Montrose viaduct refurbishment uncovers war time damage: IMG 4664

Friday 8 Jun 2018

Montrose viaduct refurbishment uncovers war time damage

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Network Rail engineers working on the refurbishment of South Esk viaduct in Montrose have uncovered shrapnel marks and bullet holes on the structure consistent with a bombing and a strafing attack by the Luftwaffe during World War 2.

As part of the £4.2m refurbishment of the grade B listed structure which stands on the River Esk at the mouth of the Montrose Basin the metal work has been grit-blasted to remove paint, rust and take the structure back to the original metal work.

The 16 span, 440 metre long viaduct was then surveyed to identify areas of metal in need of repair and it was during this survey that the bomb and bullet damage was revealed on span 3 of the bridge. Some of the holes had previously been patched over, while others of less of a concern will be addressed as part of the project.

Montrose was bombed 15 times during World War 2; with South Esk viaduct itself attacked on several occasions. It is thought the damage is most likely to have occurred during a bombing raid on the bridge in August 1941whcih saw a freight train attacked and several wagons damaged and derailed when a bomb exploded below the girders. The raid also resulted in the deaths of three women and a child on Rossie Island at the south end of the structure.

Then, like now, South Esk viaduct is part of the northern section of the East Coast Mainline and an important route for the movement of goods and people north and south. In 1941, it would have been an important route for moving goods, munitions and personnel to and from nearby airfields and further afield as part of the wider war effort.

Following the attack in August 1941, the bridge was repaired and services resumed in just 14 days - which demonstrates its strategic significance and explains why it was a target for enemy attacks on the east coast of Scotland in the early years of World War 2.

Matthew Spence, route delivery director for Network Rail said; “We take seriously our responsibility to maintain and preserve these historic structures, not just for the safe and efficient operation of the railway, but also how they look in their setting for those travelling on the railway or visitors to the area enjoying the beautiful views.

”Uncovering the historic damage to South Esk viaduct has offered an unexpected though fascinating glimpse into the harsh reality of life during the war. These structures are solid and built to last and so the power unleashed by the bombs and bullets to mark and pierce the metal in the way that they have must have been ferocious.

“Seeing the bullet holes close up gives those working on the bridge today a reminder of the contribution made by everyone on the railway to the war effort – often in challenging, tragic and dangerous circumstances.

“While the emphasis then was to patch up the damage and get the railway moving again as quickly as possible, we now take it as our duty to pick up the repairs started by those railway engineers in August 1941 and properly complete the job they started.” 


Notes to Editors

Notes to Editors

Work began in June 2017 on the £4.2 million refurbishment of the South Esk viaduct at Montrose as part of Network Rail’s UK wide Railway Upgrade Plan.

The 16 span (section), 440 metre, grade B listed structure stands on 15 pairs of wrought iron piers above the River Esk at the mouth of the Montrose Basin.

Viaduct will be grit blasted, cleaned, repaired and repainted section by section in a project which will last 16 months.

South Esk viaduct was completed in 1883 and was one of last major bridges built in wrought iron using lattice girders – a Victorian design standard – in the UK. It was built by railway engineer William Arrol who was responsible for the construction of many iconic bridges including the Tay and Forth Bridges.

A bespoke scaffold system and walkway is in place to enable the Network Rail project team and specialist contractor Taziker Industrial to access the structure and deliver the work safely.

The viaduct is also being ‘encapsulated’ to provide the right working environment in the exposed location as well as to stop any contaminants from leaking into the air and river below – particularly during grit blasting and painting.

The steelwork on the bridge is being painted ‘Window Grey’ to match the original colour of the listed structure using a three coat system which protects the existing and new metal work from corrosion and provides a high quality aesthetic finish. The refurbishment of the viaduct ensures that it will not need any significant maintenance for around 25 years.

As well as the logistical challenges of working at height above a river, the Network Rail team and contractor also dealt with the harsh realities of winter in an exposed coastal location. In practical terms this means that the viaduct can only be encapsulated a section at a time to limit the effects of wind loading on the structure.

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