Borough Market Viaduct

Px002_Grab_54%Above: This engraving appeared in the Illustrated News for 17 October 1863. The view looks west a sightseers who have come to gaze at the large iron bridge being constructed across Borough High Street. Notice the tower of Southwark Cathedral to be seen in the background towards the left. Notice too the large abutment with the long ladder leaning against it on the right. That same abutment can be seen in a modern image further down this article, photographed to who the modern supports for the new railway bridge on the eastern side of Borough High Street.

The very first railway line in London opened in December 1836, carrying passengers the short distance from Deptford to two platforms at London Bridge Station (the London terminus). Called the London and Greenwich Railway, the line was completed down to Greenwich a few years later.

Once built, other railway lines soon followed and the terminus at London Bridge started to expand as various railway companied added extra platforms for their trains. Only 30 years later plans had been drawn up to continue the line westwards to form a new terminus at Charing Cross. That required a bridge to be built across Borough High Street, running very close to Borough Market. It was known as Borough Market Bridge. It was a large, black, ugly structure which still exists today, initially carrying three lines. A way was found to increase the capacity to four lines and there has been no further improvement ever since. That was over 150 years ago and the number of trains using the railway has increased dramatically. In fact it is the busiest piece of railway track in the world.

The four lines now present a serious bottle-neck in the system, causing train delays as they wait their turn to cross it. Something had to be done and 2011 saw the completion of a second railway bridge which, from 2018, will ease train congestion with an extra two tracks.

The construction of a new bridge was not without its problems. The bridge had to run on the south side of the old one. When the Victorian bridge had been erected Borough High Street was closed for weeks, if not months, while construction was carried out. Being such a busy road, closing Borough High Street for weeks to erect a second bridge was not an option. The solution was to construct the new bridge on the new western viaduct and then push it eastwards to its final resting place, taking just three days over the May Bank Holiday in 2011.

The approach to the bridge from the west required an additional short viaduct running above buildings which were part of Borough Market. One three-storey pub had to be modified to a stumpy two-storey building and a second pub that was free-standing found itself sitting with the old viaduct at its rear (as it always had been) but with the new viaduct running within feet of its frontage.

On the eastern side of the bridge (the side nearer London Bridge Station) a new viaduct had to be constructed and parts of the station had to be considerably altered to form new platforms that aligned with the new viaduct. All that work will take until 2018 to complete.

Px04420_800x600 - 21c Apr 2011Above: View from St Thomas Street of the new railway bridge (painted grey) resting on the newly-built viaduct (painted green). 21 April 2011.

Getting the New Bridge Ready for Moving into Position

Work to build the new viaduct over part of Borough Market had to be completed before the new bridge could be assembled. The large new railway bridge, which was to span Borough High Street was then erected on top of that viaduct. The final work was to pushed it across the road using hydraulic rams.

The new 1200 tonne railway bridge was pushed into place on Saturday 30 April 2011. The work started at 6.00 pm on the Friday evening and the plan was for it to be in place by 3.00 am the following morning Sunday 1 May. The bridge was pushed across the road, using hydraulic rams, sliding on a Teflon (PTFE) layer, lubricated with Fairy Liquid! At the bridge was moved, its other end was supported by a multi-wheel low-loader that was able take its full weight. When in position, the new railway bridge ran parallel to the old one.

Px04421_800x600 - 21c Apr 2011Above: Looking north along Borough High Street from the junction with St Thomas Street. The new railway bridge is resting on the new viaduct (left). The supports for the bridge can be seen (also on the left). The eastern supports are just visible (behind the tall lamp-post on the right). 21 April 2011.

Px04430_800x600 - 21c Apr 2011Above: The two supports for the eastern end of the new railway bridge in the road called Railway Approach. 21 April 2011. The brick abutment on the left also appears in the print at the top of this article.

Details of How the Bridge was Lifted into Position

The problems tackled by the building contractors in building the bridge and then moving it into place were formidable. The more exciting moments are highlighted in the text below (Taken from in April 2011).

A railway viaduct is being built through the heart of London’s bustling Borough Market and in two weeks its new bridge will be a major landmark. All that remains is to move it to the right place.

