Historians horrified over ‘botched’ bridge repairs

The skew bridge at Rainhill station
The skew bridge at Rainhill station
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Even to the most untrained of eyes, it’s clearly not the kind of workmanship likely to win the approval of as exacting a taskmaster as George Stephenson.

So it is understable the work undertaken at Rainhill’s Skew Bridge, an engineering first which has stood the test of time since it was built in 1829 by Stephenson, raised more than just afew eyebrows.

Local historians were horrified when it was subjected to a horrendously botched renovation job by Network Rail, who wanted to raise the bridge to help them electrify the line.

Red-faced railway bosses subsequently admitted that the quality of workmanship was “not of the standard we would expect” and did not comply with the approved drawings.

They were last week granted permission to begin work again to repair the damage their original work created and have been told by planning chiefs at St Helens Council they must this time respect the historic significance of the structure.

Contractors had hoped to raise the entire length of the historic bridge, including the wing walls on either side, to help them electrify the line between Liverpool and Manchester.

But the type of stone used proved a particularly poor match and they found they were unable to remove the original copingstones as the vibrations created could have damaged the parapet - including the plaque on the rail face.

Skew Bridge was constructed by Stephenson in 1829 and is a Grade II listed structure.

It spans the Liverpool to Manchester railway line and is widely accepted as the world’s first bridge to cross a railway line at an angle.

Network Rail bosses insisted that they fully appreciated and understood the importance of Skew Bridge - both from a railway history perspective and as an aesthetically significant asset in Rainhill.

They also pledged, from now on, to use sandstone more befitting of the existing structure.

Among the 21 objection letters received by St Helens Council was one from Rainhill Civic Society, which even enclosed a note from an architect on their planning group as to how the works could be improved.

It read: “The society wish to register their disappointment and disapproval at the work carried out at Skew Bridge, a bridge which is of considerable historic significance.

“They do not consider the modifications to have been carried out in the best or most appropriate way.”

However Network Rail’s revised plans were approved by the planning committee subject to conditions - including that a qualified stonemason is called in to oversee the works.

A spokesman for Network Rail simply declined to comment on the first attempt at raising the Rainhill bridge, but added: “Naturally, we want the work to be carried out to the highest standard and recognise that this is important both for local residents and rail users alike.”