The Restoration So Far:
30th December- work started on the viaduct with track lift and site prep
Working around the live gas main
Replaced original drainage system with new waterproofing
Troughs laid for new signalling cables
Contract brought forward to 18th May- CAN Structures took control of the site
Assessment of the viaduct and beginning of brick raking
Samples of GRP taken on site to see how they match
Bat sightings- caused the work to stop until the ecologists could do a survey
20th July- work restarted on arches with no bats
Phase 1- December 2019- March 2020
Work on the viaduct started on 30th December. Volunteers were up bright and early to help lift the track and get the site prepared for Walsh Construction. We made the most of the annual six-week shutdown period, and the weather was on our side! Nick Yarwood, one of our volunteers who was on site every day, shares what’s been happening.
The last scheduled train, before the work began, left Kidderminster for Bridgnorth at 16:40 on 28th December.
In the following two days, volunteers and the Permanent Way team dismantled the still shining silver track and signalling cables at each end of the viaduct. The scene was set for peeling away layers that had not been seen since 1878!
First to go was the ballast. Each layer was peeled away and put nearby, in the old Sugarbeet sidings, to be reused. To not risk damaging the structure of the arches, we dug down layer by layer instead of in one go. And so, the viaduct’s secrets were discovered layer by layer.
But, there was a complication. Whilst excavating, we found a live gas main and an iron main. We removed the iron main and cut it into sections, luckily it wasn’t live! For the live gas main, we had to excavate by hand with a lot of caution.
Over many years, water had been seeping through the structure and caused significant damage. We found cast iron drainage pipes through each arch. Out of the six drainage pipes, four were completely blocked up and were covered by bricks to stop sand going down below. The trapped water had found ways to get out through cracks in the original waterproofing between each arch. The original intention was to diamond drill through the arches to install new pipes. But what if these old pipes could be cleaned out and lined? They were lined with plastic pipes and a pit cover.
The site team have happily shown various visitors around the works. For a group of ten apprentices from Kidderminster College, this was their first ever visit to a live construction site, and they were surprised by how heavy Victorian bricks can be. You would need large arm muscles to handle them all day!
We also found where BR had decided to dismantle and rebuild half the original parapets. A few of these large blue brick corbel blocks emerged during excavation, which we have retained to help tell the story of how the viaduct was built. Unfortunately, damage was done to the parapet structure and waterproofing, which had to be made with concrete.
To repair waterproofing, it had to be done in four parts. First, panels of fibre-reinforced concrete were cast over the arches. Then expanding sealing strips were placed between the panels and against the side walls. Concrete fillets were then placed along both sides to keep the water from seeping out. Finally, two coats of special paints, or ‘Black Jack’ was put over the concrete walls. Four concrete panels were poured in one day and three over the following two days. Above the waterproofed concrete, a layer of chippings was placed to allow the water to flow into low points and into the pipes.
Heavy rain in February risked problems with backfilling. Fortunately, storms Ciara and Denis did their worst over the weekends and the contractor, Walsh, refused to be beaten! Preventative pits filled with chips drained away most of the storm water. An additional drain trench through the entire depth, filled with chippings, provides a more permanent drain for the water below the trackbed.
Nearly 3,000 tonnes of stockpiled fill have been dumped into place and compacted. On top of that is ballast. On the south side, concrete troughs have been laid for signalling cables. The restoration has progressed ahead of programme due to a mild winter. Mostly, success is due to the diligent, knowledgeable and hard-working team from Walsh Contractors on site, with the programming, and support behind the scenes!
Phase 2- May 2020-current
Whilst the Railway went into lockdown and the remaining staff (those who had not been furloughed) worked hard on the Emergency Appeal, the FSV team were looking at ways to get phase 2 up and running.
Through discussions with CAN Structures (our contractor for the brickwork repair) and Jonathan Symonds, the Civils Project lead, the contract was brought forward to 18th May.
During that time the onsite team, setup the site, assessed the viaduct and began to rake out the brickwork. Alongside this, samples of the Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) corbelling (the row of brick which currently only goes part way across the viaduct) was brought to site to be checked by the civils project manager, Jonathan Symonds, a member of the FSV board with architectural experience, Alan Davies and the local conservation officer, Peter Bassett.
Everything was going well until... a bat was sighted, flying out from one of the arches.
Work had to immediately stop, in accordance with the legal requirements protecting endangered species. Although a thorough survey had taken place in 2018, it would seem that making the bridge watertight had also made it a safe haven for the flying furry creatures!
3 surveys were delivered throughout June, in order to ascertain the types of bat and extent of the bat ‘roost’. In early July it was confirmed that work could restart on 4 of the 7 arches, and a license from Natural England will be needed to continue work on the remaining 3 arches.
On 20th July 2020 work restarted on site, as before with social distancing and in line with government guidelines. Whilst we still have a few bats in residence, restoration to the brickwork has been restarted. Working with Ecologists from Worcestershire Wildlife Consultancy, we have been granted a low impact license from Natural England to progress with the work. Woodcrete bat boxes are being made to give a new home to the displaced bats, which will hopefully be more comfortable than the holes in the viaduct! However, we have had visits from other animals hoping to make their home in Falling Sands Viaduct. We found a nest of bees in one of the disused drainpipes and are currently working with a bee expert to find a solution for us all.
Meanwhile, our on-site team are busy raking out and re-casing bricks and trains are safely crossing the viaduct. With the visits from the bats and the bees, plus the arrival of COVID-19, our work on site is likely to be delayed by three to four weeks. We are hoping for work to be completed by the end of November.