Sunday, 19 May 2019

Steel rail gantries ‘should be made more attractive’

Steel rail gantries ‘should be made more attractive’

METAL gantries installed along the railway line in the Goring area should be made more attractive, according to a report commissioned by Network Rail.

Engineering firm Balfour Beatty has recommended a number of measures to reduce the visual impact of the gantries, which were put up in March 2015 as part of the electrification of the Great Western main line to Oxford.

These include:

•Replacing the gantries with slimmer or shorter designs.

• Painting them in more natural colours.

• Bringing some of the overhead equipment down to ground level.

• Planting more trees, shrubs and hedging at the edge of the line.

Network Rail says none of this can be done unless the Government is willing to fund it.

However, the company has agreed to compile estimates for some of the report’s suggestions for consideration by its railway design advisory group, which includes representatives of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This should be followed by a public consultation exercise, which was due to take place last year but was cancelled after the advisory group criticised the lack of proposed alternatives.

Companies such as Network Rail are legally obliged to ensure that work in an AONB conserves or enhances it.

The steel gantries stand about 100m apart and consist of two pillars and a lattice beam carrying the overhead cables, giving the appearance of a metal “tunnel” winding through the countryside.

Balfour Beatty says the gantries are the best from an engineering perspective but can adversely affect rural landscapes.

It says they have had a “very substantial” impact on views from the Ridgeway north of Goring and a “substantial” impact on residents of South Stoke as well as walkers and river users at Gatehampton and Hartslock Wood, near Whitchurch.

The report says the simplest solution is to move the bulky electrical transformers from the top of each pillar to ground level, reducing their height by about 1ft. The horizontal booms could be made thinner and solid or the entire gantry could be replaced with a slimmer goalpost shape, as happened with the Grade II listed Gatehampton railway bridge to improve its appearance.

They could also be replaced with a T-shaped structure which was used at Moulsford viaduct to conserve views.

Replacing the solid spans with metal wires has been ruled out as this design is considered unreliable and dangerous to repair.

The report says the landscape is mostly yellow with hints of green and red while the gantries are grey and the accompanying fencing is dark green, which clashes.

It suggests painting five gantries in slightly different shades and asking the public which they prefer.

More planting could be carried out, although some would be on private land so would require the owners’ permission.

Balfour Beatty says each measure alone would have a small impact but combined they would have a bigger effect and the benefit would be substantial and worthwhile.

Ian Haslam, leader of the Goring and South Stoke Railway Action Group, said: “We’re pleased to see Network Rail is still committed to exploring options, even if it’s not proceeding as quickly as we would like.

“They have recommitted to public consultation after they have evaluated the report, so for now we will have to wait and see what happens.”

He said the group had been shown photographs from the Cotswolds of gantries with the transformers lowered, which looked better.

“It’s not ideal but it’s a start and it shows they are trying things out,” said Mr Haslam.

“They have said that certain designs, like the T-shaped supports at Moulsford, only work because the lines in that area are closer together but we would argue that they can be adapted.

“Another concern is that the model of funding for Network Rail is changing from 2020 and they will have to apply for Government funding on a case-by-case basis instead of having their own money to draw down from.

“We’re saying they have a statutory duty to improve on what’s there at the moment so they can’t just use that as an excuse.”

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