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Brunel’s Heritage at risk – tell English Heritage what you think… but fast

Chipping Sodbury Tunnel. How will electric wires affect its Brunelian beauty?

It is very good news to be able to have the opportunity to comment on the potential loss of GWR heritage as a result of the GWR mainline electrification.    English Heritage have announced a consultation period whereby they welcome comments on a number of structures likedly to be adversely affected by the electrification process.  This is very much to be welcomed and I hope that readers of this blog take advantage of invitation.  Click here to go to the document.

You will need to be quick, though.  The deadline is 9th May, which does seem rather soon.

Not surprisingly, most of these structures are bridges and if the Euston electrification is anything to go by, the nightmare scenario would be if the engineers imagine that just hoisting these beautiful and elegant structures up a metre or so and wanging in blocks of concrete to make space for the overhead live wires is acceptable.

The sheer beauty of these bridges (and there are a lot of them) is exquisite.  They range from the famously improbable structure over the Thames at Maidenhead, which critics of Brunel said would never stand the weight of trains, to lowly cattle creeps and road bridges all the way from Paddington to Bristol.  They are almost without exception masterpieces of aesthetics in perfect harmony with function and every possible effort must be made to stop them being desecrated in any way.  Together – and this is important – they are a unique record of the early days of railways that elsewhere is fading fast.  It is essential that we preserve it for the future and this is our chance.

That said, what if these bridges are too low for electric wires to be able to pass underneath at the right height?  I am afraid I am going to come down firmly on the side of preservation. Get them all listed as important monuments to the Great Man Brunel, I say, and let the engineers work out an ingenious solution calling on the spirit of creative genius that Brunel himself would have applied to the problem.  And, in my view,  this is the important bit: it is not just about saving one example of this and one example of that design.  It is the collectivity of all of them that makes the whole that needs to be protected for generations to come.  Once defaced, the genius of Brunel’s inspiration will be gone for ever.  the GWR mainline is a world heritage site and should be protected with all our energy.

I will, of course, forward to English Heritage any comments made to this blog.


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