Don’t box me in

 [A view from the viewing platform today. Vegetation obscuring views of Brunel’s Grade II* listed Western Tunnel Portal and views down to the historic GWR line on which steam trains sometimes travel.]

Varian Tye writes to join train enthusiast Rob Coles in feeling disappointed that the view of the Bristol-side entrance to Brunel’s amazing Box Tunnel is obscured by overgrowth.

He emailed to say:

” l was interested to read the recent article ‘Boxed in’  by train enthusiast Rob Coles and hear how he was disappointed to find the view from the viewing platform in Box, overlooking the iconic Brunel Grade II* listed Box Tunnel Portal, virtually obscured by vegetation on the railway embankment.

Rest assured Rob there are other people who likewise share your disappointment and also are concerned about the delay by Network Rail in ensuring that the vegetation is cut back, including myself, Box Parish Council and Cllr Dr. Brian Mathew, Wiltshire Councillor. 

Local Box Parish Cllr Barry Rydz, with Sir William Mc Alpine ( both now deceased) and an official from British Rail ( may have been the then Chief Exec but uncertain) to celebrate the cleaning of Box Tunnel Portal and the erection of the viewing panel in 1986. Note how clear the embankment is of vegetation and the good views obtained over and onto Brunel’s Box Tunnel

Regrettably, the vegetation not only obscures views of Brunel’s iconic Grade II* listed tunnel portal but the historic GWR line itself which often has steam trains entering and leaving the tunnel. Trains which the public come to the viewing platform to see, in addition to Brunel’s Tunnel. 

I wrote to Network Rail as far back as July 2021 with copies to Historic England, Box Parish Council and Cllr Dr Brian Mathew, pointing out the need for NR to undertake vegetation clearance and the need for them to put into action a regular planned maintenance schedule for the railway embankment.

 However, despite assurances that the matter was being looked into their latest letter in May 2022  confirmed that still no funding had been secured for undertaking the works. It is understood that the situation will be reviewed at the end of September 2022 but this is one year since my original correspondence and in the meantime, we are into the summer months when vegetation growth will speed up and the situation will get worse.

It is of course also during the summer months and during the holiday period when the viewing platform may be the most visited by the young and the old, families, residents and visitors. What a delight awaits them as the vegetation takes even more hold and view’s of the tunnel and railway line become more obscured. 

The busy main road which continues over the Grade II listed Brunel railway bridge. The viewing platform was probably built to provide a safer location to view Box Tunnel. As views from the viewing panel are obscured by vegetation no doubt people will try to view the tunnel and trains from the road bridge, increasing the potential for pedestrian/vehicle conflict and accidents occurring.  

I am concerned also that when people find view’s obstructed from the viewing platform they will look to alternative, less safe sites, to view the tunnel portal and trains. For example from Brunel’s listed Grade II railway bridge and from its very narrow pavement located on one side of the busy main road, or even from the road itself. This will increase the probability of vehicle and pedestrian conflict and a serious accident occurring.

It is assumed that one of the reasons behind the viewing platform being built in the first place was to provide a relatively safe and secure place to view Brunel’s iconic tunnel, rather than from the busy main road itself.  

Vegetation growth on the attractive top stone balustrade to Box Tunnel. June 2022.

The clearance of this important railway embankment from vegetation should be given greater priority by NR. Furthermore, works to clear vegetation should be undertaken on a regular basis so as to avoid the situation we now find ourselves in occurring again.

Whilst addressing the clearance of vegetation from the railway embankment it is hoped that NR will also tackle the vegetation growth that has once again has started to spread its way across the attractive top stone balustrade of Brunel’s western tunnel portal. By the end of September 2022, it will have no doubt travelled further and obscured more of the attractive top stone balustrade and could be causing harm to historic stonework.”

Thanks for that Varian, and for attaching the photographs to illustrate it.