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Leven Viaduct

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near Ulverston, Cumbria

It was originally built for the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway as a single track iron viaduct in 1856. Designer: James Brunlees. W. and J. Galloway and Sons of Manchester appear to have supplied the ironwork. The cast iron piles were sunk using using a novel piling system involving waterjets.

A drawbridge section was provided originally. This was of 36 ft span, compared with 30 ft for the other spans. It was first necessary to create a defined channel in the wide estuary, using tidal scouring, with the current directed by dumping rocks to guide the flow.

The viaduct was widened to take double tracks in 1863.

In two phases, 1885-7 and 1915, the viaduct was completely rebuilt with riveted plate girders, and the cast iron pier columns were encased in concrete and masonry.

For more information on the history and construction, see Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England[1]

In 2006 the riveted plate girders were replaced by fabricated box girders.

The Arnside River Kent Viaduct, 8 miles to the east, is similar.

1856 'RAMBLES IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF MORECAMBE BAY. No. IV.
The close of our last sketch represented us as having passed through Ulverston and reached the shore of the Leven estuary, where the Messrs. Galloway, of this city, are engaged in the construction an iron viaduct for the completion of railway communication across the channel and sands. The length of this viaduct is to be 500 yards, and it will be in all respects similar to the one by which ihe Kent, as we formerly noticed, is to be spanned, except that this in the Leven viaduct will be a drawbridge, which will be opened as the passage of vessels up to Greenodd may require. The drawbridge, as was explained to us, is be constructed on a new principle, designed by Mr. Brunlees. It is to have a moveable platform, under which wheels are placed, working in connection with certain eccentrics, and when these eccentrics are withdrawn the wheels fall on a line of rails placed under the roadway the viaduct, and the platform is worked backward by rack and pinion, thus leaving open a space for passage through. By the same mechanical process, the platform is moved forward, and then "tilted up" to its former horizontal position by the eccentrics, and these being securely fixed by bolts, the aperture is closed, and all is ready as before for the passage of trains. The viaduct, of course, has its stone buttress, with which it is connected on the Ulverston side of the shore, but it is evident that the massive structure of the length we have mentioned must have support at various points between its respective ends. As the rock and shingle extend but partially into the bed of the channel of the Leven, as its bed is principally of sand, the plan has been adopted of sinking "piles," as they are called, for the purpose of bearing the weight of the iron structure and its heavy railway transit. These piles are immense hollow columns of cast iron, which are sunk at intervals in the channel, and about 200 of them, we are told, will have to be "driven home," to secure the necessary support. The operation of "piling" seems to be somewhat tedious and difficult, as the flow of the tide causes an interruption of work at the end of every six hours. Pontoons have therefore been employed to diminish this suspension of labour, on one of which is fixed ordinary piling machine, which drives the iron columns into the sand or down into the shingle strata below, while on the other the work is performed by means of a steam engine and force pump. As the latter process is new to us, we stay to witness the mode in which it is conducted. The pile being set on end, a long tube proceeding from the force pump is carried down within it, and the steam being turned on, a mingled blowing and hissing sound is immediately heard, caused by the displacement of the sand all around the lower end of the pile, which sinks its own weight as far as depth is thus made for it in the bed of the estuary. We understand that to meet the diversities of strata, some portions of which are more yielding than others, some of these piles are to be "blown down" with a large bottom plate attached to them as a bearing surface, while others are to have similar plates of iron connected with different parts of their length. Besides, to prevent any washing or "scour" around the piles, the engineer, we are informed, intends to throw into the channel a considerable quantity of stones and clay, and thus to convert the present bed of loose and shifting sand into one that is hard, safe, and permanent. Supposing ourselves at the further end of this viaduct, we would now be within few hundred yards of the embankment which is advancing to meet it, and from the shore end which we looked across to Ulverston before starting on our long detour. Having seen with much interest the operations going forward on this part of the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway, we turned and looked into the shops where the wrought-iron work for the viaduct is being put together, but the hissing of steam, and the clank and din of riveting hammers, being nothing new to us through our connection with Manchester life, we speedily withdrew, and after giving a glance or two to a substantial viaduct crossing the canal, and to the completed part of the line which communicates with the Furness station, we hastened to enjoy the quiet pleasantness of ramble along the shore. ...'. [2]

