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Wampool Viaduct | Leven Viaduct | Kent Viaduct


james brunlees kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

My quest for the oeuvres of the Victorian engineer James Brunlees brought me in July and August 2008 to the quaint resort village of Arnside, at the head of Morecambe Bay where the River Kent flows off up to Kendal and places like that.

A beautiful, calm village with an excellent fish-and-chip shop and a good place for me to hole up for a few days at the end of July when I ran out of food (having left my supply at Carole's) and money and had to wait for the 1st of August for my pension to be paid.

sprinter diesel multiple unit dmu james brunlees kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The railway line was built by the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway and I talk at great length ("no surprise there" - ed) about the history of that company on the page concerning the Leven Viaduct so I won't recap it all here. I'll just say that its construction was arduous, difficult and expensive and the Kent Viaduct here and its sister the Leven Viaduct were magnificent undertakings, in every sense of the word.

The engineer of the project was James Brunlees, who came to my attention while I was undertaking some research into the collapse of the Tay Bridge which occurred in 1879. He had been summoned by the bridge's owners, the North British Railway, to inspect the damage and later appeared at the enquiry into the disaster in the role of an expert witness.

james brunlees river kent viaduct tidal bore arnside morecambe bay aout august 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

His perfomance in the witness box could best be described as disappointing. He was full of bluster and arrogance yet under cross-examination he was obliged to admit that his bridges and viaducts contained many of the same procedures about which he had roundly condemmed Sir Thomas Bouch, the engineer of the Tay Bridge.

I'm convinced that the subsequent criticism of Bouch for the major responsibility for the collapse of the Tay Bridge was misplaced and in view of Brunlees being so involved in what I consider to be nothing but an opportunist "hatchet job" I was intrigued to see how the works of Brunlees had withstood the passage of time - to see whether they had lived up to his reputation.

And little did I know it at the time, but we (for on my first visit I was here with Carole and Adrian) were in for a major shock.

james brunlees kent viaduct lifting span arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The building of the railway line connecting the LNWR at Carnforth to the Furness Railway at Ulverston began in September 1853 and involved the construction of huge embankments and two viaducts, one of which, the Kent Viaduct, is here at Arnside not 200 metres beyond the railway station.

First question you are all dying to know is "how long is it?". 522 yards, 5600 yards (that's definitely not right), 600 yards, 477 metres - take your pick. I've seen them all mentioned and the normally-verbose Brunlees, giving his evidence before the Tay Bridge Disaster enquiry is strangely reticent on the matter.

Because of the difficulty of driving the piles for the bridge into the deep and treacherous sand by percussion methods, Brunlees was obliged to develop a method of water-jetting to create apertures in the river bed in which to sink the piles. These piles were hollow cast-iron tubes with large disc "feet" that sank to the bottom of the jetted apertures. The tubes were then filled with concrete, and cast-iron cylinders to support the deck were installed on the concrete.

james brunlees kent viaduct encased cast iron columns arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Yes, cast-iron cylinders for the use of which Brunlees considered himself an expert. But they aren't here now as you can see, so where have they gone?

The fact is that Brunlees' cast-iron work was no better than anyone else's. An inspection of his viaducts here on the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway in the early 20th Century revealed the iron columns to be in a desperate condition. In 1915 his cast-iron cylinders were surrounded by a masonry wall whiich was then infilled with concrete.

Much of the decking was replaced round about this time too.

james brunlees kent viaduct encased cast iron columns arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The viaduct was originally built as a single-track line with 50 piers about 30 feet apart, except for one span that is about 35 feet wide. Each pier consisted of three 10-inch vertical columns and an inclined "raker". However when the Furness Railway took over the line on 26th May 1862, one of the first things that it did was to double the track over the viaduct. Each pier then carried four verticals and two rakers.

A raker by the way is a column that is outside the footprint of the deck at its base and then slopes in to the deck at rail height. This is to provide triangular bracing against the prevailing wind. You can see the outline of the inclination of the raker in the masonry here.

So having set the scene, I couldn't wait to get out to the viaduct and have a crawl around underneath it. I had hoped to do that at the Leven Viaduct but it was high tide when we were there the other day.

