Saturday, 21 July 2018

Network Rail considers new gantries

CONSULTATION on new, slimmer steel gantries for the railway line through Goring will be held in September.

CONSULTATION on new, slimmer steel gantries for the railway line through Goring will be held in September.

Network Rail is drawing up alternative designs for the structures, which are being installed as part of the electrification of the Great Western main line which passes through the village and surrounding countryside.

Over the next four months, the company will review dozens of designs by its engineering contractor Balfour Beatty and then shortlist three or four which would have the least impact on the surroundings.

A landscape expert will be brought in to help with this process, along with representatives of Historic England, Natural England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The shortlisted designs will then be subject to the six-to eight-week consultation that will include public meetings.

The new gantries could include thinner support poles and wire head spans across the track instead of solid steel girders. However, Network Rail has stressed that it may be unable to afford them.

The gantries are needed to hold overhead power cables for the electrification of the main line between London and Oxford.

Network Rail didn’t need planning permission for work as it is covered by “permitted development” rights but it has been criticised by residents who said it was inappropriate development in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The critics said the design had an urbanising effect and created the appearance of a “tunnel” through the open landscape as the gantries are spaced at frequent intervals.

A pressure group which includes members of Goring Parish Council was formed and it has claimed the company had a statutory duty to consult because the work is in an AONB. It says Network Rail also failed to comply with a legal duty to ensure the work wasn’t detrimental to the surroundings and it has threatened to take legal action.

The company has apologised for not consulting but says it had to start the electrification work so commuters could benefit from a faster and more environmentally-friendly service as soon as possible.

If it agrees to replace the gantries, this is unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest and after the line has been tested for new electric trains.

Ian Haslam, who chairs the pressure group, said its last meeting with the company took place on May 5 and was “positive” and “held in a spirit of co-operation”.

He said: “They’ve realised it’s a problem and are looking at redoing the whole Chilterns section. I think they realise they haven’t followed the law and would be at risk of losing if it went to court.

“We’re optimistic but there’s still a danger that their revised designs are equally unacceptable, so we are still engaging with a law firm on the matter.

“It is crucial that lots of people come forward to give their views in September.”

A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “We are aiming to start the public consultation in September. This will include alternative designs but will not be limited to this.

“For example, a number of people said they wanted us to paint the equipment. This will therefore be an option.”

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