Plan to rebuild Prague's iconic railway bridge condemned by preservationists

Prague Deputy Mayor Scheinherr and the Club for Old Prague say they were unsuccessful in their efforts to save the 120-year-old iron bridge.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 01.12.2022 08:30:00 (updated on 30.11.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Plans for renovating the railway bridge across the Vltava in Prague were unveiled recently, and they received a negative reaction from preservationists. The bridge is one of many that was found to be in poor technical shape after the collapse of a footbridge in 2017 sparked an investigation.

The bridge at Výton has been protected cultural heritage since 2004. A contest to renovate the bridge and add a third track was announced on May 3 last year. The winning design, announced on Nov. 23, preserved the support pillars in the river but will replace virtually everything else.

The winning design by the firm 2T engineering was selected by the Railway Administration (SŽ), which evaluated 12 proposals. The criteria included expanding the railway tracks from two to three, and adding a tram stop for pedestrians. Preserving the original iron arches was not a requirement.

The Club for Old Prague (Klub za starou Prahu), which focuses on the preservation of Prague’s heritage, was part of the evaluation committee. They were also the first to express their dissatisfaction with the winner. The current bridge has been an important part of Prague’s panorama for over a century, it says.

The club members favored preserving the original heritage-protected bridge, but said they were unsuccessful in getting their opinion heard. They claimed that if a third set of tracks could not be added to the original bridge, then another adjacent single-track bridge should be constructed. They posted several options for an adjacent bridge on Facebook.

The winner, while it has arches, does not sufficiently respect the look of the original.

“Although the bridge is new, it tries to look like the old one without having the parameters of a real replica,” the club said.

The club also has an issue with the selection process, which was for the renovation and not the construction of a new bridge. If the original bridge can’t be preserved, then an architectural competition for a new bridge should be announced according to the rules of the Czech Chamber of Architects, the club maintains.

Efforts to save the bridge demanding but unsuccessful

Prague Deputy Mayor Adam Scheinherr originally expressed support for the winner, but this week he responded to the criticism. Prague City Hall also participated in evaluating the proposals. “The negotiation to save the bridge was one of the most demanding and, unfortunately, unsuccessful on my part,” he said.

Scheinherr was more successful in his efforts to save the Libeň Bridge (Libeňský most), which also was in a poor state. That bridge will have its unique Cubist elements preserved as part of a renovation that will also expand the bridge with some new elements that respect the original style.

He agreed that the architectural contest for the railway bridge should have been organized differently from the beginning. “The competition should have been entered as an international architectural one for a [tram] stop and a new monorail bridge that would respect the relationship to the original valuable structure as much as possible,” he said.

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He also included visualizations of a new single-track railway bridge next to the existing bridge in his Facebook post.

Prague does not have the final say on the bridge

Unlike many other bridges in Prague, the city does not decide the fate of the railway bridge as it belongs to the Railway Administration.

“The city only owns cantilevered footbridges and we had them sensitively reconstructed in 2018 and 2019 using the original riveting method,” he said. They were in poor condition and were last repaired in the 1960s.

The railway bridge also suffers from neglect, and the owner has been attempting to remove the historic protection status.

Railway Bridge at Vyšehrad. (photo: Raymond Johnston)
Railway Bridge at Vyšehrad. Photo: Raymond Johnston.

“It is always easier for owners and designers to demolish and design a new project instead of complicated reconstruction. This would really be difficult in the case of a railway bridge. However, the bridge has been here for 121 years and that also gives us enough experience of how this structure works, what ailments it has, what needs to be completely replaced, etc.,” he said.

He added that its longevity is a testament to the skill of Czech engineer František Prášil, who designed it.

The bridge with no name

The bridge, which has a unique design in the Czech Republic, was built in 1871 as a single-track steel bridge with five spans on stone piers. It was rebuilt in 1901 with two tracks and three parabolic steel spans to meet the traffic demand. It was electrified in 1928. In 2004, it was declared a landmark.

It originally had the unwieldy name Most spojovací dráhy císaře Františka Josefa, meaning Connecting Railway Bridge of Emperor Franz Josef. Currently, it does not have an official name and is simply called the Railway Bridge or Vyšehrad Railway Bridge (Vyšehradský železniční most).

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