New UK bridge over doubled railway is music to the ears of rail planners

An impressive new bridge, carrying tracks over the route of the HS2 project, is going down a song in the West Midlands of England. Rail freight planners will have a headache for a few weeks, as a crossing over their tracks is renewed to allow HS2 trains to reach the massive Curzon Street terminal in Birmingham city centre. What will be the longest railway bridge in the Midlands of England is about to be installed this weekend.

Network Rail engineers and their contractors are making final preparations for what they call a new landmark. Before that, the installation of the prefabricated structure will be among the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in the region.

Designated SAS 13

Over last weekend’s public holiday, the existing Victorian railway viaduct on the Stechford to Aston freight line, in the north east of the city, was demolished to ready the site for the new structure to be driven into place this coming weekend (7-8 May). The 92-metre-long bridge is being built by Network Rail in partnership with the HS2 delivery company, so that the tracks for the new high speed line, which demand much greater gauge clearance, can pass underneath it and into Birmingham’s city centre.

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The location of the bridge project in Biurmingham’s north east suburbs. (Graphics: Apple Maps / Simon Walton)

The new 2,600-tonne structure, currently known by its project designation as the SAS 13 bridge, has been pre-assembled by contractor Skanska over the last 22 months in a huge compound beside the existing railway lines. A lasting name for the bridge has yet to be proposed.

Impressive suite of statistics

Patrick Cawley, who acts as joint director on the project for HS2 and Network Rail, emphasised the complexity of the installation procedure, and the inevitable disruption. “Moving this 2,600 tonne bridge into place is no mean feat. As you’d expect from such a complex engineering project, passengers will see changes to their weekend journeys in May.

I’d urge people to please check before they travel and I thank everyone in advance for their patience while we help build this railway for the future.” No less impressive are the suite of statistics associated with the project. By carrying our much of the fabrication and assembly onsite, the contractors have been able to keep carbon emissions down, and has reduced the number of truck movements on local roads, minimising impacts on the local community.

At a cost of 85 million pounds (100 million euro), the bridge is right up there with the projected budget for HS2 – of almost one million pounds per metre.

Paving the way for the HS2

The bridge will be moved into place in a single unit, conveyed by a fleet of self-propelled land barges. Once in place, the relatively straight-forward process of re-laying the tracks will be undertaken, in time for trains to run again on Monday 23 May.
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“This project will deliver the largest single span railway bridge in the West Midlands, improving connectivity and paving the way for the HS2 route into Birmingham City Centre“, said Rosario Barcena, rail programme director for the contractors Skanska. “We have designed and constructed the bridge to deliver value for money, reduce impact to the environment and disruption to the local community. The bridge has been fabricated on-site, cutting carbon emissions and reducing vehicle movements to and from site. We’re looking forward to seeing it in operation.”

Feature image of pre-assembled SAS 13 bridge in May 2022 by Network Rail Air Operations.

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