Network Rail regulation and performance

25.04.19

Safety concerns raised over Network Rail’s £1.4bn railway arches sell-off

Concerns over safety and hidden defects regarding Network Rail’s widely publicised £1.46bn sale of railway arches and 5,200 commercial estate properties have been reported to a confidential structural safety body.

Anonymised concerns have been raised that the selling of space under railway arches, which are popular for start-ups and local businesses, can make it “almost impossible” for inspection and maintenance to be carried out by engineers.

The Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety (CROSS) body’s report suggests that the selling of the leasehold for 125 years is likely to lead some to some “major difficulties in a few years” due to defects already hidden behind linings.

A reporter raised the concerns to CROSS, and claims many inner-city arch viaducts – which are often used for small businesses – have not been inspected for years, and of those few which have, defects requiring immediate remedial action have been found.

Network Rail agreed the sale of its £1.46bn commercial estate portfolio – made up of 5,200 properties and railway arches – late last year, causing a backlash over plans to sell the arches to private firms, with action groups saying Network Rail were putting businesses operating in the arches under “huge pressure.”

The structural safety report said the freight loading on some of these old structures means the joints between bricks open and close repeatedly, meaning small amounts of mortar are lost occasionally – with greater repercussions over time.

It states that the problems need to be addressed if a potential collapse is to be averted.

Network Rail said the railway arch sell-off is supported by “robust measures” to ensure asset management inspection and assessment requirements for the loadbearing railway arch structures can be met.

CROSS also pointed to a more recent approach of installing long-term monitoring systems in old bridges to evaluate deterioration in the structure through sensors.

But the body said there were concerns about the ability of even the most advanced accelerometers to measure critical movements for masonry bridges.

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