Railway detectives piece together history of Dover sea wall: Dover- historic trestle picture

Wednesday 3 Feb 2016

Railway detectives piece together history of Dover sea wall

Route:
South East

Engineers from Network Rail and its contractors Costain have turned detective to tackle the challenge of fixing the damaged sea wall at Dover.

Investigations into the wall and the structure supporting the railway have ranged from hi-tech – including laser surveys from an unmanned aerial vehicle – to low tech.

While Network Rail has excellent records of many of its Victorian structures, the Southern Railway – which existed from 1923 to 1947 - did not keep many documents on the work it undertook at the site on Shakespeare Beach in 1927. So engineers have been not only investigating the structure itself, with bore holes and trenches, but engineers have also been combing local newspaper archives and even online videos for information.

Steve Kilby, senior programme manager for Network Rail, said: “We are the sixth company to own this stretch of railway since it was built in the 1840s, and the record-keeping of some of our predecessors means we are still finding out how this stretch of railway was built.

“So along with traditional engineering, one of the first things we did with this project was to research the history of the site to build up a picture of what happened here.

“What is rapidly emerging is that, while the original viaduct was well built, the work that was done in the 1920s was not what we would have hoped.”

The railway on Shakespeare Beach was originally raised on wooden trestles, with the waves breaking on the beach below. In 1927, the Southern Railway constructed the sea wall alongside it, leaving room for a new set of tracks. They then dumped many thousands of tonnes of chalk around the viaduct, encasing it and building the railway on top.

This was how it stayed until Christmas Eve 2015. Since that day, trains have been unable to run between Dover and Folkestone.

The tracks have since been dug up, to allow engineers to examine the nature of the soil under the railway.

Mr Kilby added: “We are working on designs all the time and the investigations we are undertaking will help us make the right decision for Dover. We need to be absolutely sure we have the right solution and a timescale we are confident in.”

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