Safety concerns about railway arches were raised in a safety report two years before yesterday’s fire near Elephant & Castle station.
Around 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines tackled the “serious” blaze, with London Fire Brigade confirming that three commercial units under the arches were “completely alight”, along with four cars and a telephone box near to the station.
Six people were injured and one taken to hospital.
In its April 2019 report, the Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety (CROSS) body revealed anonymous concerns that Network Rail’s £1.4bn deal to sell off its non-railway estate assets, including thousands of railway arches, could lead to safety issues as engineers would not be able to properly inspect them.
Network Rail concluded a deal to sell its 5,200 property assets in November 2018.
“In the event that space under railway arches is sold off then it becomes almost impossible for inspection and maintenance to be carried out,” the CROSS report states.
The converted railway arches are popular locations for start-ups and local businesses and are in high demand in London in particular.
The report claims that many of the inner-city arches could contain “defects hidden behind linings” and have not been inspected for years. It adds that many arches that have been inspected in recent years have required immediate action to make safe.
Safety concerns raised in the report primarily centre on structural issues, with the anonymous reporter stating that the freight loading on old masonry structures is such that the movement of heavy trains over them causes movement in the bricks which dislodges mortar over time, leading to further increased movement in the bricks.
The report says that these defects could lead to a potential structural collapse if not addressed.
It is not clear if fire safety concerns have also been an issue, and the cause of the fire is currently unknown. However the Met said it was “not believed to be terror related”.
The London Fire Brigade urged people to avoid the area yesterday.
Significant road closures were in place, with trains stopped and the station and nearby buildings evacuated.
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/