Complex Repair Works On The Only Sliding Rail Bridge In UK

Renovation works have been completed on a unique sliding rail bridge in Keadby near Scunthorpe. The sliding structure was added to cross the canal in 1925.

Complex renovation works have been completed on a unique sliding rail bridge in Keadby near Scunthorpe. New Civil Engineer reports that the sliding structure was first built in the 1860s to carry the railway across the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, and it was converted into a sliding bridge in 1925. 

The bridge was designed by Sir William Arrol of Dalmarnock, who had previously built bridges around the world in locations such as Egypt and Australia. He was also responsible for the design of the iconic Tower Bridge in London and the Forth Bridge in Scotland. 

Previously, the bridge was operated as a swing bridge with a pivot on the opposite side of the canal, but it was decided that a sliding drawbridge would be more efficient to allow for passing waterway traffic. The unique structure is battery operated, and when not in use it is ‘trickle charged’ by a set of 64 batteries. 

The bridge is manoeuvred by a set of hydraulically driven lifting jacks, and two sets of electrically driven wedges plus a winch haulage drive. The bridge is manually controlled by a signalman to ensure that it can only be opened when there is no approaching rail traffic. 

During the upgrading work that was carried out by Network Rail, the wooden beams were replaced by metal supports and 200 metres of new rails were installed. Additionally, a section of the canal was drained to allow a concrete slab to be inserted to reinforce the wall of the waterway. 

The bridge was closed for nine days during the upgrade. The contractor has recently discussed how they carried out the complex renovation of this historic bridge.

Project manager Ryan Hughes told the NCE that was a “fascinating” project due to the “unique design of the drawbridge and the fact that it is one the busiest routes for freight trains in the UK”.

He continued: “The existing structure consists of an open riveted steel framework on a rectangular plan in which the railway crosses the canal at an angle to allow the passage of trains. Canal traffic is accommodated by the bridge and all the attached infrastructure retracting in a sliding motion back into a draw pit when required.”

“The nature of the project meant that works had to be undertaken within a nine-day blockade, with multiple contractors working around the clock on their own specialist element of the works, starting at midnight on the first day and ending in the early hours of the final day.”

“The age of the existing structure, the varied fixing arrangements (and their modification/repair over the years), the complexity of the overall repairs/renewals required, together with the canal environment, created many challenges, which through cooperation, collaboration and sheer perseverance were successfully and safely overcome.”

Network Rail commented that the renovated bridge will provide more efficient and reliable freight and passenger services for years to come.