Royal Albert Bridge Restoration Begins
By: Charles G. Woodland
Makeover for iconic Brunel bridge
For over 150 years, since 1859 Brunel’s iconic Royal Albert Bridge has spanned the River Tamar linking Devon and Cornwall, and after four years of planning Network Rail and their contractor Taziker Industrial on May 27 commenced two years of work on the bridge to replace approximately 50,000 bolts throughout the structure to ensure that it will continue to carry trains across the river for at least another century.
Mike Palmer, Network Rail Project Manager told The Railway Magazine that the £10 million scheme will see engineers spending over two million hours strengthening and repainting the bridge and bringing it back to its former glory. The two year time span is based on current assessments of the state of the bridge structure as the work may uncover additional repairs that are not part of the current plans.
At least £4 million will be spent on installing scaffolding to create four work sites on the structure that will run from both sides of the bridge towards the centre spans.
The project involves significant challenges as the Royal Albert Bridge must remain open to rail traffic during the work process. To the north is a site of special scientific interest, a conservation area to the south, residential properties on both sides of the working zone, plus water quality issues, weather conditions and contamination issues through grit blasting of the bridge due to lead based paints being used when the bridge was painted in the past.
In order to facilitate a safe working environment the scaffolding will be encapsulated to form a tunnel around the track, this has a number of purposes, protecting the trains, reducing noise and preventing anything falling from the structure. The current paintwork will be removed using grit blasting and mechanical preparation to bring the structure back to bare metal, to enable engineers to identify the areas needing repair and providing clean surfaces for painting. A feature of this work is to use enclosures that can be unhooked should wind speed increase to the extent work has to cease and prevent stress being put on the bridge
The project will see see over 50,000 new bolts installed, and over 100 tonnes of new steel work, more than 132 repairs to the load cross girders and similar work on 205 original cross girders. As part of the work being carried out strengthening steel work added in the structure in the 1960s/1970s will be removed as it is not believed to provide any benefit to the bridge.
The project has involved identifying the original colour that bridge was painted in 1859, and Network Rail plans to preserve two one metre square patches of the existing paint layers for posterity. Over the life time of the bridge it has been painted on 20 separate occasions but the new paint should last 25 years.
The final colour chosen is Goose Grey which is the same as applied to the bridge in 1952 when the structure was Grade 1 listed - the original colour scheme identified by paint analyst Patrick Baty following work in 2009 was off-white.However this was considered environmentally too garish and the 1952 colour was chosen.
The bridge will require 35,000 litres of paint from a UK manufacturer and to ensure consistency will all be from a single batch, and the end result will be that Brunel’s iconic masterpiece will continue carrying trains to the west for another century.
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