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The World Heritage of forest railways

Mon statut pour la session

11:30 AM, Jeudi 1 Sep 2022 (20 minutes)

This paper builds on a sequence of earlier work on the industrialization of world wood production. The 2014 ICOMOS and 2015 TICCIH papers presented a scientific heritage evaluation method and applied it to examples in the forest industry. The 2018 TICCIH paper illustrated the contextual role of a comprehensive framework for the industry called Global Wood. Forest railways are a significant heritage element within this framework, and their heritage potential as a site type is explored in this paper. The paper presents a brief contextual history of forest railways of the world. It demonstrates the substantial role they played in the industrial process for wood. It presents the case for forest railways as a distinctive and substantive railway type relative to other industrial railways. The important technical qualities that make forest railways distinctive are presented in the format of ‘primary value attributes’. The World Heritage Value Framework, described in my 2014 ICOMOS paper, requires the construction of a set of value attributes that collectively contribute to a heritage BIG Idea. The two qualities identified above, substantial industrial role played, and the distinctive technology used, are key elements in the contention that forest railways are a BIG Idea worthy of World Heritage consideration. The selection of World Heritage candidates starts with identifying countries that used forest railways, listing the year of closure of the last example in each country, and suggesting strong candidates from forest railways that remain intact. Candidate sites can be scientifically evaluated by comparing the relative strength with which each site expresses those attributes using the Multi Criteria Decision Analysis tool as described in my 2015 TICCIH paper. This process will also offer valuable insights into which forest railways may be at least nationally significant. An important issue examined the sustainable future management of forest railway heritage. It is very costly to maintain the operational capability and the heritage fabric of the lengthy forest railways that remain. They must have successful strategies to generate income and maintain support. The paper concludes by reassessing the relevance of the forest railway story for our future world. With the increasing negative effects of climate change, the story of wood and forests has never been more relevant to humans. Forest railways can become active participants in environmental and educational programs that address this issue with imaginative programs.

Paul Mahoney


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