THOUSANDS CROSS ROYAL ALBERT BRIDGE TO MARK BRUNEL’S LEGACY: Royal Albert Bridge to get a new lease of life

Sunday 3 May 2009


Region & Route:
Wales & Western: Western
| Wales & Western
A special bridge walk across the Royal Albert Bridge, organised jointly by Network Rail and the Ashtorre Brunel Committee, has drawn thousands of people to celebrate one of Brunel’s greatest masterpieces.

The railway bridge in Saltash has stood tall for 150 years and has carried more than 1 billion tonnes of rail traffic since it opened. Today, it remains as the only rail link to and from Cornwall and the only bridge of its kind that still exists.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many who joined the walk on 3 May as that was the first time after 25 years that the railway bridge was opened to the public to cross by foot. It was a rare chance for them to come up close and personal with the bridge and to share Brunel’s first and final experience when he crossed the bridge before he passed away four months after it was completed.

Jerry Swift, head of corporate responsibility, Network Rail said: “We are delighted to have been able to make the Ashtorres Brunel Bridge Committee’s brilliant idea a reality. What a fantastic way to celebrate this iconic bridge, by giving local people a very rare opportunity to walk across it. Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge is a masterpiece, a vital link between Devon and Cornwall, and an engineering achievement that all of us in the rail industry are very proud of.”

Richard Bickford, town councillor Saltash Town Council and lead member of Ashtorre Brunel Committee, said: “In Saltash we see and admire this bridge everyday, the building of it by Brunel put Saltash on the map 150 years ago and it still does today. The opportunity to walk it is just fantastic, and the interest has been overwhelming.”

“Our thanks go to Network Rail for allowing the walk to happen and we look forward to watching the work to maintain the bridge over the coming years.”

Parts of the bridge will soon be covered with scaffolding after the walk as Network Rail begins the detailed design to improve the two main spans of the bridge. It will be the most complex refurbishment work since the the bridge was completed in 1859.

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

Preparation for this scheme started two years ago, when Network Rail has been carrying out detailed study of the structure to better understand the original design.

The bridge will be given a new lease of life, it will be blast-cleaned, strengthened and re-painted as part of the scheme. The improvement work will start on site by summer 2010, once the final stages of design is completed.

A total area of 20,000 square metres – about three football pitches – will be painted over using a three-coat painting system that is also used by the Forth Bridge. Work will also be carried out to repair and replace worn-out structures, including all the hangers and track girders.

Notes to editors

In 1844 an Act was obtained to construct a bridge over the River Tamar, at Saltash. The first design submitted to the Admiralty was that of a timber structure consisting of seven river spans, one of 250 feet and six of 100 feet with a clear headway of 70 feet. This was rejected, a similar design, again using timber was presented of different spans and headways once again this fell to the same outcome. The admiralty stated, after these initial designs were presented, that the requirements were of four spans of 300 feet, three spans of 200 feet and a clear headway of 100 feet. Brunel, having already ascertained the nature of the foundations, submitted in 1850 his final plans for the bridge with two river spans of 485 feet, which was accepted by the Admiralty. In 1852 however, he found that the main river spans could be reduced to 455 feet. The Cornwall main river span was completed in 1857, the Devon main span in 1858, and the bridge opened for rail traffic by the Prince Albert in 1859. Dimensions - Total length of the structure: 2,200 feet Number of spans: 17 land spans; 2 river spans Weight of ironwork in each of river spans: 1,060 tons Land span pier construction: Constructed of limestone Centre pier construction: Granite base with wrought iron columns The Royal Albert Bridge is a combination of suspension bridge and bow string truss and modelled after a structure across the River Wye at Chepstow. The bridge has been demolished, making Royal Albert Brunel the only bridge of its kind today. When the structure was built, it had to be supported 80 feet below mean sea level, with a giant cylinder floated out and sunk onto the rock; the bridge’s two 455-foot spans were built on the shore, floated into position, then jacked up by a few feet per day until they reached the right level.

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