Monday, 11 December 2017

Residents to be consulted on new rail gantry designs

NEW designs for overhead gantries that could be installed along the railway line through Goring will be unveiled this month.

Network Rail is to host a public consultation on possible alternatives to the existing structures, which were installed in 2015 to prepare for the electrification of the route from London to Oxford.

The solid steel gantries, which will eventually hold up overhead cables, prompted complaints that they were too bulky and inappropriate in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Goring Gap Railway Action Group said the company should have held a consultation before starting the work.

It was supported by the Chilterns Conservation Board, Goring and South Stoke parish councils and the North Wessex Downs management board.

Now Network Rail has apologised and agreed to consult on possible replacements but has warned they will only be installed if funding is available. Consultation meetings will be held at Goring village hall on January 21 from 10am to 2pm and South Stoke village hall on January 25 from 2.30pm to 6.30pm.

There will also be meetings in Cholsey, Pangbourne, Moulsford and Basildon and the feedback will be used to shape a second consultation in February.

The action group hopes the options will include smaller, T-shaped gantries between the northbound and southbound lines, which it says would look less like a “tunnel” through the open countryside than “portal” gantries spanning the entire track.

It says it will consider legal action if the new proposals are unacceptable or Network Rail decides to stick with the existing gantries.

Chairman Ian Haslam said: “Our biggest fear is that they won’t consider options beyond the ‘portal’-style gantries, which means we would struggle to support anything they put forward.

“We will be attending the consultation, not to disrupt things but to see what is going on. However, if the designs are inappropriate we will have to make some noise and make clear that it’s not good enough.

“Regardless of the funding situation, we believe Network Rail have broken planning law and should be obliged to put it right.

“We’re not asking them to design a bespoke solution, which they should have done in the first place, but there should be some ‘off the shelf’ designs they can install at a reasonable cost.”

Last month Network Rail’s contractor Balfour Beatty held a two-day workshop attended by engineers, architects, landscape designers and senior managers to consider mitigation measures.

They came up with 79 ideas but ruled many out as impractical.

They accepted that the existing gantries look like a line of rugby posts and they “increase visual intrusion into the landscape” and “might have been expected to be less visible”.

However, they said finding less visible alternatives with structural strength was a “challenge”.

Old-fashioned wire spans would be less intrusive but would caused “significant functional reliability issues”.

Other smaller designs only existed on paper and had never been tested.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Electrification brings many benefits, particularly for the environment, but we are aware of local concerns of the visual impact of the overhead line equipment in the area.

“In response, we have undertaken a review and worked closely with an advisory group of statutory bodies to develop a range of potential measures, or options, which would help to reduce the visual impact.

“We would now like to share the results of our work with local communities and gather their feedback.”

For more information about the consultation process, call 03457 114141 or send an email to electrification
@networkrail.co.uk

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