The Fate of Prague’s Historic Railway Bridge to be Decided by International Heritage Impact Assessment

Petr Horník

The Railway Administration’s plan to remove the significant technical monument, the railway bridge under Vyšehrad, and replace it with another structure has led to the creation of the first international assessment of its impact on UNESCO-protected heritage reservation in the Czech Republic. This development emerged from a meeting between representatives of the state and Prague last week at the UNESCO Center in Paris.

The assessment, known as the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), will be an expert evaluation of the impact on values for which the city’s historic core was inscribed on the World Heritage List. It’s somewhat akin to assessing environmental impacts (EIA). The comprehensive and expert assessment is intended to resolve the long-standing irreconcilable dispute between the protectors of the double-track riveted bridge from the early 20th century and those who favored the new three-track structure, which emerged from the Railway Administration competition.

In December, Deputy Mayor Petr Hlaváček presented a plan to move the protected railway bridge upstream of the Vltava to Modřany or Velká Chuchle, thus beyond the boundaries of the Prague Heritage Reserve. According to him, the HIA should also address this. “We haven’t done it here yet. There is a methodology in English for this, so someone from abroad will probably process it, “Hlaváček told Právo.

The International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an advisory body to UNESCO, acknowledged the creation of HIA. According to Martin Horáček, president of the Czech branch, this will be the first instance in our country. “Which is good news, and Minister Kupka, who decided on this, confirmed that we are part of the civilized world,” Horáček responded to Právo’s question. According to him, UNESCO requires contracting states that the HIA process evaluates all intentions that could significantly impact monuments inscribed on the World Heritage List and finally calls on the Czech Republic to enact the obligation.

The renowned Swiss and British offices WaltGalmarini and COWI formed the project to repair the monumentally protected bridge last year. Právo said they will most likely submit their proposal to the Ministry of Transport in April. The Vltava can be crossed by rail at four locations in Prague. The Bráník bridge is currently under reconstruction, and traffic is restricted on the Výtoň due to its technical condition. Another option is the Negrelli Viaduct in Karlín and the bridge in Holešovice.