RADIO AND RAIL: THE NEW BRIDGE AT PROLOGIS RFI DIRFT

As you travel up DIRFT Drive, the main route through the new phase of Prologis RFI DIRFT, you will notice a bridge spanning the road. Look closer and you will see that the bridge parapets are decorated in a delicate filigree pattern. These fine, cobweb-like panels might at first seem incongruous in the middle of a modern logistics park. But, when you understand that the site was originally home to the Rugby Radio Station, the logic of the design falls into place.

This new bridge will carry the railway tracks that will connect a new rail freight interchange to the existing rail infrastructure at DIRFT. To mitigate the noise of the trains as they cross the bridge, we specified acoustic barriers. Since the bridge is in a prominent location, we were keen to soften the appearance of these acoustic barriers, so Prologis together with landowners BT and Aviva Investors, commissioned local artist Wally Gilbert to design a railway bridge parapet that would commemorate the Rugby Radio Station.

Inspired by the varied history of the site, Gilbert designed the parapet panels in a pattern that suggests radio waves. At the height of its activity, the radio station sent both long and short wave transmissions and played a role in many of the milestone events of the 20th century. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 1926: Rugby Radio Station was commissioned on 1 January and started transmitting in Morse code
  • 1927: a second transmitter was installed, which was used for the first transatlantic radio telephone call service
  • 1929: a new facility opened for short wave transmissions
  • 1935: Rugby Radio Station could transmit anywhere in the world
  • 1943-45: Rugby transmitters were used to jam German night fighter communications during World War II
  • 1955: the radio station now had a total of 57 low and high frequency transmitters, making it the largest radio transmitting station in the world
  • 1960s: circuits were set up for use by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the Mercury and Gemini space flights. The introduction of satellite communication saw the decline of short wave international land-based radio services
  • 1966: very low frequency transmission can travel through water and so was used to communicate with the Royal Navy nuclear submarine fleet during the Cold War
  • 1970s: Concorde used the Rugby Radio Station to communicate with British Airways when out of VHF range over the mid-Atlantic
  • 1982: a special short wave circuit is set up for Ministry of Defence communications during the Falklands War

By the 1990s, the radio station was concentrating on maritime commercial services, which ceased in April 2000. Seven years later, the time signal transmission also came to an end and on 2 August 2007, the remaining four radio masts were demolished.

As we move ahead with the development of Prologis RFI DIRFT, we are proud to remember the site’s history. With Wally Gilbert’s decorative panels, the new rail bridge brings together the site’s past, present and future in a way that is both logical and eminently practical.