Local Award Ceremony for the Railway Bridges in the Langstraat Region
The Local Award Ceremony for the Conservation of the Railway Bridges in the Langstraat region, a winner of an EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards in 2013, took place in Waalwijk in the south of the Netherlands on 5 June 2014.
The project’s goal was to give a new future to the former railway line between ‘s Hertogenbosch and Lage Zwaluwe, which opened in the 1890’s and closed in 1972. Only through private initiative and skilled social management by the Foundation Save the Langstraat Railway Bridges (FBL), the demolishing of the bridges was prevented and the long process of convincing politicians and local authorities to give their support for a new lease began. The results are rather impressive: five historic bridges were magnificently restored and given new uses – paths for cyclists, pedestrians and riding, offering an overview of the symbiosis of landscape, bridges, nature reserve and the facilities of a new public park in Waalwijk.
It was here in the “green heart” of the city – on the exact spot where the railway station once stood – that Jan van Groos, Alderman of the City of Waalwijk, accompanied by Gerard van Esch and Anton van Tuijl, both Board members of the FBL, and Rienko Wilton, Secretary of Europa Nostra’s Industrial and Engineering Heritage Committee (IEHC), unveiled the commemorative plaque together.
In his address, Rienko Wilton highlighted the unique character of the project. “It was highly complicated both in terms of size (41 km in length) and conceptual diversity. The main challenges were, on the one hand, to find the right balance between the restoration of the railway bridges and the living environment; and, on the other hand, to secure political and financial support at different levels of governance”. Wilton praised the hard work of all volunteers who participated in the project. He also recalled the involvement of the children who decades ago urged their parents to stop the demolition of the derelict railway bridges. At that time, the youngsters secretly used them as shortcuts on their way to school. Some of them, today proud adults, attended the ceremony.
Other speakers at the ceremony mentioned that the positive effects of winning an EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award are already noticeable. The municipality of Waalwijk has announced that it will take care of the regular maintenance of “its” railway bridge and that a blueprint for extending the cycling path further westwards has been prepared. In addition, like-minded people are beginning to feel encouraged to try and restore the remaining “missing link” in the former railway-line, i.e. the swing-bridge in Geertruidenberg, which dates back to 1885, the oldest in the Netherlands. Finally, plans are taking shape to place copies of the commemorative plaque all along the 41km length of the former railway, once called “Halvezolenlijn” or “Langstraatspoorweg”
The national surroundings of the railway, nature reserves and cultural-historical landscape and the bridges – of which the Moerputtenbridge with its 600 meter length is the most impressive – are nowadays the unique domain for hikers, bird watchers and other visitors. An important link has been created between the moral imperative of saving industrial heritage, protecting the natural habitat, facilitating recreation and providing infrastructure for local and slow traffic.