In any case the ironwork on the Leven Viaduct had been replaced on numerous occasions, as lately as 2006, so I wasn't convinced that there would be much of Brunlees' ironwork left

james brunlees embankment into estuary river kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay diesel multiple unit dmu juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

First thing that you will notice is that there is a huge stone embankment that leads well out into the Kent Estuary. The original plans for a railway line around here proposed by George Stephenson back in 1837 included a huge stone embankment all the way across the head of Morecambe Bay.

One of the purposes behind this idea was to reclaim hundreds if not thousands of acres which could then be converted for agricultural use and, one assumes, sold by the railway at a huge profit that would offset some of the costs of construction.

james brunlees stone embankment kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Even in those days this proposition led to an outcry and eventually Stephenson abandoned the idea and built his line over Shap instead. The Brogden family, who eventually pioneered the line around Morecambe Bay, opted for viaducts over the Kent and Leven but even so, Brunlees, the engineer, used a considerable amount of stone in building some impressive embankments.

The principle of a 6-column bridge with long embankments projecting out into the river was reproduced by Brunlees in his most famous and probably most challenging undertaking, the Solway Viaduct.

james brunlees river kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay diesel multiple unit dmu sprinter juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo
Second thing that you notice is that one of the spans is wider than the others, as I mentioned earlier. Just a couple of miles upriver is the small town of Milnthorpe and back in the first half of the 19th Century it was something of a port. There was a huge outcry from Milnthorpe when the railway was proposed, with fears that the port would be closed off from the sea. The viaduct was therefore designed with a lifting span rather like a drawbridge to allow ships to pass upstream.

Nevertheless, the effects of the embankment and the bridge were such that the river began to silt up almost immediately and Milnthorpe was badly affected. In 1860 a small harbour was built at Arnside to try to maintain the seaborne trade, but that silted up too. When the viaduct was widened to double-track in 1863 the lifting span was done away with and navigation upriver practically ceased.

james brunlees derelict signal box cabin kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

I had no idea what this building might have been, but seeing as there is a signal right next to it, I hazarded a guess that it might have been some kind of cabin to shelter a signalman who would be in charge of the signal.

With the viaduct having originally been single-track, this would make a great deal of sense. There would have been the need for a signalman at each end of the single-track section to control the movement of trains. Despite the presence of a signal, back in those days a train could only pass onto a single line section if the driver received permission from a signalman to do so and a simple verbal permission was not enough.

There would be just one special token known as a "staff" for each section of a single track line. A train could only pass onto that section if the driver was given the staff by the signalman at the beginning of the section. Any train coming in the other direction could not proceed as the signalman at the other end of the line would not have the staff. That train would have to wait until the driver with the staff surrendered it to the signalman at that end, who could then give it to the driver of the waiting train as his authority to proceed. This way, there could be only one train on the section of track at any one time and head-on collisions could be avoided (in theory anyway - there were several incidents where some kind of confusion had led to two trains coming towards each other in a single-track section).

So what would be the situation when two trains would need to travel in the same direction through a single-track section without a train coming back the other way to return the staff for the second train?

In that case the driver of the first train would not be given the staff. He would be shown the staff so that he knew that it was at "his" end of the line and not at the other end where it might be given to a driver coming the other way. He would then sign a movement book to confirm in writing that he had seen the staff in possession of the signalman and once he had done that he would be given a "ticket" to proceed. This procedure is known as "staff-and-ticket" operation.

james brunlees wooden stump encased in concrete kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

While we are on the subject of not knowing what things are, I don't have a clue what this might have been either.

It's here on the beach downstream and windward of the viaduct and is a timber stump of some kind set in a concrete surround. One immediately thinks of "railway signal" or "telegraph pole" but I would have expected them to be at rail height and not at beach level where a ship might collide with them at high tide, and for telegraph poles I would have expected them to have been to the leeward of the viaduct to shelter them from the prevailing westerlies.

james brunlees kent viaduct track bed arnside morecambe bay lake district juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Before I crawled underneath the viaduct I had a climb up on top to get a birds-eye view of the crossing as it would be seen by the driver of a train. There's a lovely view of the Lake District in the background. It really was a lovely day.

