Highways England says it has “no plans” to infill a 162-year-old Cornish bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel unless it is absolutely necessary.
Fears that the bridge near Saltash would be infilled were raised when Highways England consultant Jacobs told Cornwall Council that “infilling works” are needed “to prevent an emergency arising”.
In a letter to the council dated September 2020 – seen by NCE – Jacobs rules that “the structure is in a deteriorating condition with damp and calcite deposits throughout the arch barrel.”
Consequently, the letter adds that “as the structure represents an ongoing and increasing risk to public safety” a permitted development order would be made to allow the work to commence.
However, Highways England Historical Railways Estate director Richard Marshall told NCE that “there are currently no plans to infill theaccess bridge on the line near Saltash in Cornwall”.
He added: “This bridge is used for private access by farm vehicles which can weigh several tonnes and for this reason we plan to assess the bridge’s capacity to ensure it is safe to be used by heavy vehicles.
“If the assessment reveals work is required we will undertake a Heritage Assessment in agreement with Historic England to help determine the next steps.”
The bridge was part of the Cornish Main Line which served the now abandoned Defiance Platform railway station and has been used solely to access a farm since the railway line was moved in 1907.
Secretary of the Cornwall Railway Society John Ball said that demolishing or infilling the Brunel bridge would “amount to cultural vandalism”.
He added: “The bridge is an attractive stone structure sitting harmlessly in the Cornish countryside. When the route of the railway between Saltash and St Germans was changed and moved north to its present alignment, this bridge was ‘stranded’ and has been left in peace ever since.
“Being 162 years old, it would benefit from a few minor repairs, but it cannot seriously be regarded as presenting any risk to the public. It is in Fair condition and is crossed by a remote farm track that connects two fields. It simply has no transport role as far as the public is concerned. Its destruction [would be] completely unnecessary and a waste of public money.”
The structure is part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by Highways England on behalf of the DfT and comprises 3,800 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures. Jacobs acts as the ‘sole provider’ (designer) for the Historical Railways Estate and has just been reappointed for another seven years.
According to The HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, sustainable transport advocates and greenway developers – the bridge is one of 115 disused railway structures programmed for infilling by Highways England, with 15 others due for demolition.
Highways England contests this number and instead states that its five-year plan only includes nine bridge demolitions, the removal of six redundant abutments and 69 full or partial infills.
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/