1856 'THE ULVERSTON AND LANCASHIRE RAILWAY ..... To obtain foundations for the piers of his viaduct, it was one time Mr. Brunlees's intention to have recourse to screw piles; but making application for a licence from the Screw Pile Company, it was found that the royalty they demanded was so high, that, as usually happens in such cases, he set to work to ascertain whether a cheaper process of pile sinking could not be achieved. The result was the invention of a system of disc piles, which he was enabled to sink to any required depth, at less expense than would have been required for the royalty alone, of the screw piles!
The principle of Mr. Brunlees's disc piles, and the method employed for sinking them in the sand, constitute one of the most interesting features of these viaducts. The piles are hollow iron pipes of about ten inches external diameter and three quarters of an inch thickness of metal, with a flange disc, two feet six inches in diameter, at the lower end upon which the pile rests as the foundation on the sand. Pipes of this description, when sunk to the depth of twenty feet of sand under water, are found capable of sustaining a load of twenty tons without further subsidence!
As the viaduct had to withstand a very strong current in high tides and storms, and the effects of occasional severe gales from the Irish Sea, it was necessary that the structure should be of such a character as, while possessing sufficient strength bear, without risk of accident, the weight of railway train, to expose as little surface as possible to the influence of the winds and tides. The viaduct designed by Mr. Brunlecs combines these qualities in a very eminent degree. The only obstruction to the flow of the tides and the current of the river, is the series of tubular piles, arranged in alternate groups of four and five to each pier. The viaduct is about 1,550 feet length, having fifty piers with a span of thirty feet between each pier, and a drawbridge of thirty-eight feet span, over the channel to maintain the navigation. Two piers of four columns each at the two extremities of the viaduct are securely fixed to ashlar stone work; the remainder have no other foundation but the sand, into which they are sunk to an average of twenty feet, and rest upon the flat discs before described. As a drawbridge of the usual form would in the strong gales which occasionally prevail in this quarter expose too large a surface to the action of the winds, and would consequently be both dangerous and unmanageable, it was necessary to have recourse to an arrangement of a more practicable character. This object was obtained by means of telescopic or horizontal sliding drawbridge, invented by Mr. Brunlees, and which he has secured by patent. Every one is familiar with the appearance of the ordinary gangways which run upon wheels, from the quay to the deck of a steamer, to assist the passengers landing; and most people have had an opportunity of admiring the ease and rapidity with which this temporary bridge is thrown across the gap which intervenes between the sides of the steamer and the quay, and the facility with which, when necessary, it can be withdrawn, by running the gangway on board. The idea is simple enough : it is that of a plank which can be run out over a chasm, and drawn back again horizontally. In the Leven viaduct, the space between the piers 47 and 48, which are made more massive than the others, is placed immediately over the deep channel of the river, and the roadway of the bridge, from 48 to 49, is so constructed that the extremity resting on pier 49, after being depressed below the level of the roadway, is run back on a sloping tramway prepared for it, until it reaches the pier 50, and tbe extremity which rested on pier 47 arrives on pier 48 so as to leave the span between 47 and open for the passage of sailing vessels ascending the river. The sliding portion of the bridge can moved backwards and forwards by a man and a boy turning a winch handle and pinion, which gears into a rack laid along the moveable portion of the roadway. This very simple and manageable form of drawbridge is applicable to many other situations besides the one here described. It might, for example, be used with much advantage for railway bridges over common roads, where it is not found advisable to lower the level of the highway, and to many other purposes of a like character.
As at present constructed, the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway has only single line of rails, but the viaduct has been designed with the view of ultimately converting it into a double line. In order to accomplish this, all that is necessary will be to put down another raking pile, similar to the one on the other side, and to bring the present outside slanting column into the perpendicular. Two more bearing girders wiil then be added to the roadway, and the arrangement for a double line of rails will be complete. The light and almost fragile appearance of the whole viaduct at first sight, inclines one to imagine it but ill adapted for the many accidents to which such a structure may be presumed to be liable, but a more attentive examination of the details shows that this apparent lightness and fragility is mainly attributable to the necessity which existed for exposing the least possible surface to the severe action of the winds and waves, by which, in such a locality, it was certain to be assailed. Had the viaduct been constructed so as to present a more massive appearance, even although the absolute strength had been greater, it might be questioned whether, under such circumstances, it would have a better chance of withstanding the vicissitudes to which it must be exposed. Lightness, elasticity, and tenacity, are the requisites for a viaduct of this description ; and it will be found, on examination, that these qualities are most successfully combined in the instance before us.
The estimated expense of the viaduct over the Leven, at present under process of construction by the Messrs. Galloway, of Knott Mill, is 12,000/.; and although a great deal of expense and much time was wasted in the outset, by their having to feel their way in a new undertaking, there is every prospect of the contract proving a profitable one.
The whole length the viaduct being about 1,500 feet, and the estimated expense 1,200/., it would follow that the cost per lineal foot is about 16s. ... The Engineer. [3]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England, edited by R. W. William Rennison, I.C.E./Thomas Telford Publishing, 1981/1996
  2. Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 26 January 1856
  3. Westmorland Gazette, 1 November 1856