But a big word of warning. Any working railway track is separated from the public highway or private field or whatever by a fence, usually of wire but sometimes of wood. Whether or not you agree with the principle of "open access" or are fully-versed with the civil laws concerning trespass, there is a criminal offence called "Trespassing on the Railway" which is ruthlessly invoked by the railway companies if a railway employee sees someone on the railway side of the fence. So no matter where you might be poking your camera, keep your body on the public side of the fence and if a train "toots" you, make sure that you acknowledge the signal.

james brunlees kent viaduct track bed arnside victorian villa morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The previous photo was looking across the Kent estuary in the direction of Barrow-in-Furness. This image is looking back in the direction of Carnforth and Lancaster. Just around the corner is Arnside railway station.

Arnside is a small town consisting of gracious mid-Victorian villas. It was the coming of the railway and the station that led to the expansion of the town and its transformation from a small fishing village into a holiday resort. And very pleasant too, as I explained earlier.

james brunlees kent viaduct wrought iron decorative bracing arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

There is some beautiful wrought-iron latticework incorporated into the viaduct as you can see. It doesn't just serve an aesthetic purpose, but also to provide strength and rigidity in a structure.

Try it yourself at home. Make a simple rectangle out of four length of wood and then press down on it. You'll see that it distorts around the angles. Now stick two pices of wood across it in diagonal cross fashion and then press on it. Notice the difference? Look at a simple plank door and notice the diagonal bracing behind it. It's the same principle.

The careless mess of cables and pipes spoil the aesthetics somewhat though.

james brunlees underneath kent viaduct longitudinal girder timber baulk arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

So finally underneath the bridge and you can see how it's made. In shot are three heavy longitudinal girders (there is a fourth one out of shot) and these support huge longitudinal timber baulks upon which are fastened the rails.

There's a pipe suspended underneath in the "six-foot" as you can see. The "six-foot" by the way is the gap between the two railway tracks. The gap between the individual rails of each track is known as the "four-foot".

I've never seen any mention anywhere of the number or rivets used in the construction. Usually there is someone with nothing better to do or an accountant who does things like this. In the Viaduc des Fades there are 71,609.

james brunlees underneath kent viaduct strut stud iron fastening arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The longitudinal girders are held in position by tie bars that are riveted in place vertically. They are braced with wrought-iron diagonal bracing, which serves the purpose of keeping the rectangular frame rigid.

Notice the large bolts that are fastening the bracing. The firm that constructed the old Tay Bridge also used large bolts as well as rivets. Bouch specified bolts of 1.25 inch diameter and the holes were set for that but the builders had difficulty aligning all of the bolt holes precisely so they changed the size of the bolts to 1.125 inch to give them a better chance of getting the bolts in. Of course under the effects of a strong wind or heavy load, the bracing would slide about in the free play of the holes.

james brunlees underneath kent viaduct fishplate fastening timber baulk longitudinal girder arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The longitudinal girders support longitudinal wooden baulks of some quite hefty cross-section and probably of some massive solid timber too. The chairs of the rail are bolted to this and the rail is set in the chairs.

You'll notice that the timber doesn't seem to be fastened to anything, but there are fishplates to stop it sliding out of position and to keep the rails in gauge. If it were to go out of gauge then of course the train would drop between the rails.

james brunlees stud iron strut fastening loose chair bolt kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

I said that the timber baulk did not seem to be fastened to anything. That isn't quite correct. Every so often there is a peculiar arrangement consisting of two pieces of heavy bar, one on top of the timber baulk, and one underneath the longitudinal girder. These are connected by two lengths of stud iron, one each side, and bolted down with a nut and then a locknut.

This flat bar looks pretty solid, but it's still not anything that I would use for a bridge that needs to support one and a half tons per rolling foot of train and 120psi of wind.

And look at that bolt that's holding down the chair. That's coming loose, isn't it?

james brunlees loose chair bolt expansion joint kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Seeing that chair bolt standing up like that made me have a quick glance around to see if there were any more bolts looking like they might be coming out. In this particular photo you can see that there are four.

