The next step of a major road building scheme in Taunton will see the removal and replacement of an historic former aqueduct and rail bridge.
The Kingston Loop Bridge over Station Road will be replaced by Somerset County Council’s contractor Carillion as part of the Northern Inner Distributor Road (NIDR) project.
The conversion to a road bridge is the latest evolution of a 200-year-old transport route which has been fundamental to the growth and prosperity of Taunton. Over the years, the structure has been adapted from a canal-carrying aqueduct to a rail bridge and now to a road bridge (see panel below).
The new bridge has been designed to preserve the historic look of the Station Road area as much as possible.
During the demolition work, specialist equipment will be used to cut the plates out of the bottom of the bridge and then crane out the cross beams and main beams.
The two historic steel edge beams will also be removed but these will be taken away and refurbished, before being returned to the structure when the new bridge deck is constructed later in the year. The original abutments will also be retained.
Due to the complexity of dismantling and removing a bridge, and to protect the safety of the workforce and the travelling public, the work will require a full closure of Station Road.
This is planned to start at 5am on Monday 23 May, with the road reopening by 1pm on Friday 27 May. The following week from Tuesday 31 May to Thursday 2 June has been booked as a contingency should works over-run, but the road will be reopened for the bank holiday weekend.
Work will take place between the hours of 6.30am-11.30pm, but longer hours are not appropriate due to the close proximity of nearby homes and businesses.
During the closure, a signed diversion route will be in place for vehicles. Access will be maintained for pedestrians during working hours using steps and a ramp via Whitehall. This route will not be suitable for pedestrians with limited mobility, so the contractor will be also be providing a shuttle bus. Parents with prams and pushchairs will be offered help using the steps, or can choose to use the shuttle bus. Cyclists have the option of using the diversion for vehicles or will be offered assistance using the pedestrian route. Outside of working hours, one of the footpaths will be reopened to allow access for pedestrians.
A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: “The foundations of the new bridge are nearly complete and removing the historic rail structure is the next stage and a key milestone for the scheme.
“Unfortunately, we have no choice but to close the road while the demolition work is in progress so some disruption is unavoidable. Please be aware and think about making alternative arrangements if you can. We apologise for any inconvenience and will be working with the contractor to keep this to a minimum.”
The NIDR is a multi-million project commissioned by Somerset County Council and carried out by the construction contractor Carillion to unlock the Firepool regeneration site where there are ambitious plans for a riverside business, residential and shopping development. By providing a link from Priory Avenue to Staplegrove Road, it should also help to ease congestion in the town centre and on Priorswood Road.
The Kingston Loop Bridge is the last major component of the NIDR still remaining. Work at the Firepool Bridge is nearing completion and the temporary traffic lights controlling access to Priory Park have been removed. The roundabout at Staplegrove Road is also mostly complete with landscaping underway.
The current estimated completion date provided by Carillion is late 2016 and Somerset County Council continues to work with the contractor to open the road as soon as possible.
History of the Kingston Loop Bridge (with thanks to the South West Heritage Trust – www.swheritage.org.uk/)
The Kingston Loop Bridge has been adapted over the centuries from a canal aqueduct to a railway bridge and will soon become a highway structure.
The current steel rail bridge occupies the site of the original aqueduct which carried the Grand Western Canal as it travelled west from its junction at Firepool with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal.
The Grand Western Canal was completed in 1838 between Firepool and the Devon border at Lowdwells and was renowned for its elaborate canal structures.
When Brunel’s Bristol and Exeter Railway (later the Great Western Railway) reached Taunton in July 1842, the viability of the new canal was immediately threatened. It was eventually bought by the Railway Company in 1865 and two years later its structures on the Somerset section were largely dismantled.
The canal aqueduct survived (it is recorded as being in place in 1886) but was demolished when the steel rail bridge was created.
The bridge which exists today was adapted from the aqueduct to carry the goods avoiding line, or loop line, which bypassed the main line of the Great Western Railway and allowed express trains to pass. The goods avoiding line was completed in 1896.
The massive walls between the two railway bridges were constructed in 1895 of Westleigh stone to enable the construction of a new engine shed. The steel bridge, like other railway bridges, long carried an advert for Ferodo brakes.
Freight began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s and the loop bridge was finally closed to rail traffic in 1988.
The new road bridge currently under construction will use a new deck and piled foundations but will retain the existing abutments and the outer steel beams.