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Journey to the finish line – a look back at Phase 2 by Nick Yarwood.

Renovation of the magnificent Falling Sands Viaduct is complete!


In May specialist rope access contractor CAN Ltd won the job of undertaking the second phase. This involved repointing brickwork joints using lime mortar, replacing damaged bricks and pinning together layers of the arches where they had separated in places using stainless steel anchor pins.


The work was carried out efficiently using rope access, rather than erecting a vast and costly scaffold. Some might say that it would take brave individuals to dangle from ropes whilst skilfully wielding electric mortar rakes, disc grinders, hammers, buckets and trowels. It turns out that the women and men that undertake this enjoy working at height. When not on tall structures, chimneys, bridges, high roofs and the like, they go rock climbing at weekends.


During work to replace loose bricks under the second arch from the Bewdley end there was an unexpected surprise. From a very small gap behind a brick, a bat flew out, and it wasn’t the only one. Bats are protected, of course. Work had to cease whilst Natural England were contacted and a license acquired. At the same time, national lockdown was imposed and the site was closed down for a period of five weeks.


Once restrictions were eased, Natural England gave permission for work to continue on areas of the viaduct which were free from bats; an ecologist from Worcestershire Wildlife Consultancy oversaw the ongoing works. You may be thinking the poor bats would be made homeless. Not at all. Special bat boxes were affixed as work progressed so that we can enjoy the spectacle of them flying at dusk and in the early morning as they search for insects over the water.


During the 1980s British Rail, in their wisdom, had dismantled and rebuilt the parapets from the Bewdley end stopping over half way across, between the canal and the river. This destroyed the stone-capped pilasters at the Bewdley end and the attractive blue brick bull-nosed feature running across the viaduct, which the original designers had provided to deflect water. No surprise then, that brickwork below where it had survived was in better condition.


Restoring the feature and the pilasters was an important part of the project. Sourcing materials and installing the original massive blue brick feature would be prohibitively costly. The solution was to affix a replica made from textured GRP sections, sealed to deflect water. These are light to handle and easy to affix to a concealed stainless steel bar. The result is very effective and not at all noticeable unless it’s pointed out.


The replacement stone blocks for the pilasters are historic and were sourced from a railway bridge near Manchester. The 220 million years old sandstone is a very good match for the originals that are still in-situ at the Kidderminster end and, after saw-cutting to size elsewhere, were expertly shaped by our resident stone mason, Phillip Chatfield. A historic piece of railway heritage has a fitting new railway home on the SVR.


What with bees, bats, and lockdown it’s a tremendous credit to the contractor’s excellent site team and our consultant civil engineer, Jonathan Symonds that the project was completed in early December, within budget and not too long after the planned completion date of late August.


The viaduct is back in excellent shape and good for another 100 years, and the line speed can be fully restored. It will even be ready for possible 50 mph running in the future, but that’s another story.


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