The one right over on the far side is at an expansion joint. These joints are the weak links of a railway track. Iron expands at something like one eighth of an inch per foot and even the heat of a summer's day can cause some expansion. To allow for this they break the rail every so many yards and put in some joints that keep the ends of the rails apart. The bolt holes in the rail are elongated in the horizontal direction and whenever the rails expand they can slide along the boltholes, if you see what I mean. With a loose chair bolt right here by a break in the rail, the vibration would be terrific and sooner or later the rail would crack through the bolt holes, seeing that these holes are the weakest part of the rail.

Talking of expansion joints, British Rail used to employ lengthsmen whose task was to "walk the line" checking for defects. The state of these uplifted bolts implies that this line hasn't been walked for ages. I know nothing about civil engineering but even I could spot these loosened bolts.

One of the duties of a lengthsman was to periodically undo the expansion joints, thoroughly grease them so that the rails can slide easier under expansion, and then tighten up the bolts. Anyone greasing those joints would have quite easily noticed the bolts coming out, so this probably means that the expansion joints haven't been greased for ages either. And if they have seized up then the rails can't slide and this will cause them to buckle in the heat.

james brunlees broken stud iron strut lifted bracing plate kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Now this is much more ominous. If you have a look at this tie bar you'll see that it's only holding the timber baulk down on one side. The other side is raised up proud of the surface so it looks like the nuts have worked loose. it's definitely not clamping down over the full length of the bar. Are you telling me that any lengthsman walking the line would have missed this fault?

Time for another dive underneath the bridge to have a closer look at this.

james brunlees broken stud iron strut underneath kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Ooooh errrr. What do you make of this? There's the underneath of the tie bar quite happily swinging loose in the breeze and not clamping anything to anything else. You can now understand exactly what I meant about Carole Adrian and yours truly being "in for a major shock".

With this underside tie bar being loose there will be movement between the timber baulk and the iron girder under a heavy load such as a train. This movement will set off vibration as the wheels come onto and then ease off the timber at this spot and this vibration will lead to flexing that will put strain on the other tie bars. In the course of time they will all break under this flexing.

This is horrendous.

james brunlees broken stud iron strut underneath kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

There's a much better view of it from this angle. You can see it quite clearly.

You can also see that it's not that the nuts have worked themselves loose. What has happened is that the stud iron has actually sheared. Even though it's pretty rusty, it hasn't rusted through.

There are only two ways that the stud iron can shear. Firstly, if there's a defect in the manufacturing; and secondly if it's been overtightened by the fitter.

james brunlees broken stud iron strut underneath kent viaduct bracing hanging free arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Here's another view of the stud iron and the dangling tie bar.

You can also see the state of the ironwork underneath the bridge It isn't merely rusty, it's pitted with corrosion. The railway company has just paid out £14 million for repairs to the decking of the neighbouring Leven Viaduct. You would have thought that it might have been interested in the state of the ironwork in this viaduct. Had someone exerted himself to slap a few coats of paint onto this viaduct in the past it wouldn't have deteriorated into this state.

I wonder how long it's going to be before the company will have to spend £14 million for repairs to this decking? And how much would the company have saved with a few decent coats of paint?

The trouble with privatisation is that contracts are awarded for a fixed period of years. So the only maintenance that some companies will carry out is the maintenance necessary to ensure that the object concerned is still functioning at the end of that period. It's not in the interests of the shareholders to undertake expenditure on decent long-term remedial action because some other company and some other group of shareholders will reap most of the benefits.

james brunlees diesel multiple unit sprinter dmu kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay juillet july 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Much of the operation along this line consists of small diesel multiple-unit trains such as this one ferrying passengers between Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness or up the coast towards Workington and Whitehaven.

You might think that as long as it is only this kind of thing that ploughs its way along here then things aren't quite so bad. But lightweight as they are, they can still be chock-full of passengers at times. I wouldn't want to be responsible for decanting a Sprinter and 100 passengers into the Kent Estuary.

james brunlees class 66 general motors ontario diesel freight locomotive 66051 english welsh scottish ews kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay aout august 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

This of course is something else completely. This is a diesel freight locomotive weighing 126 tonnes. It's travelling light presumably to pick up a load and bring it back this way.

