Tuesday 16 May 2006


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One of the most famous bridges in the world has now been restored to its former glory as   Network Rail today unveiled Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s name on the Royal Albert Bridge. The great engineers name has been hidden for decades and has been revealed to celebrate the bicentenary of Brunel’s birth. Ian McAllister, Network Rail’s Chairman, said: “This is a great opportunity to recognise one of the most outstanding engineers in history.  Network Rail has the unique honour of safeguarding much of Brunel’s legacy so it’s only fitting that we can once again see his name in full glory on one of his most famous structures.” Network Rail has relocated the access platforms to the opposite sides of both end portals of the bridge, allowing the letters ‘I.K.BRUNEL ENGINEER 1859’ to be seen in full.  Members of the public, local dignitaries and Network Rail staff watched the historic occasion from the foot of the bridge as a brass band played in the background. FACTS ABOUT BRUNEL History 1833 - Brunel was appointed Chief Engineer of God’s Wonderful Railway, aged 27 1846 - Preparatory works started on the Royal Albert Bridge1850 - Brunel is made Vice President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (held until 1859) 1859 - The Royal Albert Bridge was officially opened on 2 May by HRH Prince Albert 1859 - Brunel only crossed the bridge on one occasion after its completion as he died four months later on 20 September, aged 53.  He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery 1892 - The original broad gauge track (7’ 0 ¼ ft) was converted (4.8 ft) 1919 - The longitudinal track timbers were removed and reinstated with cross sleeper track on the Royal Albert Bridge 1921 - The first walkways were erected on both the Cornwall and Plymouth ends of the Royal Albert Bridge, covering Brunel’s name.  The purpose of these essential walkways was to allow access into the bearing area and internal parts of the tubes for maintenance and inspection of the bridge 1950’s - The lettering ‘I.K. BRUNEL ENGINEER 1859’ was revealed for the centennial celebrations of the Royal Albert Bridge, but has remained hidden since 1959 - A special commemorative plaque was unveiled at Saltash Station to mark the 100th anniversary of the Royal Albert Bridge 2002 - Longitudinal track timbers replaced the cross sleeper track and ballast on the Royal Albert Bridge, a modern imitation of Brunel’s original concept 2006 - Network Rail relocated the commemorative plaque to a prominent position beneath the piers of the Royal Albert Bridge to coincide with his 200th birthday (9 April) 2006 - Network Rail holds the official unveiling of the bridge on 16 May after relocating the access platforms to allow the words ‘I.K. BRUNEL ENGINEER 1859’ to be seen in their full glory for the first time in nearly half a century. The access ladders and walkways are now positioned on the inner face of the tube supports Useful Royal Albert Bridge facts The lettering ‘I.K. BRUNEL ENGINEER 1859’ was placed on the bridge in tribute following Brunel’s death The total length of the bridge is 670.6 metres (the river span is 138.7 metres) From the Act of Parliament 1846 to the Royal opening in 1859, the bridge took 14 years to complete, however actual construction work took six years Each letter on the bridge measures one metre high.  The lettering as a whole measures 4.4 metres tall and 5.9 metres wide The bridge is next due to be painted in 2008/09 as part of an £8 million refurbishment of the main two river spans. This will involve the bridge being stripped down to the metal.  3,750 litres of paint (1,500 tins) are required to fully cover the bridge.  The bridge will need four coats of paint in total The total cost of construction was £225,000, Brunel’s fee for his part of the design and construction was £5,000.  His annual salary was £1,200 The Royal Albert Bridge is used by First Great Western, Virgin, EWS, Freightliner and Imerys.  21,000 trains use the bridge per annum In all, construction of the bridge involved 2,650 tons of wrought iron, 1,200 tons of cast iron, 459,000 cubic feet of masonry and 14,000 cubic feet of timber Brunel was responsible for building more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of railway in the West Country, the Midlands, South Wales, and Ireland Removal of the Walkways Plymouth Tower

  • Original walkways and ladders removed, 1 April – 6 April
  • New walkways and ladders erected on inside of tower, 8 April – 18 April
  • Front face of tower painted, 8 April – 13 April
  • Unveiling system and lighting installed onto front of tower, 22 April – 27 April

Saltash Tower

  • Original wlkways and ladders removed, 8 April – 13 April
  • New walkways and ladders erected on inside of tower, 15 April – 22 April 
  • Front face of tower painted, 15 April – 22 April

Notes to editors

1. Aerial photographs: available of the unveiling on request 2. The Royal Albert Bridge spans the River Tamar between Plymouth and Saltash. The bridge is seen as the gateway to Cornwall and the Brunel name dominates each end. 3. In addition to this event: a. Engineering drawings by Brunel, owned by Network Rail, will be appearing in a traveling exhibition over the Summer b. Network Rail is set to recognize the outstanding achievement of a young rail professional. The award will be open to the entire rail industry c. Chief Executive John Armitt will speak at the Brunel Bicentenary Conference in Bristol, which will debate the huge contribution that engineers have made to society 4. Brunel 200 is a partnership initiative, involving an extensive body of companies and organisations. Their website:

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