MT 95/246

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Road viaducts over railways in major cities

Date range1955-1958
LocationNational Archives (see all files stored here)
CatalogueSee entry
File baseSeries MT, subseries MT 95

The date range listed by the National Archives appears to be wrong as the file contains papers through to at least 1959.

Context

An exciting-sounding proposal to build roads over railways, mainly in London, to provide easy road capacity without demolition appears to be a thrilling topic for a file. It begins very promisingly by talking about investigations and inquiries from Parliamentary Committees.

In actual fact the matter stems from a campaign by the Daily Express's motoring journalist who thought that it might be a good idea to build roads over railway lines and started writing about it. Before long he had whipped up a frenzy, and also had the support of the magnificently named Lieutenant-Colonel S. Maynard Lovell, president of the Institution of Highway Engineers and county surveyor of West Yorkshire. The Daily Express described him as "one of the greatest road experts in Europe", to which a civil servant added a note in the margin: "aren't we all!"

The exclamation marks in the margins of each over-heated Express editorial suggest that most of it was hyperbole, particularly the mentions of Cabinet approving the plans and work starting immediately if Treasury approved.

The Observer ran with it in 1959, suggesting (in two separate half-page features) that the A-Ring and associated arterial motorways might be built this way. One photograph in the Observer article shows a model of an elevated road, with steam train underneath, captioned: "a model of part of the planned Birmingham motorway". No such plan was drawn up by the Ministry, however.

In fact the London Roads division seems to have been asked to investigate the idea by a Parliamentary Committee who had been swept up in the Express excitement. The response was not favourable, drawing up a full foolscap sheet of problems with the idea. From some angles one could cynically argue that Harold Watkinson asked for an inquiry into the matter simply to avoid a continued brow-beating from the Express.

Plan sheets at the back show some suggested road-over-rail lines in not very built up areas: an alternative to the M1 running through Watford to Marylebone, and a bypass for the A45 from east of Birmingham to New Street station. These seem to have been the only railway lines on which the Ministry thought the proposal could work.

People with camera copies

None known.