150 YEARS ON – ROYAL ALBERT BRIDGE GETS A NEW LEASE OF LIFE : Royal Albert Bridge - unveiling Brunel's name

Wednesday 29 Apr 2009


Region & Route:
| Wales & Western: Western
| Wales & Western

After carrying nearly 1 billion tonnes of rail traffic for the last 150 years, the Royal Albert Bridge - one of Brunel’s greatest masterpieces – is set for a major revamp.

Network Rail will be embarking on the most complex refurbishment scheme on this bridge since it was first completed in 1859. Planning work is now underway and the final stages of design to improve the two main spans of the bridge has started.

The design and construction of these spans was what made the Royal Albert Bridge unique and considered an engineering feat of its time.

Ian Frostick, route civil engineer, Network Rail said: “This is a significant year for the Royal Albert Bridge. The 150 years anniversary is a testament to Brunel’s achievements and to the industry’s commitment to this vital rail link.”

“For the last two years, we have been working hard on the improvement plans. It is a complex job that requires careful consideration particularly on safety, operations and heritage issues and this planning process cannot be rushed. We are really delighted that we have come this far and will soon be able to start work, restoring the Royal Albert Bridge to its former glory and fit for the 21st century.”

A new lease of life will be injected to the two 455-foot spans as they will be blast-cleaned, strengthened and completely re-painted. A total area of 20,000 square metres – about three football pitches – of the bridge will be painted over using a three-coat painting system that is also being used on the Forth Bridge.

The bridge is currently covered in 30 coats of paint and as part of the work, research will be carried out to uncover the original colour of the bridge. Initial findings indicate that the original colour of the bridge could be brown.

The Royal Albert Bridge was first repainted grey in 1911 and its original colour was hidden since then and was never recorded, thus leaving a gap in the history books.

As soon as the design work is completed, work is expected to begin onsite by summer 2010. This design process will finalise how the renewal and restoration work should be carried out in the next two years.

Network Rail has been working closely with English Heritage, Plymouth City Council, Cornwall Council and Saltash Town Council on the plans for this Grade I structure, which was first listed in 1952.

The Royal Albert Bridge was completed in 1859 and it remains today as the only rail link to and from Cornwall. The bridge had to be supported 80 feet above water level, with a giant cylinder floated out and sunk onto the rock; the bridge’s two 455-foot main spans were built on the shore, floated into position, then jacked up by a few feet per day until they reached the right level.

As part of the 150 years celebration this year, Network Rail has come together with Ashtorre Brunel Bridge Celebration Committee to co-organise a special walk across the bridge.

This is the first-of-its-kind event to be held on this bridge and will see thousands of people coming from all across the country joining the community in the year-long celebration. The walk is on 3 May, the date after the bridge was first opened by Prince Albert on 2 May 1859.

Notes to editors

- One of the biggest challenges in maintenance is getting access to bridge to carry out the work and therefore a quarter of the bridge can only be painted each year, while the approach spans are painted every two years. An aim of this scheme is to remove this current practice, so that maintenance work can be carried more efficiently and effectively. - Over the next six months, engineers will be poring over the structure to study and plan the specific work that needs to be carried out next year. Scaffoldings will be put up on the bridge for engineers to access it easily in the next six months. - The bridge comprises 19 spans in total, with an overall length of 2200 feet. 17 of the spans are less than 100 feet in length while the two main spans are at 455 feet each. The work now planned is on these two main spans.

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