The Great Western route modernisation and electrification project represents the biggest investment in the Great Western Railway since Isambard Kingdom Brunel built it more than 150 years ago. Once completed, the modernisation of the line will stimulate economic growth along its length, particularly in South Wales where there is strong economic and political pressure to complete the modernisation work in a timely and efficient manner, as well as to minimise disruption and keep costs for the programme down.

One of the UK’s most important arterial routes, Network Rail is electrifying the line by installing 25kV AC Electrified Overhead Line Equipment (OLE). As part of the scheme, an iconic road bridge on Bridge Street in Newport was scheduled for reconstruction to accommodate the increased height of the OLE.

The bridge, which sits between Newport station and the town centre, is an important one that connects the affluent northern suburbs with the city centre. It is surrounded by businesses and residential homes, so the necessary road closures to remove the original structure and replace it with a new bridge would be challenging for businesses, residents and commuters.

Removal

Network Rail and its principal contractor ABC Electrification (Alstom-Babcock-Costain) appointed Cleveland Bridge UK not only to fabricate and install an innovative bridge structure, but also to remove the existing bridge in a short time window. Both elements of the project were to be delivered to strict and very constrained timescales when the train line was temporarily taken out of operation.

Cleveland Bridge is highly experienced in delivering complex steel structures to exacting timescales to ensure that new projects are completed to deadline and existing road and rail networks experience minimal disruption. Recently, the company has worked on the Forth replacement crossing, as well as Reading, London Bridge and Bond Street stations.

It was vital for the city that the replacement programme was carried out within the critical time allowed and with minimum disruption as, due to the nature and location of this work, it would be almost entirely carried out during rail possessions, under the close-scrutiny of residents, council and media.

The first stage was to remove the old bridge. To meet a short, six-hour deadline for the removal, Cleveland Bridge fitted additional steelwork to the 105-year-old bridge to strengthen the structure before it was lifted out in a single piece by a 600 tonne-capacity crawler crane, which is one of the largest of its kind in the UK. The old bridge was then dismantled in the temporary works area for recycling.

Replacement

The new structure which replaced it is a 228-tonne, 50-metre skewed, weathering grade steel road bridge that could accommodate the increased height of the OLE. Designed as an improvement on its predecessor, the new bridge is able to accommodate heavier vehicles, to ensure it is fit for modern day city centre traffic, and has a wider footpath for pedestrians and cyclists. It also has improved road alignment for better accessibility.

The new structure has some striking architectural aspects in the shape of the stiffeners and main girder top flanges, which give a pleasing look to the bridge elevation.  The shaped stiffeners, when in sunlight and sunset, cast a waving shadow along the face of the bridge.

This geometrically challenging new structure was designed and fabricated at Cleveland Bridge’s extensive production facility in Darlington. As bridge-building pioneers, the company designs, manufactures and installs steel bridges of every type, including beam, truss, cable and modular bridges.

In the world of construction, Cleveland Bridge manufactures, fabricates and installs load-bearing and architectural steel elements for large-scale commercial and civic buildings, industrial buildings, heavy transfer structures and iconic stadia from its County Durham base. The combination of its highly-skilled designers and engineers with technically advanced manufacturing facilities on its 22-acre site enables the company to produce 50,000 tonnes of precision-engineered steel every year.

Following a complete trial assembly within Cleveland Bridge’s 27,000 square metre fabrication facility, to ensure ‘fit-first-time’, the steelwork was loaded onto trailers and transported 280 miles by road to Newport, where it was assembled prior to installation in the trackside temporary works compound at Godfrey Road, adjacent to the railway station.

Installation of the new bridge, which took place during a 54-hour abnormal weekend possession of the railway line, also utilised the crawler crane and was successfully completed within three hours of receiving confirmation of the line closure. This provided sufficient time for follow on activities, including installation of the 90 pre-cast concrete deck units before the line was reopened.

Although the local population had been inconvenienced by the road bridge closure, there was a great deal of interest when the new structure was installed, with many residents staying awake throughout the night to witness it.

Preparation and professionalism

Cleveland Bridge approached this project with the highest levels of preparation and planning, and the professionalism shown at all stages was borne out through successful delivery within the very tight timeframe and with an exemplary Health and Safety record, including no Riddor-reportable accidents.

Working closely with its customer ABC and with Network Rail, Cleveland Bridge was able to successfully complete the project maximising on its strategy of close collaborative working and early contractor involvement at the design stage, which added certainty to the design, ensuring the most financially efficient methods of fabrication could be adopted.

As a result of these high levels of planning and delivery, the bridge removal and replacement was conducted on time, in full, to client satisfaction. Rob Fancourt, ABC’s head of civils, congratulated the team for “an excellent performance and lots of very hard work over the past few months ensuring a very challenging structure was ready for the lift.”

This positive feedback from both ABC Electrification and from Network Rail further reinforces Cleveland Bridge’s continuing role in the development of UK transport infrastructure.


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