Here at Rail Engineer we reckon to have our fingers on the pulse, our ears to the ground, our eyes on the ball, feet firmly on the floor, noses to the grindstone, backs to the wall… and so on and so on.

But, despite all these contortions there are the odd occasions when a press release takes us by surprise – an image of somewhere blindingly obvious that has slipped under our radar, and all the other parts of our collective anatomy.

Industrial development

So it was with some bonny photographs that arrived showing some 40 tonne bridge beams being lifted over the WCML near Lichfield. Now, Lichfield isn’t somewhere in the back of beyond, a remote wayside station visited only by the occasional nodding donkey (aka Class 142). No, this is a city in its own right with a Cathedral that had a pretty rough time during the Civil War and which has the distinctive three spires. (That’s the way it was built. This isn’t an example of a medieval investment ‘pause’. There never were four. The third one is in the middle with the other two at one end.)

Perhaps in mitigation we should state that these beams were being lifted as part of a bridge that isn’t going to belong to Network Rail. It’s all down to Staffordshire County Council (SCC) which is about to develop a nearly land- locked triangular portion of land between the WCML, the BJW line (that’s the line that crosses over the WCML and which heads off to Burton on Trent) and the A38 dual carriageway. This is the Liberty Park development to the east of the city. As we’ll see later, it’s a bridge with a very ancient history.

Haul road

Up until Christmas 2014 it was possible to reach the land via a narrow jack-arched overbridge, but it was decided very early on in the project that this just didn’t have the capacity to take the heavy flow of full-sized articulated lorries that will inevitably serve an industrial development. It was too narrow and had weight limitations.

So SCC let a contract to Galliford Try under a highways framework contract, called the Midlands Highway Alliance, to carry out the removal of the old bridge and the construction of a new, wider structure on the same alignment over the WCML along with associated earthworks and access roads. Sunil Karra, Galliford Try’s project manager, was soon immersed in the complex, but positive, negotiations with Network Rail.

The old bridge was duly demolished in a 52 hour-possession over the Christmas period. Once the bridge was gone, there was an access problem. The site of the Liberty Park could only be reached either over Hollands level crossing, an accommodation crossing on the BJW line, or via a bridge that passes under the A38 – a bridge that just goes to a farm and a field.

Negotiations to secure access over the level crossing proved ‘complicated’. Not wishing to increase risk at any level crossing, let alone a farm crossing, Network Rail resisted the application.

Thus it was that Galliford Try went the long way round and put in a 21⁄2 km haul road from a country lane about 1km away to the east. The haul road skirted the WCML and the A38, tucking under the dual carriageway at the north end of the site and finally following the A38 back to the WCML. It was a long and dusty road, but served a purpose.

A cautionary tale

Demolishing the bridge appeared to be a straightforward task. The bridge was relatively small and an easy target for the modern machinery supplied by S Evans and Sons,

the demolition contractor. There were no significant services embedded in the structure. But, nevertheless, it did pass over a four track electrified railway – and the railway wasn’t on the straight.

IMG_0012 [online]

The technique of protecting the OLE without having to cut it used the tried and tested method of lowering and concealing the wires under a demolition crash deck. On straight track this is relatively simple. On a curve there are precautions needed to stop the wiring landing up in the Coventry Canal.

Mike Lightwing, construction manager for Network Rail, tells a cautionary tale of not making quick assumptions at site meetings! What appeared to be a normal earth return conductor fixed to the structure turned out, in fact, to be an auto-transformer feeder cable. This required some careful management with Network Rail’s E&P design group coming up with a scheme that was installed by Colas Rail – which also carried out all the OLE works on the possession.

Solid rock

Over the Christmas 52-hour possession – one of many on the WCML, but one which had had little or no press coverage because it went well – the old bridge was removed with the OLE being lowered and raised during eight-hour periods at the start and end of the possession.

With the bridge out of the way and the abutments taken down to cess level, footings for the new bridge were excavated behind the old abutments. Despite the proximity of rivers and a relatively flat area of terrain, bedrock is encountered at fairly shallow levels and thus the new bridge is founded on solid sandstone.

Short possessions were used for the erection of the abutment falsework, scaffolding and ‘high-street’ environment fencing. The main erection possessions were seven hours each on 28/29 June and 4/5 July. Twelve precast concrete beams manufactured by ABM Precast from Nottingham were lifted in with a 800 tonne crane supplied by Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd. Sunil recalls, “On each possession we had them all parked up by 10pm, counted them and made sure they were the right ones.”

Over the next few weeks there will be short possessions to seal the gaps between the beams which will allow concreting work and surfacing to be carried out without disturbing rail traffic.

And what of the new Liberty Park industrial complex? Well, it’s not there yet, but at least it can be reached via a bridge that is fit for purpose.

A link with the past

Before we close, it’s worth looking at the arrangement of the roads at this site. The old bridge carried ‘Burton Old Road’ and yet, looking at the Ordnance Survey map, it’s obvious that the route passes well to the south of the city.

The answer to this apparent conundrum is that it wasn’t part of the present day road system. It harks back to a much earlier period. In fact, it was Ryknild Street (or Icknield Street), a Roman road that served the major settlement of Letocetum. This site, looked after by The National Trust, is in the nearby parish of Wall to the South West. From Letocetum, the road lies beneath (was demolished by) the BJW railway and follows a near perfectly straight alignment over (originally under!) the WCML before it is covered (was demolished again) by the BJW railway to the East of Lichfield Trent Valley station. It then carries on straight for the breweries of Burton on Trent and away via Derby to Templeborough near Rotherham.

Just every so often, our current perceptions of what is a static transport layout are disturbed in the most unlikely of locations. Now Burton Old Road will see a new flow of traffic having echoed to the tramp of Roman soldiers many centuries ago. So it’s ironic that we didn’t see this one coming.