Funded by Network Rail, the project will seek to restore natural beauty in this landscape and address the impact on local communities and the visitor economy. £750,000 is earmarked for line-side tree planting and vegetation to help screen the steel gantries which have been installed in the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONB between Reading and Didcot. A further £3 million will be spent on landscape enhancement projects within the wider corridor of the electrification works.
Network Rail started installing the gantries in 2015 as part of a major electrification project on the Great Western mainline. Electrification requires the installation of infrastructure, including masts and gantries to carry the wires above the track. The Chilterns Conservation Board, the North Wessex Downs AONB and local residents in the Railway Action Group called for the gantries to be replaced with a better design of equipment which would be less visually intrusive in these nationally-protected landscapes.
Watch the campaign video made in 2015 to see the gantries and learn more about the campaign that led to this funded project.
Network Rail convened an Overhead Line Electrification within the AONB Advisory Group, which included the Chilterns AONB planner and North Wessex Downs AONB planner. The main purpose was to provide specialist technical advice to help with the review of alternative design options for the gantries. This work is still ongoing with the publication of the Phase 3 final report expected in the coming weeks. Even though replacement is not feasible for the Great Western electrification project here, the lessons learned have already resulted in better designs being installed through the Cotswolds AONB. Network Rail has developed new guidelines to ensure that protected landscapes are considered carefully in future rail electrification projects.
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