Manton Bridge closure by Network Rail is not just a little diversion, says Rutland columnist Allan Grey
I read fixed speed cameras may yet be installed in Rutland, it must be true, it said so in the Rutland Times recently, writes Rutland columnist Allan Grey.
The scourge of speeding through our narrow, winding country lanes has once again been highlighted following the three month closure of the Oakham to Uppingham road at Manton, awaiting the eventual £2.8m replacement of the old railway bridge. This has forced many drivers to chose the six mile unofficial diversion via Brooke Road, Brooke, Ridlington and Preston, as opposed to the 624 mile official diversion via Sunderland, Skegness and Southend.
Having driven the unofficial six mile diversion a week or so ago, I managed to get back in one piece, with all four wheels of my Mini intact, and having tested the suspension to near destruction. I found myself bouncing in and out of the many new craters that have been created along the edges of the lanes in order to avoid collision with oncoming commercial vehicles, large SUVs and numerous budding Lewis Hamiltons. There’s no doubt that the official diversion would be by far the safer route, but even with an optional overnight stay at a Premier Inn just outside Darlington, it’s not everyone’s choice.
Personally I feel that speed cameras may be a solution to a problem, but not this immediate problem, given the timescale it would take to have them agreed and installed. It seems to me that for the duration of the main road closure a few strategically placed machine gun nests operated by Mavis’s Greetham militia would reduce both the amount and the speed of traffic along the unofficial diversion. Mavis told me they had not been approached either by Rutland County Council or the local police, and at the moment she and the regiment are getting a little bit stir crazy confined to their care home barracks in Greetham, and would very much like to dust off their AKs and their Uzis, and take out a few speedsters, especially those ubiquitous Evoques.
For many motorists who need to use the A6003 on a daily basis, this must be incredibly frustrating, but even more so for those residents en unofficial diversion route suffering the massive increase in traffic, noise and damage through their usually soporific villages. Sadly, I can offer no alternative solutions, only commiserations to both motorists, businesses and residents affected by this period of misery. Until recently this frustration would have been exacerbated by the seeming lack of activity at the bridge, but I can report that the situation is changing rapidly, and where I’ll now take a civil engineering perspective.
For those of us that like ‘big boys toys’, (Can I say that any more?) well anyway, very large cranes, multi-wheeled vehicles, big hydraulics and stuff like that, a visit to the site is highly recommended, and guess what? You can cycle, or walk down the A6003 from Oakham in peace and tranquility, with virtually zero traffic, sorry, couldn’t resist that bit. On arrival you are met by the sight of a very large crane, and if it’s a weekday, a large workforce of orange clad men, all standing around, hands in pockets, watching intently as the crane lifts another large section of grey, steel reinforced, pre-cast concrete into place. The new bridge, all 620 tons of it, is being fully assembled on a base area which now covers most of the main road about 200 yards from the old bridge.
The problem with these projects is they always seem to follow the 80/20 rule; for the first 80 per cent of the time, it seems like only 20 per cent of the work gets done, with nothing much going on, and then hey presto, in the final 20 per cent of the time, the whole thing comes together, and the project is completed, well in this case nearly, but not quite.
Over the coming weekend rail traffic will be suspended along this section of the Birmingham to Stansted line for three days, and in those three days a swarm of large mechanical diggers, working night and day, will demolish the old bridge and remove many tons of spoil. The fully assembled new bridge will then be hydraulically jacked up, positioned onto large multi-wheeled transporter vehicles and moved slowly, in one piece, into place. The railway lines will then be reinstalled on top, with trains back running again by Monday morning. The road unfortunately is still a month away from being reopened as all the finishing work, including filling and compacting over 2,500 tons of stone around the new structure, plus aesthetic cladding, has to be completed.
Access via foot and cycle will still be possible upto and including this weekend, and the moving of the new bridge into place following the demolition should offer great spectator opportunities.
If you want to have an idea of what is going to happen over the coming weekend, get over to YouTube, where you can find an eight minute time lapse video covering the four day demolition and replacement of an old brick bridge in Germany. A fascinating insight into the latest high speed bridge replacement technology. What you won’t find on YouTube is the answer to the question: “when will the six miles of damaged lanes be repaired, and who’s going to pay for it, Rutland County Council or Network Rail?” I suspect we already know the answer to one of those questions.