Group fears plan to fill in bridge will wreck Orbital Railway dream

The bridge at Gateley

The road-bridge at Gateley carries a narrow country lane and runs over the former trackbed of the Wymondham-Wells railway line. - Credit: Norfolk Orbital Railway

A Victorian road-bridge has been earmarked for infilling, sparking fears from a railway restoration group which wants to see trains pass under it again.

Highways England (HE) has flagged up a plan to stop up the 1849 cast-iron bridge over the former rail line at Gateley.

Norfolk Orbital Railway group proposes to establish a circular route via Holt, Sheringham, Norwich and Wymondham, with a section of re-laid track required to return to Holt from the end of the Mid-Norfolk Railway.

If the re-laid track followed the path of the old rail lines, it would need to pass under Gateley bridge.

Norfolk Orbital Railway project officer Paul Young said: “Our scheme would reconnect several towns and villages to the rail network… and councils consequently support it."

He continued: “The infilling of Gateley bridge would be damaging and unjustified, further severing a trackbed we’ve been trying to piece back together.

"It’s extremely disappointing that HE is acting without due regard for the bridge’s importance as part of a sustainable transport scheme.

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“This kind of short-sighted decision-making by a Government-owned body calls into question the Government’s commitment to reopening railways.”

B1 Class No. 61306 'Mayflower' arrives at Dereham, on the Mid-Norfolk Railway

B1 Class No. 61306 ‘Mayflower’ arrives at Dereham of the Mid-Norfolk Railway with the ‘Brecklander’ from Wymondham Abbey. The Norfolk Orbital Railway hope one day to use the Mid-Norfolk Railway's track as part of their loop around Norfolk. - Credit: Gerry Balding

An HE spokesperson said infilling was only considered when structures were unsafe. 

The spokesperson added: “We don’t infill a structure before first determining if there’s an interest from a local authority or another organisation.”

According to HE, the bridge’s capacity is three tonnes, and though there is a sign warning drivers of the weight limit, it said such signs were “typically ignored”. 

Breckland District Council was contacted by HE in April 2020 about infilling the bridge, and according to HE, no response was received from the planning team, while Breckland’s historic building officer said they had no objection.
HE said the bridge’s future has been discussed with Norfolk County Council, the Norfolk Rail group, plus Norfolk MPs Jerome Mayhew and George Freeman.

“All have been made aware of the risks associated with the bridge and the particular risk to any railway installed beneath it in the future,” said the spokesperson.

HE said it suggested installing physical height or width restrictions, which would potentially reduce the risk enough to prevent the need for infilling.