Monday 10 Jan 2011


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

A major scheme to strengthen the 160-year-old Britannia bridge, which spans the Menai Strait, has started today. A joint effort by Network Rail, the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Highway Agency, the investment of nearly £4m will help safeguard the future of the road and rail link.

More than 50 engineers will be working round the clock in the next four months to improve the railway and road bridge. To keep the railway and roads open during the improvement work, engineers will be using innovative techniques, including a barge, abseilers and installing a movable platform on the rail deck to access the structure.

Mark Langman, route director for Network Rail said: “Britannia bridge is a landmark and a strategic gateway linking the Isle of Anglesy to mainland Wales, carrying thousands of tonnes of road and rail traffic daily. The bridge has stood for 160 years and we want to keep the structure strong to serve Wales for many years to come.

“The bridge is uniquely located but we are determined to minimise disruptions and protect any rare plants and species within the conservation area while our work is being carried out.”

Reliability of the 830 metres long bridge will be improved as engineers replace the eroded steelwork, faulty drainage system on the highway, old bridge parapets and stonework.

The steel portals on the approach of the bridge will also be freshly painted. A detailed inspection will also be carried out in the internal chambers of the three towers – remotest parts of the structure - to examine the condition of the structure.

A special walkway will also be built to enable engineers to access the structure safely and swiftly to carry out ongoing inspections of the masonry piers.

Special efforts will be made to protect the listed structure and the surrounding environment, this include using special paint to minimise pollution, decontaminating all equipment before bringing them to site and recreate a new habitat for plants to flourish.

Notes to editors

1. A temporary signal will be in place on the A55 between 7pm – 7am from 24 January – 24 April to enable the road work.

2. Work includes:

  • Repair 150m2 of brickwork and masonry
  • Renew 1200m of drainage
  • Repaint 1000m2 on the portal
  • Remove 2500m3 of invasive plants, which will be chipped up on site and will be used to create a local habitat for flora and fauna on site

3. The work is contracted to Birse Rail Ltd.

4. Britannia Bridge is a bridge across the Menai Strait between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales. It was originally designed and built by Robert Stephenson. Britannia bridge – a Grade II listed structure - was first built in 1846 as a tubular bridge of wrought iron for carrying rail traffic. Following a fire in 1970, Britannia bridge was rebuilt as a two-tier steel arch bridge on the original masonry piers, carrying both road and rail traffic.

Begun in 1846, the bridge was opened on 5 March 1850. For its time, it was a bridge of "magnitude and singular novelty", far surpassing in length contemporary cast beam or plate girder iron bridges.

One aspect of its method of construction was also novel; the box sections were assembled on-shore, then floated out into position before being gradually lifted into place using powerful jacks. Stephenson went on to design the High Level Bridge in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which can be seen as a second and more elegant version of the Britannia Bridge.

During the evening of 23 May 1970 the bridge was greatly damaged when boys playing inside the bridge dropped a burning torch, setting alight the tar-coated wooden roof of the tubes. Despite the best efforts of the Caernarfonshire and Anglesey fire brigades, the bridge's height, construction and the lack of an adequate water supply meant they were unable to control the fire which spread all the way across from the mainland to the Anglesey side.

After the fire had burned itself out, the bridge was still standing but the structural integrity of the iron tubes had been compromised by the intense heat. As a consequence the bridge was completely rebuilt. The new bridge reopened to rail traffic on 30 January 1972 but with a single track. In 1980, almost 10 years after the fire, the upper road level opened which carried a single-carriageway section of the A55 road.

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