By the time you get this edition, the bridge repairs should have been completed and the road reopened. If it isn’t, it’s because of the particular difficulties surrounding this tricky engineering task. As Shaun Trickett, the AMCO Project Manager said, “If it hadn’t been an emergency, this kind of work would never have been planned for the autumn-winter months. All the designing and signing off work would have been completed six months before we started, whereas we are still waiting for some designs to be signed off by stakeholders such as: Network Rail, East Midlands Trains, Leicestershire County Council, Severn Trent Water and the National Grid.”
The bridge was due to be reopened in January so what has slowed things down? Apart from the complexities of getting designs signed off there have been major practical difficulties. The line is only dead for a very short period of the week – between 12 midnight on a Saturday and 8am on a Sunday - and this has been extremely limiting. At present scaffolding is being built directly over four lines of railway tracks to enable the rebuilding of the parapet, but this can only be done at the weekend for Health and Safety reasons. Another problem is the proximity of the Grove Lane houses and the care that had to be taken to protect them. Because of their location there was little room to put heavy equipment in place or pile large amounts of material at the top of the bank. In all 200 tons of earth were removed by hand, piled up at the bottom then removed when the line was dead. Finally there’s the problem of cold wintry weather. You can’t pour concrete or use mortar to repair brickwork when it’s colder than 5 degrees I learnt.
And there’s certainly a lot of concrete in this bridge! Huge concrete ‘steps’ have been built to support the foundations although you won’t see them when it’s finished as the bridge will be brick clad. Steel has been used to reinforce the foundations and 30 steel spandrel ties have been drilled across the width of the bridge and clamped to tie in with the new foundations.
By 2022 an electrified line will link London to Sheffield and pass beneath this bridge so future-proofing is very much a part of the present repairs. The arch itself is high enough to cope with the electrification but the new parapet wall will be capped with steeple coppers to make it higher and safer. Another forward looking development is the inclusion of three new ducts to carry services across the bridge. These will not simply replace the old gas and water ducts, which have always crossed the bridge, but provide extra space for other services such as telecoms.
Finally I asked if there had been a lot of complaints. “Not since AMCO took over,” Mr Trickett replied smiling. “We’ve only had one complaint although there were 80 in the beginning when a first-response team was drafted in to secure the bridge. We do our best to keep the noise down. We hold ‘tool-box talks’ each shift. Everyone gathers round and site-specific instructions are given all at once to lessen unnecessary chat throughout the night - and we use silenced generators.” *
I left the site thinking the repairs were being done with extreme thoroughness. Yet as soon as the bridge is reopened I’m sure people will walk across blithely unaware of the huge amount of time and effort that went into its repair; it’ll look so very like it always did!
UPDATE * Since interviewing Shaun Trickett an article in The Loughborough Echo (Feb 15th) has highlighted the problems faced by Grove Lane residents. They told The Echo their quality of life had been seriously affected as their sleep had been disturbed by night deliveries of scaffolding, noisy diesel engines were kept running through the night and workmen shouted, swore and even played football in the road. And (Feb 16th) what is Network Rail’s Press Office response? A tight-lipped, “We have been contacted by local residents and are doing our best to work with them in very difficult circumstances.”