Historical Railways - our maintenance work

Our team of engineers maintain all the Historical Railways Estate structures. The team uses well-established methods, including regular inspections of each structure. This allows them to plan well in advance for when work will be required and ensures that the most critical work is prioritised.

Engineers assess each of the structures against a range of factors, including: 

  • structural condition, such as movement, looking for cracks or corrosion
  • strength, including whether the local authority needs to apply a weight limit for vehicles using the structure
  • risk of vandalism, trespass or other damage causing safety problems
  • potential consequences of the structure failing, including danger to the public, whether the structure carries or crosses a public right of way or blocks a watercourse
  • whether the structure is listed or historically significant

The engineers then prioritise which structures need to receive funding for maintenance activities and when.

There are more than 3,200 structures in the estate, including:

  • bridges and associated structures such as parapets and abutments
  • viaducts, which are bridge-like structures over a valley or other low ground
  • aqueducts
  • retaining walls and embankments
  • tunnels
  • culverts, which are underground tunnels carrying water

The maintenance work that’s required depends on the type of structure and the level of work needed to ensure they’re made safe. We may carry out:

  • repair work to keep them safe
  • strengthening to improve their condition
  • infilling which may be temporary or partial
  • demolition, only when necessary

Repair work

Repair work - overview

Repair work may involve, for example, repairing brickwork which has aged over time and been damaged by the weather.  

The Twizel Viaduct was built in the mid-19th century and in 2005 a footpath was opened, allowing walkers to use the viaduct to cross the River Till. There’s also a footpath underneath, alongside the River Till.

Our engineers identified that the brickwork in the bridge arches was flaking and crumbling. And some sections of the walls were cracked. In early 2021 we began repairing these problem areas. The work will extend the life of the structure, so these footpaths can continue to be used by walkers enjoying the beautiful Northumberland countryside.

Twizel viaduct in Northumberland - aerial shot

Support platform for maintenance workers under the Twizel viaduct
Twizel viaduct, Northumberland


Strengthening - overview

It’s mainly bridges that may need strengthening. Our work may involve, for example, replacing a bridge or strengthening bridge beams.

We are responsible for an old railway bridge that crosses the Chris Hoy Cycleway in East Ayrshire, Scotland. In late 2020 our engineers started important work to ensure that it remains safe for the many walkers and cyclists that use the route. We’ve put in metal supports underneath the bridge to strengthen it, to replace wooden joists that had become damaged over time.

Chris Hoy Cycleway, East Ayrshire


Infilling - overview

Sometimes we will just partially infill under a bridge, leaving a smaller opening which allows access for people to pass underneath.   

We will consider infilling where there is no feasible option for future use. For example, where there are now buildings on a former railway line that make any possible re-use of the route extremely unlikely.  


Demolition - overview

Most of the structures that would be demolished are old abutments which are now of no use. Abutments are wall-like structures which would have been at either end of a bridge, to support the main bridge structure. Now that the main bridge structure is no longer there, the abutments aren’t needed anymore. 

Sometimes demolition can provide an opportunity for a local authorities or other organisations. For example, it could free-up access for a new or improved cycle route.  

In spring 2021 we demolished two old abutments that used to support an old railway bridge. The abutments were no longer in use as the main bridge structure wasn’t there anymore. The parish council welcomed our decision to take the abutments down which we did after speaking to the local authority.

The old abutments at Wigginhall St Mary Magdalen, Norfolk