Hawarden Bridge (//; Welsh: Pont Penarlâg) crosses the River Dee, near Shotton, Flintshire, Wales. The railway bridge was built by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (later the Great Central Railway), on the Chester & Connah's Quay Railway. It opened on 3 August 1889.
|Official name||Hawarden Bridge|
|Maintained by||Network Rail|
|Longest span||85 m (278 ft)|
|No. of spans||3|
|Designer||Mr C A Hobson|
|Construction start||16 August 1887|
|Opened||3 August 1889|
Hawarden Bridge is on the Borderlands Line between Wrexham to Bidston. Hawarden Bridge railway station is on the north side of the bridge and Shotton station is on the south side. National Cycle Route 5 crosses the Dee on the bridge on the path adjacent to the railway line.
On opening, Hawarden Bridge was largest swing bridge in the United Kingdom. The highest temperature recorded in Wales – 35.2 °C, was recorded at the bridge in August 1990. In the 2010s, the bridge was restored enabling speed and axel load limitations to be raised. It is a Grade II listed structure.
In the 1880s, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway built a line between Chester Northgate and Hawarden Bridge Junction. It crossed the River Dee on a 165 metre-long bridge. The Board of Trade, advised by Sire George Nares, decreed that the bridge needed an opening of at least 140 feet to allow ships to pass through. In 1886, an Act of Parliament was obtained for the construction of a bridge.
The civil engineer C.A. Hobson designed a steel bridge. It was constructed by John Cochrane & Sons. Construction took about two years and cost around £70,000. To overcome challenging conditions of the estuary, its foundations were built in brick-lined wells as directed by the project's chief engineer, Frances Fox. The bridge was opened to traffic on 3 August 1889 by Catherine Gladstone, the wife of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. Reportedly, Gladstone laid the first cylinder in the river in an earlier ceremony to mark the commencement of construction.
Hawarden Bridge's central section, Span 10, contained the swing bridge. As built, it rotated through 90-degrees to enable the passage of tall ships. The 85-metre section weighed 764 metric tonnes and took 40 seconds to move between its closed and open positions. The moving span was controlled from a manned tower next to the bridge; this bridge was demolished in 1976. When built, it was the largest opening span of any swing bridge in the United Kingdom.
The bridge no longer opens, the span was welded shut decades ago. The last time it opened was in 1960. It was made redundant by the absence of tall ships. The remains of the rotating mechanism – hydraulic cylinders attached to a drive chain and sprocket – are visible beneath the bridge but the pumping stations and the steam engines used for powering it have been demolished.
River traffic travels underneath the bridge from the Airbus factory at Broughton; the wings of the Airbus A380 are transported on barges along the Dee three times per week. They pass under the bridge before reaching the port of Mostyn where they are loaded onto larger sea-faring vessels.
Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the bridge via a walkway that connects the Wales Coast Path and the Chester Greenway Railway Path section of National Cycle Route 5. It is the responsibility of Sustrans Cymru. In late 2003, improvements to the walkway were completed; it was widened so that mounted cyclists could pass pedestrians and cycle ramps were installed at both ends.
Exposure to the harsh conditions on the Dee Estuary for over one hundred years, degraded the condition of the bridge. Erosion, caused by saltwater and weather, was attributed for its gradual degradation. Restrictions were imposed on rail traffic, axle load was limited to RA7, a maximum speed of 20 mph was imposed and only the one track could loaded. Network Rail stated that a RA10 rating for the bridge imposing fewer restrictions was required. In 2009, councillors became concerned about cracks in the bridge's supporting brickwork. An inspection by Network Rail determined it was safe and the damage was largely aesthetic.
In the 2010s, a major strengthening and restoration programme was started. The work was carried out in two phases, strengthening was carried out before the erection of the soffit scaffolding, followed by abrasive blasting and repainting. Aluminium scaffolding was used because the bridge was not strong enough to support heavier steel scaffolding. The bridge remained open to river and rail traffic throughout. A 5 mph speed limit was imposed on the bridge due to the tight clearances involved. Restoration, completed on 12 November 2014, cost of £8 million and involved installing 130 tonnes of steel, 12,000 tension control bolts, and in excess of 85,000 man hours. An RA10 rating was instated and all operational restrictions were removed.
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