TRAFFIC was once again moving on the High Level Bridge over the River Tyne yesterday for the first time in more than three years.
Go North East buses took passengers from Newcastle’s Central Station across the historic crossing all day, ahead of its official reopening to buses and taxis at midnight today.
The bridge was closed in February 2005 in the middle of an programme of work to strengthen the Grade I-listed structure, designed by Robert Stephenson.
Today, after eight years of engineering work costing £43m, and a new paint job, the bridge reopens for public transport travelling south.
Yesterday the buses took passengers to the Go North East depot in Gateshead, where a number of vintage buses were on show, before returning to Newcastle over the Tyne Bridge.
Around 8,000 motorists a day used the bridge before it closed, and there was a time when it was feared it would never reopen to any traffic, after workmen found it in a much weaker condition than expected.
But Network Rail’s contractors May Gurney have been able to support the old beams with new ones which take the load of the roadway, while keeping the bridge open to main line trains.
More than 1,600 tonnes of scaffold were used in the project, which at any one time included more than 160 engineers and operatives, and 30 managers worked 24 hours a day for 12-day fortnights.
More than 75,000 litres of paint have restored the bridge to its original colour and 610 tonnes of new steel and 252 tonnes of new timber have been used.
Speaking ahead of its reopening, David Sterry, May Gurney’s chief executive, said: “With eight years of complex repairs to the High Level Bridge, we have demonstrated that cutting-edge research can pay dividends – an extremely cost-effective solution involving a very high-profile site.
“This project validates our strategy of focusing on developing long-term relationships with our customers.”
John Wilkinson, the firm’s managing director project and rail engineering, added: “The scheme has been highly complex due to logistical constraints and careful programme management using local expertise has been imperative to its success.
“It has been a fantastic project to work on and it’s a credit to our team who have been working on the refurbishment since 2001.
“At the peak of the project we employed upwards of 200 people, while working a 12-day fortnight with both day and night shifts. We are delighted to see it completed.”