Improved security planned for historic Victoria Viaduct to help stop trespassers risking lives on 120ft drop

Proposals for ‘anti-trespass’ fencing to prevent vandalism and improve public safety at a Grade-II listed rail viaduct have been submitted to city planners.

Sunderland City Council’s planning department recently validated an application for the Victoria Viaduct, which crosses the River Wear between Fatfield and Penshaw.

The structure, originally known as the Victoria Bridge, is a stone arch rail viaduct and was completed in 1838 as part of the Durham Junction Railway.

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At its highest point, there is a 120ft drop from the viaduct to the river below.

Trespassers on the Victoria Viaduct have been putting themselves in grave danger.
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Victoria Viaduct: One of Wearside's most magnificent and lesser-known landmarks

However, no train has crossed the structure since the early 1990s and it has been mothballed ever since, with the viaduct track removed and steel gates erected at each end.

Gates on one side of the viaduct are welded shut but the other side is required to be locked but accessible to allow for essential inspections and maintenance work.

The current handrails are easy to climb over or through.

The UK’s rail management organisation Network Rail, which has responsibility for the structure, has previously warned trespassers to stay away due to public safety risks.

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New plans from Amalgamated Construction Ltd aim to improve security at the site by installing “anti-trespass fencing”, including posts fixed to a parapet and ‘anti-trespass fins’.

A submitted heritage statement notes the project was devised following a site meeting with a local councillor, Sunderland City Council and Network Rail to discuss and decide a “preferred fence replacement option”.

Email correspondence included in the planning application names former Washington East councillor Tony Taylor outlining concerns to Network Rail, council officers and Northumbria Police.

Since this picture was taken the gate has been secured and coated in vandal-proof paint.
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Then Cllr Taylor, in an email from January, 2022, referenced “ongoing anti-social behaviour associated with the former Leamside railway alignment in the vicinity of Victoria Viaduct”.

The email also requested an “acceptable solution” to be sought to “address the situation in the interest of public safety”.

A submitted heritage statement confirms the final fencing design will be a similar height to what is in place currently but will “look symmetrical with [the] same material and colour throughout.”

If approved, the fencing aims to “prevent unsociable behaviour, trespassand vandalism on the viaduct” in future.

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Warning signs have suffered heavy vandalism.

The heritage statement adds: “The agreed design will be secure and will help stop unauthorised access and further damage to the structure.”

Victoria Viaduct recently became a focal point for the campaign to restore the Leamside Line, which ran between Ferryhill and Gateshead, to its former use.

Back in March, 2021, Network Rail officials warned that trespassing on the structure could have “life changing or even fatal consequences”.

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A decision on listed building consent for new fencing at Victoria Viaduct will be made later this year once a period of council consultation has concluded.

For more information on the project, visit Sunderland City Council’s online planning portal and search reference: 22/01637/LBC

The Victoria Viaduct has recently become a focal point efforts to restore the Leamside Line to its former use. The railway line ran between Ferryhill and Gateshead.

It is 30 years since it carried freight and no passenger train has used it since 1964 after the “Beeching Axe”. Reviving the line could also help bring the Metro to Washington and Houghton, which currently have no rail access of any kind.