The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: From London to Sheffield in the Spring of 1839

Planting railway embankments

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Observing different modes of treating the ground on the margins of deep cuttings and high embankments, and plantations of mixed trees introduced in some places, and willows in others, we amused ourselves, while on the railway, in considering how the good earth buried in the immense embankments could be turned to account; and we can think of no way likely to be more effective than planting the sides with oaks, to be cut down periodically as coppice; or planting them with black Italian poplars, or Huntingdon willows, to be cut down when they grow so large as to prevent sufficient evaporation from the road. Where the direction of the railway is south and north, trees might be allowed to grow on each side to any height; but where it is east and west, the trees on the south side might require to be thinned occasionally, for the sake of admitting light and air. There is not, however, the same objection to shading a railway with trees that there is to shading a common road; because, whether the surface of the railroad is dry or moist can make no difference to the speed of the carriages or the comfort of the passengers; nor could the sinking of the embankments be increased by the shade, because no more rain will fall on it than if it were open. With regard to the sloping faces which form the sides of the deep cuttings, we know not what the ultimate intention of the railway proprietors is; but, as far as we have been able to form an opinion respecting these steep banks, it is, that, after enclosing 2 or 3 feet on each side of the railway, the remainder of the surface should be reduced to such a slope as would render it fit for agricultural purposes, and let to the occupiers of the adjoining lands, or sold to the proprietors. We cannot conceive how retaining these slopes in the possession of the railway company can afford them any annual profit worth mentioning, either under the spade or plough, grass or coppice; but, if subjected to a rotation, or even kept under perpetual pasture, a farmer would be able to afford the same average rent for them which he paid for the rest of his farm. To reduce the slopes so as to render their under surface fit for agricultural purposes, would not be so expensive a work as may at first sight appear. Supposing the surface to form an angle of 45ᆭ, which is as steep a slope as can be ventured on, where the surface is intended to be covered with earthy material, not solid rock; then by raising a perpendicular wall or facing of masonry, within 3 ft. of the road, on each side, the ground may be filled up behind it, and a hedge planted 3 or 4 feet further back, the base of which should be 1 or 2 feet higher than the top of the wall, and then the bank may be lowered, taking care to preserve the surface soil of the portion which is to be thrown into the adjacent field, and distribute it equally. In the section fig. 94., a is the railway; b, the parapet wall; c, the hedge; d e, the slope at an angle of 45ᆭ; and d f, the slope at a cultivatable angle. Surfaces, partly of rock and partly of soil, that would stand at an angle greater than 45ᆭ, might be planted with oak and birch; and strata of solid rock might have the sides nearly perpendicular. By proceeding in this way, all the spare ground that was not absolutely wanted for the track of the railway would be turned to good account, instead of being unproductive, or covered with weeds, as it is at present.