Fear that the bridge plans could derail the renaissance of the heritage railway line
Supporters of the Stainmore Railway Company are among the enthusiasts who have criticized Highways England for a bridge-filling scheme.
Railway enthusiasts say the planned bridge work threatens the viability of reopening routes and extending heritage lines.
The public road company manages the historic railroad domain of 3,100 disused structures on behalf of the Ministry of Transport.
It emerged in January that 115 bridges and tunnels were to be filled and 15 others demolished as part of an asset management program described by activists as “unwarranted and destructive.”
According to The HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, cycling advocates and greenway developers – 21 of the structures at risk are intended for reuse as part of active rail tracks or travel routes, while 19 others could play similar roles in the medium term.
In Cumbria, the Stainmore Railway Company has a long-term goal of uniting operations with the Eden Valley Railway by relaying five miles of track between Kirkby Stephen and Warcop.
But the plan is now in jeopardy as Highways England contractor AMCO-Giffen set up a site in Great Musgrave last week to start filling a bridge, blocking the road. The masonry structure, which carries a narrow road on the old platform, is designed for 17-ton vehicles.
Mike Thompson, project manager for the Stainmore Railway Company, said: “Heritage railways make an important contribution to local economies and a line connecting Appleby and Kirkby Stephen – which is our ultimate goal – would bring much-needed tourism benefits to Eden Valley.
“We don’t underestimate the engineering challenges involved, but plans to overcome them have been in development for a long time. Engagement with the board, other stakeholders and the community built support for the link.
“But filling a perfect bridge puts years of hard work at risk and could derail our plans. The structure was built in 1862 and would therefore benefit from some minor repairs, but to suggest that it poses a significant threat to public safety – something Highways England told local council – is just ludicrous.
The Stainmore Railway Company and the Norfolk Orbital Railway have engaged with local councilors and MPs to oppose Highways England’s plans.
Since the 1960s, hundreds of structures have become the property of over 150 historic railways across the UK. The sector has acquired considerable expertise in the management and maintenance of Victorian bridges.
However, under the policy of the Ministry of Transport, the structures of the historic railway estate can no longer be transferred to heritage railways, dooming many to an uncertain future.