Prague’s plans to demolish railway bridge compared to destroying Eiffel Tower

A petition to save the railway bridge has over 9,000 signatures and the issue is starting to make an international ripple.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 25.01.2023 15:13:00 (updated on 25.01.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

Opposition to a plan to demolish Prague’s iconic railway bridge has been mounting and is now even making international headlines.

The UK Guardian compared the plan to knocking down the Eiffel Tower, the famous Paris landmark. The headline has sparked interest around the world with other news servers such as Hungary’s Index.hu and engineering site Bridgeweb.com covering the issues. The later publication pointed out that it was in favor of recommendations to rehabilitate the bridge rather than destroy it.

The Eiffel Tower reference is a quote from architectural historian Richard Biegel, chairman of the preservation group at Club for Old Prague (Klub Za starou Prahu).

Biegel told the Guardian that the bridge was an emblem of Prague. “The importance of the bridge for Prague is like that of the Eiffel Tower for Paris. It’s also important as a marker of the period of the industrial revolution in the city,” he said.

Winning design for the railway bridge at Výton. Photo: Railway Administration.
Winning design for the railway bridge at Výton. Photo: Railway Administration.

A unique technical monument

The bridge is the only one of its kind in Czechia. It 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 and declared a landmark in 2004.

The Club for Old Prague isn’t the only one seeking to save the bridge. An online petition urging its preservation has over 9,000 signatures and a related Facebook page has over 1,700 followers. The petition calls on the Czech Ministry of Transport and the Railway Administration (SŽ) to reconsider the demolition and look for alternatives that would preserve the cultural monument.

Railway bridge seen from Vyšehrad. Photo: Raymond Johnston.
Railway bridge seen from Vyšehrad. Photo: Raymond Johnston.

The petition was posted by Pavel Štorch, a member of the Green Party in Prague 5, the district where the bridge has its western entrance.

“We call on the Railway Administration to reflect in its next steps on expert studies and proposals that proved the repairability of the bridge and showed possible transport solutions,” the petition states.

Unlike most other bridges in Prague, the city is not responsible for its upkeep and management, as it is a railway infrastructure. The city only oversees the approaches to the bridge's footpaths. Even though the city is not directly involved in the decision on whether the repair or replace the bridge, Prague Deputy Mayor Adam Scheinherr and the administration of the Prague 5 district are calling for the bridge to be saved.

Railway Administration: Bridge is beyond repair

The Railway Administration maintains that the current bridge is not salvageable. To show transparency, the SŽ has posted several technical reports on the condition of the bridge. They maintain that they explored options for preserving the bridge, but they were not viable.

“The Railway Administration had to abandon the original idea of preserving the existing steel structure for further full-scale railway operation. The results of the surveys showed that the existing structure is irreparable and cannot be preserved,” they said in response to the negative reaction to the proposed replacement.

They added that no amount of cosmetic fixes will solve the underlying structural problems. “The steel bridge ran into its limits. … The [type of] steel from which the bridge is made is very susceptible to fatigue cracks. No coating will prevent their formation and spread,” they said.

Save it as a pedestrian bridge

But a 2021 report the SŽ posted online in its conclusions gives an alternative: preserving the current railway bridge so pedestrians and cyclists could "celebrate the heritage value of the historic bridge." A new railway bridge could be built nearby.

According to the Guardian, report co-author Ian Firth of the engineering firm Cowi said the SŽ wasn’t interested in options to save the bridge, as they seem that have already made a decision on replacing it.

The SŽ gave a three-hour public presentation on the new bridge design and the reasons why the old bridge can’t be saved on Jan. 18 at the National Technical Museum. While the presentation was without incident, there were protesters outside the venue with banners urging that the bridge not be torn down. The presentation, in Czech, can be seen on YouTube.

In addition, the SŽ on Jan. 19 announced traffic restrictions on the railway bridge will start in the middle of February to reduce additional strain. “Although the bridge is at the end of its useful life, traffic on it continues to be safe with the measures in place,” the SŽ stated.

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Mixed results in preserving heritage

The public's fight to preserve Prague landmarks in the recent past has been met with mixed results. Efforts to save the Cubist-style Libeň Bridge have mostly been successful, though modernization of the structure will take place.

Despite some objections from preservationists, the Central Telecommunications Building in Prague’s Žižkov district is currently being torn down. Petitions and protests couldn't stop the demolition of the Brutalist-style Transgas building in Vinohrady met a similar fate in 2019, as did Hotel Praha in 2013.

The public also tried to stop the demolition of a building on Wenceslas Square, which was torn down in 2019 to make way for the Flow Building, nowadays home to Primark.

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