River access supports Battersea Bridge refurb

No Entry signs are set up in the central arch in blustery conditions. Photos by Graeme Ewens
No Entry signs are set up in the central arch in blustery conditions. Photos by Graeme Ewens
Looking down river through the central arch on a fast ebb tide, with the Port of London Authority launch moored in the distance
Looking down river through the central arch on a fast ebb tide, with the Port of London Authority launch moored in the distance

One of the oldest bridges in central London is undergoing a major refurbishment and the only access for materials and personnel during the one year programme will be by water.

Battersea Rail (aka Cremorne) bridge, opened in 1863, carries the only cross river rail line passing through the capital that is used by heavy freight traffic as well as passenger and excursion trains. For several years it also took Eurostar trains between their west London depot and Waterloo station.

The current works are scheduled to take just short of a year, during which train services have to continue, as does river traffic, with tug and barge movements, river buses and leisure boats passing regularly through the bridge.

The Port of London Authority has established a controlled navigation zone between Battersea Road and Wandsworth Bridges with a harbour launch on site to direct river traffic. [See PLA Notice to Mariners M14 of 2013 -Battersea Reach - Battersea Railway Bridge Refurbishment Works]

The main contractor for the repairs is Kier Rail and all marine services are provided by Thames Link Marine, whose MD Gordon McCann is also marine superintendent for this job. Mr McCann is well placed for this role, having worked on 22 river bridges jobs in London since 1976. Thames Link Marine is using three vessels; a small tug Thames Link 27 (ex-Nitrica), a personnel carrier (Thames Link 26), and the low-sided safety boat Hook. Barges are supplied by Wood Hall and Heward, canal and river barge operators who have also worked with Thames Link Marine Ltd on several similar jobs. 

The Grade ll* listed viaduct, built for the London and Northwestern railway, carries two sets of tracks running north-south over five 37m lattice girder arches set on stone piers, crossing 279m of river. It was last refurbished in 1992, when lightweight foamed concrete was pumped into the bridge supports, but since then it has suffered collision damage below from a wayward rubbish barge and wear from 3,000 tonne freight trains above.

Work has started on the central arch (Number 3), which needs to be completed and cleared first for river traffic to accommodate new barge traffic serving a forthcoming riverside development at Fulham Footballs Club’s Craven Cottage ground.

At the beginning of May mooring buoys were placed in the middle of the arch and no entry signs erected. Scaffolding was being prepared upriver at Hurlingham Wharf (one of the PLA’s safeguarded wharfs), where it is being made into nine beams of 2m by 2m box section. These are then brought down river by barge and hoisted up into position to cover the whole of the span. A 30 by 18 ft pontoon will be placed upstream with a ship’s gangway, providing access into the scaffold structure. The arch will then be completely wrapped in plastic to contain any dirt, chippings, paint spray or waste. It also provides a degree of climate control to help the paint dry and keep noise levels down for those living nearby, including houseboat residents moored almost underneath the bridge on the south shore. There is a five metre exclusion zone around the works and some of the houseboats may need to be moved from their berths.

The workers’ access will be from Chelsea Harbour Pier on the north bank. Between 30 and 40 workers are expected to be on site, ranging from Network Rail supervisors through to stone cleaners and masons, metal workers, painters, riggers etc. With no access to mains power all electricity will be supplied from generators. 

Fresh water to wash the bridge structure will be brought in tanks from the Hurlingham yard and dirty water returned the same way. As Gordon McCann says: “No dirty water is allowed to enter the river, and once ashore it will be taken away by gulley sucker trucks as there is nowhere on the Thames to get rid of such volumes of water.” 

After washing, the structure will be shot blasted using 80 tonnes of shot per arch, leaving 120 tonnes of recovered residue to be disposed of. Following the cleaning, work begins on the stone work and metal repairs. Finally, the paint has to be transported and applied, once again making sure that not a drop falls into the river. This procedure will be repeated on arches 1 and 2, followed by arches 4 and 5, with each arch scheduled to be closed for two months. The footings of the piers themselves are apparently in good condition and the only sub-surface work is to lay scouring rocks on the south side of the number 3 abuttment.

All works have ‘absolutely’ to be finished by March 2014. Soon after the repairs are complete work is expected to start on building a new footbridge on the upriver side, which will be constructed as a free standing structure not connected to the rail bridge.

Gordon McCann says: “We at Thames Link Marine Ltd are pleased to have the opportunity to work on such an exciting project, once again proving the River can be utilized to support projects which, we are pleased to say, have also created employment in the marine trade.

“Battersea Railway Bridge is one of the busiest river crossings within London and it is a great opportunity for Thames Link Marine Ltd to be working with the team at Kier Rail and Wood Hall & Heward again.”

By Graeme Ewens

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