Is Network Rail on the right track through Bath?

Network Rail’s plans for the electrification of the line from London through to Bristol and beyond will bring special problems for those designing the passage of a power cable through Bath’s Sydney Gardens. The rail company has already gone public with its plans for being as unobtrusive as they can while still safeguarding public safety.

Details of the scheme have already been published on the Virtual Museum of Bath website and have brought a response from Mr John Dalton of Cumbria who has been following this story.

The Virtual Museum is happy to publish his thoughts on the issue and let him express his personal point of view.

“I came to Bath in 1987 to work on the MoD site at Foxhill. I had property in Batheaston until 2003. For a time I ran to work along the canal adjacent to the railway in Sydney Gardens. I am also a lifelong proponent of railway electrification and view the Great Western scheme  as an exciting and long-overdue development.

sydney gardensSince my first visit to the city – arriving by rail from Paddington – I marvelled at the approach to the station through Sydney Gardens with its fine view of the city’s Georgian splendour.

As with the approach to Edinburgh through Princes Street Gardens or the approach to Venice across the Lagoon it is one of the few approaches to a city by rail in which you don’t feel you are arriving through the back door.

During my time in Bath I had the opportunity to explore Sydney Gardens themselves and view Brunel’s legacy at close quarters. The view of the railway from the Gardens is every bit as fine as the view of the City from the railway. It is unique in Britain to be able to approach the railway separated only by an ornamental wall and not an ugly tall fence.

the existing low wall.
The existing low wall.

Then there are of course the over-bridges which add to the ornament of the railway. These also are unique along with being arguably a health and safety nightmare.

I will declare my hand in viewing Overhead Line Electrification (OLE) not as an eyesore but something potentially elegant, without which no railway appears complete.

I hope that Network Rail do not throw out the baby with the ‘Bath-water’ by adopting an “aesthetic” design rather than one of the more elegant existing designs such as BR Mk3a/b.

Artists impression of electrified route through Sydney Gardens
Artists impression of electrified route through Sydney Gardens

I have to say that the design appearing in a Network Rail artist’s impression fills me with horror.
What concerns me more however is the potential for aesthetic damage to the other railway structures in the area.

The Brunel cast-iron bridge would potentially be ruined by the addition of the high parapets which, for reasons best known to themselves, Network Rail feel the need to add when lines are electrified.

Surely nobody is daft enough to dangle metal poles or wires over the bridge? If they are, could they not be deterred by warning notices?

network rail
Headspan wires.

I also fail to see why the wall separating the track from the Gardens need be made higher. No new electrical hazards will be introduced at ground level.

As regards the danger from the trains themselves, surely a wall which has been adequate for this long will surely still suffice after electrification?

Returning to the OLE, my preference would be for a simple mast on the Gardens side of the line, perhaps painted a sympathetic colour, with a “headspan wire” linking to the Retaining wall opposite.
While headspan wires are out of favour with Network Rail, they are unobtrusive and, given the relatively low speed of trains at this location, should be sufficiently reliable.”

John Dalton