Network Rail has unveiled proposals to undertake “intrusive works” on one of the Yorkshire Dales’ most iconic landmarks, to ensure the safety of railway passengers and its thousands of visitors, as well as securing the future of the historic structure.
Almost exactly 150 years since the huge undertaking of building Ribblehead Viaduct started, the public body responsible for its upkeep has applied to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for consent to arrest the deterioration of the structure.
In papers lodged with the authority, Network Rail states across the viaduct’s 24 massive stone arches 104 feet above the moor beside the park’s highest peak, Whernside, there are numerous defects to masonry, fractures to arches and piers as well as drainage system issues.
The rail infrastructure body states “a programme of remedial interventions is required to prevent these defects escalating into a more significant and complex concern”.
The documents reveal a lengthy list of “interventions” needed to tackle engineers’ concerns on the 402-metre long grade II* listed Settle to Carlisle Railway structure, which saw a large number of Victorian navvies killed there in work accidents as they laid 1.5 million bricks.
Network Rail has underlined its determination to minimise the risks for workers, but states the proposed works will involve “specialist high access throughout the viaduct to enable the works to be undertaken”. Works will range from stitching fractures in masonry, inserting anchors, reinforcing stone to repainting metalwork.
The documents state the works will need to be completed during drier months to give the best working conditions and scaffolding thoroughly checked every seven days as artisans use local stone and traditional methods for masonry repairs to the key feature of the last British line to be largely built in the traditional manual way.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The interventions are consistent with the sympathetic ongoing maintenance of this historic structure. The scale of intervention is the minimum required to preserve this iconic structure whilst ensuring the safe running of the Settle and Carlisle line and the safety of the public visiting to enjoy the structure.
“It is clear that there will be a degree of ‘intrusive’ works, most notably the concealed cintec anchors proposed. The works are considered to be in the best interests of the ongoing conservation of this historic structure.
“The scheme will not adversely impact upon the overall heritage significance of the viaduct…”
Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock said the viaduct, which the application states is “testimony to a great age of endeavour” was crucial not only for bringing hordes of tourists into the Dales and as an attraction for visitors, but to enable residents of the area to shop and attend football matches in cities such as Leeds and Carlisle.
The viaduct, the building of which by a 2,300-strong workforce was the subject of a TV drama in 2016, is also used by some of the area’s major businesses, for the transportation of timber and stone.
Cllr Peacock said: “I absolutely support Network Rail in seeking to undertake this work. I want them to get on with doing it and make sure it is safe. The railway line is very important to residents in the Upper Dales.”