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Searches and railway tunnels

07 April 2014

Important reminder relating to central London, central Newcastle and central Glasgow.

Those commissioning searches for sites in inner London (including Docklands) should ensure that all searches consider Network Rail and Transport for London tunnels. Searches in central Newcastle should consider the Tyne and Wear Metro (Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive) and in central Glasgow the Glasgow Subway (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport).

Background
In March 2013 a housing developer bored piling shafts through an underground railway tunnel in London. Having investigated, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has asked us to alert Licensed Conveyancers to some important points of which to be aware in relation to railway tunnels.
The developer and builder in this case were not aware of the tunnel until the incident because

  • Routine conveyancing searches did not include the tunnel owner, Network Rail, because the organisation was not included in the options offered by the specialist conveyancing search provider used when the development site was purchased in 2010;
  • The tunnel, in common with railway tunnels in urban areas, is omitted on most mapping, including all current and historic Ordnance Survey maps and plans. Although not relevant to the accident, maps showing underground railways often show a stylised, but incorrect, alignment; and
  • The developer proceeded without understanding the significance of a Land Registry entry for the development site stating ‘so much of the sub-soil as was vested in the Great Northern and City Railway is excluded from the registration’ (this railway company no longer exists but its assets, including the incident tunnel, have passed to other organisations).

It is Ordnance Survey policy not to show railway tunnels considered to be part of an ‘underground system’ on its maps

You can see full details of the RAIB investigation on their website.