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King Edward VII Rail Bridge
River Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
associated engineer
Dr Charles Augustus Harrison
date  July 1902 - 1st October 1906, opened 10th July 1906
era  Modern  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NZ245632
ICE reference number  HEW 256
The King Edward VII Bridge over the River Tyne in central Newcastle enabled through running of east coast main line trains. Though not possessing particular architectural distinction, the bridge is Grade II listed owing to the engineering interest of its caisson foundations. It is well maintained and remains in continual use.
Trains on the North Eastern Railway originally crossed the river on Robert Stephenson's (1803-59) adjacent High Level Bridge (NZ250636, completed 1850). The track layout had trains entering and leaving Newcastle Central Station (NZ246638) at its east end, necessitating awkward reversing manoeuvres on departure. With rail traffic increasing throughout the second half of the 19th century, a more convenient solution was required.
On 9th August 1899, the updated North Eastern Railway Act received royal assent. Construction of another rail bridge over the Tyne was among its provisions. The purpose of the new structure was to enable through running on the Kings Cross to Edinburgh main line.
Its designer, the North Eastern Railway’s chief engineer Dr Charles Augustus Harrison (1848-1916), is the nephew of Thomas Elliot Harrison (1808-88), who had worked with Stephenson on the High Level Bridge and prepared engineering drawings.
On 13th February 1902, the bridge-building contract was awarded to Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd. Construction commenced in July 1902.
The bridge is located about 700m to the south west of the High Level Bridge. Its two main spans measure 91.4m each, with end spans of 58.2m (south) and 70.4m (north). It carried four tracks, with the rails some 34m above river level.
The structure is founded on bedrock, and its construction involved sinking caissons for the three river piers to a maximum depth of 21m below high water level. The 2.7m caissons measure 34.4m by 10.7m in plan and were sunk under compressed air. Rock was excavated from inside the caissons by blasting, with the workers took refuge in an air-locked chamber in the access shaft when the charges were detonated.
Once in place, the caissons were filled with some 28,450 tonnes of concrete and the piers constructed above. Each pier is of sandstone and granite masonry, built as triple shafts — 6.6m by 9.3m at the sides and 4.1m by 9.3m in the centre.
The bridge deck consists of steel lattice girders of the double Warren truss type, 8.2m deep overall at 3.35m spacings. The deck is 15.2m wide, and the total weight of steelwork is about 5,820 tonnes. The spans were assembled in situ on timber trestles. The river spans were erected one by one, with half the river width closed to traffic each time.
However, foundation issues associated with old coal mine workings dictated that the planned girder spans at the Gateshead (south) approach were changed to masonry arches. A pair of red sandstone viaducts forms the southern approaches, with one turning in from the west and the other from the east. The northern approach consists of ten masonry arches.
The bridge was load tested in the usual manner of the time, by running several weighted locomotives over it and observing any structural deflection.
On 10th July 1906, despite being unfinished, the bridge was officially opened by King Edward VII, after whom it is named. It cost £500,000 to construct, excluding the price of land and track construction.
Rail traffic used the bridge from 1st October 1906. The east coast main line trains switched to the new crossing but trains bound for Sunderland and Middlesbrough continued to use the High Level Bridge. A freight line to Dunston opened in March 1907, constructed to the east of the main line.
The King Edward VII Bridge is functional in its design. in 1908, Harrison is reported to have noted that "... there was nothing very striking in the design of the bridge except that it was rather larger in span and width and greater in height above the river than most bridges that had been erected in the last few years". He did, however, think that the caissons were the largest that had been sunk since those used for the Forth Bridge (completed 1890).
Following the closure of the locomotive shed at Greenesfield, Gatehead, in 1959, the track layout on the bridge was simplified and reduced from four lines to three.
The arches on the northern approach, between the river and Pottery Lane, have been glazed and the spaces within are used as workshops.
Electrification of the east coast main line took place in phases in the period 1976-91. The King Edward VII Bridge was part of Newcastle's electrification by 1990, and was equipped with overhead wiring gantries for the electric train services.
In August 1994, the bridge was Grade II listed.
Contractor: Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd
Research: ECPK
"The King Edward VII Bridge, Newcastle-on-Tyne" by Frank William Davis and Cyril Reginald Sutton Kirkpatrick, Proceedings of the ICE, Vol.174, London, January 1908
reference sources   CEH North

King Edward VII Rail Bridge