Passengers travelling west from London Bridge station currently enjoy observing, from the train, an exercise in how to thread a big, heavy railway viaduct through a maze of crumbling old Victorian buildings.

The bridge consists of a plate girder on the north side, as this will be next to the bridge carrying the existing lines, and a truss to the south, as this will be visible to the public. Precast planks sit between these elements and are topped by an in situ reinforced concrete deck. The bridge is being built up in three stages; each time a section is finished the whole thing is moved along the viaduct so work can start on the subsequent section in the same location. The plate girder is supplied in six pieces so is simply bolted together, but the bridge is wider than the viaduct because the line will curve where it passes over the road. The work is taking place next to the live railway lines out of London Bridge and putting together the plate girder sections outside the line of the viaduct meant the crane would oversail the operational lines. Because Skanska wanted to avoid costly and disruptive line closures it has assembled the plate girder over the viaduct and moved it outwards using two cherry pickers.

The truss is supplied in modules that are welded together. Because of the amount of welding needed, a special enclosure to ensure comfortable working conditions for welders was erected over the bridge. This is also used for painting. “We call it the carwash because the bridge gets pushed through it,” laughs Fitzpatrick.

On 30 April, the 1,200 tonne bridge will be ready for launch. Skid shoes will be located at the four corners of the bridge and integral jacks will lift the bridge up slightly to clear the temporary works. More jacks at the back of the bridge will slowly push it on the skid shoes along the viaduct. Wheeled transporters in Borough High Street will support the end of the bridge as it launches over the road. The bridge will then be rotated slightly – it had to be launched at a slight angle to clear a building next to the viaduct. The bridge is also 5m higher than the final position as it started life on top of the viaduct and to clear another building in its path. Once rotated, the bridge will be lowered into its final position.

With the bridge in place the team still needs to link the new viaduct to the existing viaduct at the west end. A viaduct section on the east side of the bridge will also be constructed ready for connection to London Bridge station after 2012. The old market will be reinstated and demolished buildings replaced. The new viaduct deck will be waterproofed and left ready for the new lines and trains. Only then will passengers wondering what is going on outside the window of their train really appreciate what it was all for.

Borough Market Bridge 11 (flickr)_1024
Above: View looking north along Borough High Street (Sunday 1 May 2011). The new two-track bridge had been slid along the new viaduct so that it was beside the old four-track bridge. This picture was taken before the new bridge was lowered about five metres into its final position – onto the four concrete pillars that would be supporting its weight.

Note also: It will be noticed that the far right-hand corner of the bridge appears to be very close to the red-brick building with white windows. In fact it lies within inches of the outside walls. The remarkable skill of the contractors in manoeuvring such an enormous object with such precision can only be marvelled at.

The positioning of the new bridge, which is 72 metres in length, was completed on schedule. The slide of the new bridge along the viaduct (into the position shown above) went according to plan. It was not lowered into its final resting position until Monday 2 May 2011. The site was handed back by the contractors late on Monday 2 May. The deadline to handing the site over was early on Tuesday 3 May.

Px04421-Px05080Above: Before and After  – the image on the right shows the bridge in its final position, across Borough High Street. The new bridge was slid along the green viaduct, the weight of the protruding end was supported on a low-loader as it moved across the Borough High Street. When in position, the bridge had to be lowered five metres onto the four supports. The two western supports (left) can be seen in both pictures. The two eastern supports are hidden by the old building on the far right of both pictures.

Note also: The finials on the tower of Southwark Cathedral also appear in both images. On the right image they are easily seen. On the left image they can just be seen through the struts of new bridge.

After the new railway bridge was completed, the remaining parts of the viaduct at either end were then competed. The final task will be to lay new tracks across the viaduct and then join those tracks with the four existing tracks running west out of London Bridge Station. That will not be completed until 2018. There will then be a total of six railway tracks, giving an increase of 50% capacity.

Px5379-80-81_Av-HDR_800x500 - 12 Nov 2014Above: The new viaduct running from the eastern end of new railway bridge towards London Bridge Station. 12 November 2014.

The more flamboyant style of the new bridge now conceals the rather ugly older railway bridge which dates from about 1864 when trains first started to travel west, through the high-level platforms of London Bridge Station, on their way to Cannon Street Station and Charing Cross Station.


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