting the bridge and there wasn’t any.
We believe that retaining the infill at this location is the best solution given the circumstances.
Please visit our project profile page for further information.
May is Living Streets National Walking Month, a time to celebrate the health and happiness benefits walking can have on your physical and mental health.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to improve our health and stay connected to our community, helping us feel less lonely and isolated.
We’re highlighting some of our most gorgeous viaducts that can be enjoyed this summer, which also happen to be near some wonderful walking routes in England and Wales.
Read the full article: Enjoy some of our beautiful viaducts this summer
Cannards Grave Road bridge in Shepton Mallet is one of over 3,100 structures within the Historical Railways Estate which we maintain on behalf of The Department for Transport (DfT).
Working closely with DfT and Mendip Council, we’ve arranged a ‘permissive agreement’ that has enabled the creation of a new active travel route between Collett Park, the Tadley Acres housing estate and East Shepton residents to the Townsend Retail Park and West Shepton.
On Friday 10 March we joined the community, VIPs and other partners to mark the official opening of the path beneath our bridge with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
National Highways’ Head of the Historical Railways Estate programme Hélène Rossiter said:
“We’re proud to have played a part in the creation of this new active travel route.
"This path offers a safe passage for people crossing the bridge while connecting walkers and cyclists to other active travel routes in Shepton Mallet.
“We care about our structures, the history they represent, and connections people have with them. By preserving and enhancing the unique Cannards Grave Road Bridge, we can maintain it for future generations to enjoy.”
(Newly opened bridge at the Shape Mendip multi-user path - image courtesy of Mendip District Council)
(Shepton Mallet active travel opening ceremony Friday 10 March 2023 - image courtesy of Mendip District Council)
This iconic 16-arch viaduct spans the River Avon on the West Lothian and Falkirk border. It has undergone major renovations funded by our Historical Railways Estate (HRE).
Read the full story about Westfield Viaduct.
Ahead of the removal of the infill at Great Musgrave Bridge, we’re carrying out some exploratory coring of the material at the site. This preparatory work will allow us to prepare a detailed plan to complete the works safely and expeditiously by October this year.
More about Great Musgrave Bridge
Three historical railway bridges in Devon have been given makeovers thanks to a £243,000 investment by the Historical Railways Estate (HRE).
Read the full story: Keeping Devon structures safe
In recent years we've carried out works to the following structures that form part of the Historical Railways Estate:
Some concerns have been raised around the powers we used to carry out the works on these four bridges. We're discussing each of these cases with the relevant Local Planning Authority to ensure the structures – and the public - remain safe.
Cosmic ray technology used to find hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid at Giza is helping us to unlock the secrets of a historic railway tunnel located deep under the streets of Glasgow.
Balgray Tunnel, constructed in 1896, curves for 640 metres under the busy Kelvinside area of Glasgow and although it has been closed since 1964 it still needs regular inspections to ensure it remains safe and in good order.
Until now techniques such as ground penetrating radar, drilling and visual inspections have been used to check for hidden shafts and highlight potential issues.
Now a novel process called muon imaging, which harnesses cosmic rays from space to create powerful x-ray like images, is being used to search for potential defects and voids without having to be in physical contact with the tunnel walls and ceiling - so avoiding the need for access at height.
We're working with Hampshire-based tech company Geoptic for the trial at Balgray Tunnel, one of more than 3,000 former railway structures maintained by our Historical Railways Estate (HRE) on behalf of owners, the Department for Transport.
Geoptic has adapted the muon process for use in railway tunnels and the Balgray survey is the first time the technology has been used on an HRE tunnel.
Head of the HRE programme Helene Rossiter said:
“Ensuring all our structures remain safe and in good maintenance is our priority and we’re very eager to see the results of this unique technique and evaluate how it might help us carry out some of our tunnel surveys more efficiently in the future.
“Inspections of all our historic railway tunnels are a key part of the maintenance routine and if the Balgray Tunnel trial is successful we could look to use the technology in other tunnel surveys in the HRE.”
