An award presentation in the shadow of a historic bridge marked the latest chapter in engineering skills which have spanned centuries.
In 1837 the father and son engineering and architectural team of John and Benjamin Green designed two railway viaducts at Willington Quay and the Ouseburn on Tyneside.
The pair, who also designed the Literary and Philosophical Society building, the Theatre Royal and Grey’s Monument in Newcastle, pioneered the use of laminated timber to create the latticework arches of the viaducts,
In 1869, a new generation of engineers used wrought iron to exactly replace the latticed timber.
The Ouseburn viaduct carries the East Coast main line but with the passing of the years and changes in railway traffic and speed, a 20mph limit was imposed.
That led to a two-year project costing £12.5m to strengthen the bridge to bring it up to speed.
But because the viaduct is Grade II-star listed, the task had to be carried out without affecting the appearance of the bridge.
Now the success of the work by Network Rail and Carillion Rail has seen the bridge project win the Ian Allan Publishing Award for the best overall entry in the National Railway Heritage Awards.
Joining the project teams at the presentation ceremony were pupils from nearby Hotspur Primary School.
Carillion Rail’s project manager, Ian Bingham, said: “We are delighted to have won this prestigious award. Our work on the Ouseburn viaduct has been enormously challenging but ultimately enormously rewarding.
“The entire team has been pleased to restore this iconic Tyneside structure to its former glory and ensure that it will continue to play an important part in the modern rail network.”
He paid tribute to the original work by the Greens.
“It is a wonderful design and a beautiful bridge,” he said.
Carillion was faced with the problem of working on the bridge arches in a steep-sided valley and installing 600 tonnes of strengthening steel beams and plates behind the wrought iron latticework.
“It was an extremely difficult job and we had to use some old fashioned skills,” said Ian.
The paintwork was also grit-blasted and investigations were carried out to determine the original colour, a blueish-grey, with repainting taking place in what was one of the wettest summers on record.
The workforce operated up to 30m above ground on the largest self-supporting scaffold in the country at the time.
The bridge is now ready for another century of use.
Dave Cross, from Ouseburn Futures and trustee of the Ouseburn Trust, said: “The viaduct crosses the Ouseburn Valley Conservation Area so it was important for us that the developers understood our requirements at minimal disruption to the local community.
“Both Carillion and Network Rail consulted with us and our neighbours throughout and implemented a number of practices including safe blasting of the old potentially lead-based paint.
“They are wholly deserving of this award and have developed a structure which is not only practical to serve the city’s rail needs, but also sits magnificently in its surroundings as an icon of the Ouseburn.”
Route managing director at Network Rail, Phil Verster, said: “Ouseburn viaduct is a vital link in our rail network in the North East as well as being an important part of our heritage.
“The structure needed wholesale renewal to allow trains to run at full speed. The historic importance of the viaduct meant that the way that this work was completed was just as important as getting the work done. “This award is testament to the care and attention of the teams during the project.”