There are only really two places along here these days that merit a freight service. There are the docks at Barrow-in-Furness of course, but the more likely destination would be the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield. Nuclear waste travels regularly along this line to Sellafield for reprocessing. Imagine a trainload of that sliding into the Kent.

james brunlees stanier 8f steam locomoitive 2 8 0 kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay aout august 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The line is also heavily used for special trains and charters and there is a thriving heritage rail industry that runs steam trains along here. This particular one is a Stanier 8F - a powerful 2-8-0 freight train designed for moving huge loads of coal during the heyday of British Rail Freight operation.

I've absolutely no idea how heavy one of these weighs but I imagine it's considerable. Much more than a DMU "sprinter". It had quite a full load of period coaches that I imagine were pretty full with passengers. And it wasn't exactly hanging about either. I bet that for the whole trainload you wouldn't get much change out of 600 tonnes.

james brunlees river kent estuary tidal bore kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay aout august 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

So what did I do about all of these defects that I noticed? Did I ignoire them and go for a cheap propaganda victory instead?

I should say not! I wrote a report to the Health and Safety Executive and sent copies of my photographs.

Now people living outside the UK might not understand the British Health and Safety Executive but those Brits reading these pages will understand, and reckon that it's a pretty good bet to write to them. The HSE as it's known goes out of its way to be a killjoy by banning everyone and everything that might possibly somewhere or sometime do something naughty to someone.

Its existence has blighted a whole series of British cultural traditions and destroyed much of the traditional british way of life.
Christmas Carol Services - banned.
Christmas trees - banned
motorcycle shows - banned
fairy lights - banned (although Equal Opportunities and sexual orientation discrimination might have played a part in this one)
Every Brit has his or her story about the effects of the HSE and they are by no means apocryphal

So you would reckon that notifying the HSE would be a pretty fair bet and that trains would grind to a halt immediately.

Not a bit of it. The organisation that can ban donkey rides on Southport Beach for fear that a kid might some time some day fall off responded by sending me a 200-page booklet to fill in asking for inter alia
the grid location of the viaduct position
the GPS location of each and every bolt
the time and date that I visited the site
and a whole host of irrelevant other information.
It was all of this that drove me into making a cheap propaganda shot.

In the good old days when companies cared about their customers they had people out walking the line to check for defects. Now that these mega-corporations have taken over, they had abolished everything that relates to safety and encouraged everything that relates to profit. And the Government body that is supposed to be overseeing all of this is too busy banning conker matches to do anything about it.

Added to that, I'm back home in France 1000 miles away from this blasted viaduct. What do I know about the GPS position of each and every nut and bolt that's loose or broken? They can get out and look for them themselves - or else wonder why it is that trains in the UK come off the rails with monotonous regularity.

In fact it's quite fair to say that the whole of the UK is off the rails right now.

But my rant clearly had some effect and someone somewhere must have read it. A couple of years later it was brought to my attention that British Rail or whatever the company is called this week had closed the line for a while in order to carry out major repairs, and it was hinted that I might have had some responsibility in this.

Clearly, in order to get anything done in the United Kingdom you have to jump up and down screaming, and I wonder to what lengths anyone might have to go in order for anyone in authority to consider whether or not there might be a criminal case to answer.

Were an ordinary member of the public to allow a public paying attraction in his custody or control to deteriorate in such a disastrous fashion he would have the Police and the Health and Safety Executive swarming all over him like flies on a honey pot.

james brunlees stanier 8f 2 8 0 steam locomotive mark fry steam age kent viaduct arnside morecambe bay aout august 2008 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Having finished our rant now we can return to the viaduct. And it's certainly a quite nice, pleasant view from the promenade (such as it is) at Arnside. Just the place to come along and watch the trains, especially the Stanier 8F making its return journey.

The guy taking the video film just here runs a website called Steam Age and we had a very interesting chat. He wanders around the UK taking videos of steam trains in action. But I tell you what - he would have had more than his money's worth if the viaduct had collapsed under the weight of the train.

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