The Negrelli Viaduct, the Czech Republic’s longest railway bridge, opened up again for rail travel on Monday after three years of reconstruction work. The structure carries the name Tyrolian civil engineer Alois Negrelli, who is perhaps most famous for his work on the Suez Canal.
In the northern part of Prague’s centre, between the Karlín and Holešovice neighbourhoods, the Vltava river flows in an eastward direction and is split in half by one of the city’s bigger islands, Štvanice. It is this area that Prague’s second oldest bridge, the 1,100m Negrelli Viaduct connects together.
Previously a shabby, black structure, weathered by time and covered in graffiti, the repaired bridge is now a sparkling addition to the surrounding area, its freshly cleaned or completely replaced sandstone and granite pillars reminding onlookers of the size and elegance of the original. There are also future plans for some of the bridge’s arches to house cafés and ateliers.
"It is an investment worth CZK 2 billion. It is the first part of the long promised connection between the Masaryk Railway Station–Prague Airport and Kladno. Of course, this investment will continue."
The historic bridge is the first completed section of the much promised
rail connection from the city centre to the country’s main airport, a
compromise for the still missing direct metro line. The next stages of the
future connection will begin construction in two years. Hopes are the whole
project will be finished by 2028 with a total cost of CZK 31 billion.
But as the Negrelli Viaduct experience has shown, money and time investments could rise. Repairing the bridge ended up costing CZK 1.96 billion, half a billion more than initially planned and its opening had to be postponed by half a year.
According to Jiří Svoboda, the director general of the Railway Administration, this was because seven of the bridge’s arches turned out to be in much worse condition than original construction surveys had estimated.
As far as symbolism is concerned, the delay served a purpose. Monday is exactly 170 years since the first train crossed the Negrelli Viaduct in 1850, as Mr Svoboda reminded onlookers.
"Someone cut the tape 170 years ago. I don't know what the speech was. It was during the time of Austria-Hungary. However, I believe that today we wrote history again for the future, and that's what this building is about, in my opinion."
When the Negrelli Viaduct first opened in 1850, it was Europe’s longest railway bridge. That title was lost in 1910, but the structure retains the title at least in the Central European region.
It was originally supposed to be built under the supervision of the then famous Czech railway engineer Jan Perner. However, after his untimely death just days into the construction, the project was handed over to the Tyrol-born civil engineer Alois Negrelli, one of the leaders in Austro-Hungarian railway construction at the time.
Negrelli would go on to be involved in perhaps his most famous project, planning the route of the Suez Canal. The ultimate design of this strategic waterway was based on his ideas, but Negrelli would not live to see his greatest creation, dying in 1858.