The railway line between Newbury in Berkshire and Westbury in Wiltshire reopened early this morning, Tuesday 7 May, after Network Rail successfully replaced a 120-year-old bridge which carries the line over the River Kennet.
The bridge needed to be replaced because of its age and, say Network Rail, the new structure will mean fewer speed restrictions will need to be put in place and fewer delays will be caused.
Engineers worked around the clock over the bank holiday weekend to remove the old structure, before using one of the largest mobile cranes in the UK to lift the new bridge into place. New railway tracks were then installed on top of the structure to take trains over the river. The project was slightly unusual, as the main parts of the bridge deck were built on site. Owing to the proximity of the River Kennet, a specially made pontoon was also built, creating more space to safely manoeuvre parts of the structure into place.
The bridge was erected with the help of a giant crane, which Network Rail says has enough power to lift more than 160 elephants into the air at once! The heavy-duty crane was put together at the site with the help of a smaller crane, a sixth of the size of the larger crane. Once the giant crane had been put together, four large sections were lifted into place to make up the main stretch of the bridge, which is 40 metres in length. Each of the four parts weighed 105 tonnes and is made from 50 tonnes of concrete reinforced with steel sections.
Network Rail’s project manager for the scheme, Jon Turton, said: “This work was vital to ensure that the bridge will be fit for purpose for decades to come and allows trains to remain at a consistent speed without the need to slow down which would lead to an increase in journey times. We know that the railway is 50% quieter during bank holidays and planned for this project to take place during the early May bank holiday so that it could be completed with minimal disruption to passengers. We would like to thank passengers and the local community for their patience during this essential work.”
GWR director of operations Rob Mullen said: “This essential bridge replacement work will allow us to continue to operate services through the area, ensuring we can make the most of our new intercity express trains and in the near future deliver more frequent and quicker journeys.”