In the sheep-filled fields surrounding the Yorkshire Dales village of Threshfield where we spent last week on holiday, we stumbled across some strange earth workings whilst out walking with the kids.
Built between 1900 and 1902 at the peak of the speculative railway building in the UK, the Yorkshire Dales Railway was hardly a rip-roaring success. Closed to regular passenger transport in 1930 after only 28 years, the line was used for the transport of limestone quarried locally and occasional passenger excursions until the Threshfield end was shut entirely in 1969.
The earthworks still sit there, bisecting fields. There are road bridges and tunnels still requiring maintenance over half a century since the line was used at all. The costs today of a bright idea over 120 years ago that turned out not to be so bright after all.
Building a railway line is, whichever way you look at it, a significant undertaking. Building new information technology less so. But the long term legacy costs of the failed ideas (let alone the successful ones) can remain in place for many years to come. It’s hard to totally decommission something that gets adopted. Data structures and interfaces get shaped for times ahead. File formats change, wither and die but there is an obligation to maintain the data. The bridges and tunnels need upkeep decades after the railway lines have gone.