Digging gets underway in Sydney Gardens

With the electrification of the Great Western Line from London to Bristol and beyond underway – and likely to affect Bath in the summer of 2016 – Network Rail have moved into Sydney Gardens to start digging what they refer to as ‘test pits’ beside the main line to London.

The notice from Network Rail.
The notice from Network Rail.

A notice – pinned to one of their parked vehicles – explains the pits are ‘in order to find out what effect – if any – future works will have on the established trees close to the rail line.’

It’s clear though that the men are checking out more than just tree roots.sydney gardens

Red sprayed square indicate excavations being made on and around one of the stone bridges across the line.

I am told they are also checking retaining walls beside the railway line.

This morning there was a deep hole in the corner of one of the railway bridges in the gardens.

It exposed the layer of concrete put in on top of the bridge when Brunel’s rail-building team went through the park.

The deep hole at the corner of the rail bridge.
The deep hole at the corner of the rail bridge.

Though not written yet in black and white there is every indication that the track passing through the historic Sydney Gardens will have to be lowered so that the poles bearing the power line will be able to be accommodated under the existing bridges that cross Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great engineering work as it passes through this Georgian-built pleasure garden. This could be by as much as six feet.

The men working behind the existing barrier that is already in place through the gardens
The men working behind the existing barrier that is already in place through the gardens

This is scheduled for the summer of 2015 and – at the same time – there will be a six-week closure of the Box Tunnel to enable the track there to be lowered too.

Network Rail will be holding a survey at Bath Spa Station this summer to see where exactly people are travelling at that time of the year. This will help them plan travel arrangements for the summer period in 2015 when the tunnel near Chippenham is due to be closed.

The notice that’s appeared in Sydney Gardens  says the trial pit digging is part of on-going maintenance for the track but l feel that is being a bit coy.

Brunel designed the rail passage through these gardens to be as open-plan as possible so people could see his marvellous steam-driven locomotives chugging through. Unfortunately – though electricity is cleaner – it’s also highly dangerous. Network Rail will have to provide much more of a safety barrier but have promised to be as sensitive as possible to the existing lay-out so people will still have some sort of a view.

The men at work beside the track through Sydney Gardens
The men at work beside the track through Sydney Gardens

To quote from today’s notice: ‘We are working with B&NES and English Heritage to ensure that the unique characters of the gardens is protected. All works are being supervised by the Council’s Parks,Greens and Grounds Supervisor.

In the event of any archaeological items being found, all works will cease immediately and the relevant authorities will be contacted.

Access to the gardens will be maintained at all times but, while we are working, we will need to close off the area around the rail viewing point from the low balustrade wall in the gardens for your safety.

We apologise in advance for any inconvenience this may cause, however both road bridges and the steel pedestrian bridge, will be open during this time for those who wish to view the trains.’

It has to be said the low wall has been fenced off for several years now to stop people getting onto the line.

Network Rail ‘anticipate that all works will be completed no later than 4th May.’