01 May 2010

A new lease of life

It will be the most complex refurbishment work since the bridge was built and will inject a new lease of life into this vital rail link, keeping it robust for many years to come

The Royal Albert Bridge, joining Cornwall to Plymouth, is to be refurbished at a cost of £10m. Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel's bridge across the River Tamar was 150 years old in 2009. (BBC)
Network Rail give more details on the work:

The 151 year-old structure, which carries a busy mainline that is frequently used by around 30 trains each day, will be strengthened, restored and repainted over the next three years. Corroded elements on the bridge will be repaired and extra efforts will also be taken to restore Brunel's original design. These include removing redundant bridge elements - lower diagonal bracings - installed in the 1970s and using special bolts that are similar in design to Victorian rivets.

The rail landmark and gateway into Cornwall will also be spruced up with a new lick of paint to significantly improve the surrounding environment. A total area of 20,000 square metres – about three football pitches – with 30 coats of paint on the main spans will be blast removed before being re-painted over, using a more effective three-coat painting system. The Royal Albert bridge will be painted goose grey, so that it is compatible with the colour of the bridge when it was listed and the bridge's aesthetic can also be sustained for a longer period of time.

The structure was listed Grade 1 in 1952 by the English Heritage, which has also backed the improvement scheme. The effort to improve the bridge has also helped trace the bridge’s original colour of pale stone (off-white) that it was painted in 1859, replacing the missing piece that completes the jigsaw of Royal Albert bridge’s colourful history. Two 1m square patches of the existing paint layers on the bridge will be preserved for posterity. The discovery was made from an unprecedented paint analysis commissioned by Network Rail. It is to help Network Rail’s engineers understand the bridge’s existing complex paint system and define an effective approach to repaint the structure’s two main spans.

Chris Rayner, route director, Network Rail said: “"This effort has affirmed a piece of Royal Albert bridge’s history that has been obscured under 30 coats of paint for more than a century. It will also be the first time that the colours of the bridge is officially chronicled for posterity.

"Most importantly, the industry has an ambition to transform the railway on Great Western in the coming years and our investment on the Royal Albert bridge will play a part. It will be the most complex refurbishment work since the bridge was built and will inject a new lease of life into this vital rail link, keeping it robust for many years to come.”

The Royal Albert bridge has been painted over on 20 occasions since it was completed in 1859. However, its parapets and main spans were repainted in red-brown for £1,700 in less than a decade. In 1868, the ‘I K Brunel Engineer 1859’ lettering on the portals of the two main spans were painted at a mere cost of £2.31.

Network Rail is planning to start work on site by the end of the year. Steps will be taken to protect the environment while the work is being carried out. For example, the bridge will be encapsulated to prevent dust and/or paint from escaping and a special extraction system will be created to remove any waste materials without contaminating the surrounding. The improvement work will also be carefully planned to be carried out when trains are not running to minimise any disruptions. The bridge has carried more than 1 billion tonnes of rail traffic since it was built.
Inside the bridge rtgw 001
©Network Rail

There has been a lot of discussion as to what colour to repaint the bridge:

"When restoring historical artefacts, there are often difficult technical/aesthetic decisions. Do you attempt to restore original appearance or that best-known from the later history? An instance of such a situation is that of ancient Greek and Roman statuary, by long tradition known in bare white marble form, but fairly recently discovered to have been painted, often garishly. In this case, there would be no question of repainting the statues, but 3D scanning and virtual reconstructions enable us to see what they would have looked like. "Devon Historical Society

There is also a nice blog detailing the investigation carried out on the bridge to determine the exact colours used on the bridge HERE which is nicely illustrated with new and old photos of the bridge.
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28 April 2010
08:41 CITYBUS Due to an RTC at Trevithick Rd service 16 is being diverted along Peters Pk Lane and Victoria Rd to Roman Way then to Kings Tamerton.
09:25 CITYBUS Trevithick Rd has now reopened, service 16 operating as normal. Apologies for any delays.
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