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Safety fears raised over Network Rail's arches sell-off

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Safety concerns about Network Rail’s £1.4bn deal to sell off its non-railway estate assets, including thousands of railway arches across the country, have been reported to the Confidential Reporting On Structural Safety (CROSS) body. 

In its latest publication, CROSS has revealed annonymised concerns that the sale of assets – mostly converted railway arches – could lead to safety issues as engineers will not be able to properly inspect them.  

Network Rail concluded a deal to sell its 5,200 property assets in November last year. 

“In the event that space under railway arches is sold off then it becomes almost impossible for inspection and maintenance to be carried out,” the CROSS report states.  

The converted railway arches are popular locations for start-ups and local businesses and are in high demand in London in particular.  

The report claims that many of the inner-city arches could contain “defects hidden behind linings” and have not been inspected for years. It adds that many arches that have been inspected in recent years have required immediate action to make safe. 

The reporter states that the freight loading on old masonry structures is such that the movement of heavy trains over them causes movement in the bricks which dislodges mortar over time, leading to further increased movement in the bricks. The report states that these defects could lead to a potential structural collapse if not addressed.  

Network Rail launched the sale of its 5,200-property commercial estate in November 2017 and completed the deal a year later in November 2018.

The sites are being sold on a leasehold basis for 150 years, with Network Rail retaining access rights for the future operation of the railway. 

The deal to sell the leaseholds was struck with Telereal Trillium and Blackstone Property Partners to fund railway upgrade plans.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “The sites were sold on a 150-year leasehold basis with Network Rail retaining access rights for the future maintenance and operation of the railway. The sale will not impact on the safe and efficient running of the rail network, train operating companies, freight operating companies or other operational partners.” 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Philip Alexander

    This was always a flawed proposal but sadly probably too far advanced to abort. To actually sell off the very structures which support a highly intensively used railway network is the height of folly. Of course NR won't be able to inspect "their" asset since it will takes weeks to arrange entry, access etc. What user of an arch space would want NR scrambling around inspecting when they have a business to run? It works ok now because NR is the owner and leases out their air space. But interpose a middle man who will put up rents, thereby effectively throwing out existing tenants, and when a whole load of new tenants paying high rents move in, they will not be so compliant to allow ad hoc inspections.
    And do they have any obligation or indeed interest in informing NR that an arch might be leaking, cracking etc? All for the sake of £1.4 billion over 150 YEARS! Or about £10 million per year. How many "railway upgrades" is that going to fund? That just about pays for a week of an intensive rebuild of the track layout at Derby Station!
    It's a pity that CROSS didn't see the issues arising a couple of years ago when their intervention might have caused NR to think again, or maybe think for the first time.

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  • Michael Thorn

    I would be more concerned about the loss of control of tenancy and use of railway arches, especially in central London, and the lack of security that implies for the railway above.

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  • An opportunity for a modern day Guy Faulks to thoroughly disrupt the railnetwork

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