Muon tomography relies on cosmic rays which are high-energy particles produced by the sun and other astronomical sources that hurtle through space at close to the speed of light. As they enter the earth’s atmosphere they collide with the oxygen and nitrogen molecules which triggers a cascade of other particles. Most of these particles are stopped in the atmosphere but muons particles make it to the ground.
A muon is 200 times heavier than an electron and its weight and speed give it an advantage over x-rays in penetrating dense materials. At sea level there are around 10,000 muons passing through every square metre of ground every minute and these can be used to image the interior of large engineering infrastructure.
Muons can penetrate through hundreds of metres of materials such as brick, rock and concrete.
In 2017 the technology was used to survey the Great Pyramid at Giza, which led to the discovery of secret chambers and rooms untouched by human hands since the Pyramid was built over 4500 years ago. The biggest discovery was a 100-feet-long void above the grand gallery. More surveys are planned this year.
Muon tomography has also been used to search for magma chambers inside active volcanoes and image the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
Prof Lee Thompson, Geoptic’s Technical Director, said:
“Geoptic is delighted to be working with National Highways to provide the first HRE muon tunnel survey and we hope this is a collaboration we will be able to continue in the future.
“Before the survey started, we needed to develop a digital twin of the tunnel using detailed geological data which informs us how many muons we expect to see at any point in the tunnel. Then, inside the tunnel, we use our instruments that detect muons to measure the number of muons at different points.
“Differences between what we expect to see and what we actually observe can be interpreted as differences in density in the structure of the tunnel compared with that we assumed in our digital twin. As well as identifying hidden voids and shafts our instruments can return valuable information on the shaft position, size and extent.”
During the Victorian era engineers constructed shafts along the line of a tunnel to speed up the construction process and help maintain the tunnel's alignment; particularly on curves.
When a tunnel was completed some of the shafts would be kept for ventilation and others capped at both ends or back-filled and assumed stable. Being able to locate and survey hidden closed shafts and other voids in the structure is important for maintenance and safety of the tunnel.
Balgray Tunnel is located between the former Kelvinside station and Bellshaugh Junctions and was part of the Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway, which originally ran from Possil to Dumbarton but is now almost all abandoned.
The results of the survey are currently being assessed to see if future works will be planned.
Find out more about the Balgray Tunnel project.
Our estate is a collection of over 3,000 structures that were once part of Britain’s rail network. As custodian, charged with protecting them, we’re celebrating their rich history as part of Heritage Open Days in England, Doors Open Days in Scotland and Open Doors in Wales.
Collectively they make up the largest festival of history and culture throughout the country – celebrating historic sites, buildings, and landmarks. Events and activities run throughout the month of September each year and offer a great opportunity to learn more about sites of historic interest across Britain.
Approach to tunnel from Blaencwm, Rhondda 1970s - © 2022 Rhondda Tunnel Society
We have been responsible for taking care of these structures, known as the ‘Historical Railways Estate’ (‘HRE’), on behalf of the Department for Transport since 2013. Our role as custodian is to conserve as many of these structures as we can. The structures themselves are mostly tunnels, bridges, and viaducts. We carry out work to maintain, or repurpose them so they can be given a new lease of life, often as part of walking and cycle routes.
Approach to tunnel from Blaencwm, Rhondda 2018
To honour these heritage events collectively and individually, we are shining a spotlight on a structure from each British nation - Pensford Viaduct England, Teviot Viaduct and Footbridge Scotland and Rhondda Tunnel, Wales.
Breathtaking footage shows a rare Victorian footbridge being reinstalled following extensive renovation work funded by National Highways.
The Teviot Viaduct footbridge, which opened in 1850, is normally supported on the north side of Roxburgh Viaduct in the Scottish Borders but at the end of 2020 the three spans were dismantled and taken to Barnsley-based contractors AmcoGiffen for specialist attention.
The wrought-iron structure was then dismantled into almost 500 small pieces and, after many months of painstaking work, rebuilt like a giant jigsaw before being transported back to site.