For most of us, the sight of vast and outlandish pieces of heavy equipment being manoeuvred into position and then setting to work is perplexing. It’s clear something major is going on but we’re often unsure what all those extraordinary-looking vehicles and pieces of equipment are all for. There can also be moments of jaw-dropping wonder at the sheer scale of the things. Residents of Hungerford were recently treated to a prime example of this when the massive crane passed through town en route to the cow bridge at Hungerford Common. As it made its way slowly down the High Street, the thought uppermost in most people’s mind must have been: “no way is that going to fit under the railway bridge…” Well, it did.
So – what was going on?
To answer that question, I’m going to hand you over to local photographer, transport expert and one-time Meccano aficionado who was on hand to record and explain the work.
Sunday 8 October 2018
I expect you are aware that the railway through Hungerford will be closed for the next four days while the track electrification work is completed. At the same time, Network Rail is replacing Cow Bridge on the Common providing access between the two sections severed by the railway.
I went down on to the Common yesterday (Sunday 7 October) to find that the big crane being used to lift out the old bridge and install its replacement had arrived. As with other mobile cranes of this type it had to be prepared ready for use and there was no time to lose – this was a pretty much round-the-clock job and the first shift was due on at 2:30 that morning.
When I arrived, the crane was in position and jacked up level in the position from which it will operate. The counterweights used to steady the crane while lifting (at some considerable distance from where it was sited) were being installed. I believe these had arrived on a separate lorry and the crane itself was used to lift the separate five- and ten-tonne blocks into position on the flat bed of the crane. The combined stacks (110 tonnes in total) needed to be jacked up and attached to the back of the rotating crane unit.
After this the crane operator went through a series of rotating and lifting tests to ensure that it was ready for operation and the complete unit was left with the jib nearly fully extended.
I secured a second shot looking in the other direction of the crane ready for use while an HST passed and also featuring one of the local residents.
Over the next few of days – the crane goes off again on Wednesday – I shall pop down to check on progress and hopefully get a shot of one of the heavy lifts.
As you may guess I was one of the generation when boys were brought up on Meccano engineering sets, so this of thing continues to exercise fascination – although they didn’t make them quite like this in those days!
Monday 9 to Thursday 12 October
The old bridge being excavated out of its setting, broken up and was loaded into a skip box for disposal. By Tuesday morning, the new bridge sections had been lifted into place (I believe the work was continuous) and work was in progress bedding it into its setting in the embankment.
By Wednesday, the big crane had gone. The trackbed and rails had been fitted overnight and a tamping machine was in use to set the rails correctly for a smooth passage over the bridge and the bedding-in work was being completed. Two separate
Colas tampers were in use because there were no crossovers accessible during the blockade.
On Thursday the job was being finished off and the clear-up is under way (see main image). The left parapet of the new bridge set in between the main track bed and the space left by the old goods line. The brickwork of the remaining section of the old bridge is still in situ.
Friday 2 November
The most obvious and encouraging sign of progress today is that the steel-mesh fencing has been removed from those areas which have been cleared.
During the week lorries were seen removing mess halls and other services from the top end of the site and this small
enclave is the main focus of attention from here on, although one of the workers indicated that there would be special machinery brought in to complete the reinstatement of the pastures.
I understand that materials recovered from the project are being used on another bridge project on the canal at Baynard’s Lock in Kintbury. The scrap from the old goods siding is gradually being cleared (by rail?) from temporary storage in the old goods yard on an area of land which is under consideration for additional car-parking once the Oakes site starts to be developed.
Friday 9 November
The contractors have gone! All the recovering areas are fenced off with barbed wire and the boundary to the NR trackside has also been secured. The good news is that it has been possible to turn back the fencing at the east end to provide access to the underpass, so the footpath through to the canal is now open again.
The final picture here shows of the new structure from below, enabling comparison between its massive construction and the relatively modest arrangements for the remaining section of the previous bridge.
You should take great care if you wish to access the underpass as there is only a narrow path against the stock fence and the shoot down to the underpass itself is slippery in this wet weather. I had my trusty willow (a veteran of Beating the Bounds) for security in these difficult conditions.
The Town and Manor issued the following statement about the works:
The route is now open again to walkers, however the construction area will remain fenced off throughout the winter to allow the grass to regrow and the land to recover. Everyone is asked to help by keeping all types of feet, including dogs, off the area.
The Constable of the Town & Manor, Ellie Dickins said, “I’d like to thank everyone for their patience with the works, which are necessary from time to time. If people can help by keeping off the ground through the winter this will help the Common recover back to its former glory as quickly as possible.”
The area has been left deliberately un-seeded. In the top soil that has been spread on the area, there are large numbers of seeds from the existing grass. We wish to preserve the unique ecology of the Common and keep the grass mix the same – so we will let the grass grow back from the seeds currently already present in the soil, rather than bring in new species that may not be present on the Common.
If you want to see more photographs of these vast, brightly-coloured mechanical beasts going about their work – as well as more detailed descriptive notes – please click here to visit Tony Bartlett’s shared drive.