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Article and photographs by Paul Wright, 2018
Irchester Railway Bridge
bridge notice
The bridge - stationmaster's house in background
The road over the bridge and closure notice

Work started at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and possession was taken of the railway track at Irchester, as plant, and staff working for "Amco" moved into action under the arc lights on this summer's morning.

It was getting light shortly after that time, as the sun was rising officially at 4.46, being the second day of June, 2018.

Machinery the crane
Machinery arrives
Flood lights and the crane seen across a garden hedge

Heavy plant painted in a vivid yellow colour was shifting away the last parts of the old bridge, in readiness for the pre-cast replacement.

History was being made, and quite a crowd was building on this Saturday morning, some even brought their own deck chairs along, to witness the heavy plant and machinery that was needed for this epic task on the B569 between Irchester and Rushden.

Some of the witnesses
Some of the locals had been given the wrong end of the proverbial stick, and were thinking that bridge was going to be blown up. Sad to report that this was not so, and it was done much more quietly by traditional methods.

The bridge at Finedon Road in Wellingborough was being replaced at this weekend, the crane at this site did stay in place for several days longer.

Three remaining bridges were on the radar to be replaced later; one to the north near Isham, and the other one is Bromham Road in Bedford, and the West bound bridge on the A45 was replaced over the period of early February to November 2019.

Several generations of local families were rolling up to record this major time in the history of Irchester; after all the old bridge had been there for so many years.

And it was being replaced over the weekend of 1st June, 2018, by some pre-cast replacement that was being shipped by Shay Murtagh from West Meath in Ireland.

I spent over 3 hours taking shots, and chatting to old mates about the past in general, and capturing various pieces of the action as the work started to unfold.

The huge crane
The huge crane
There was a low loader already standing in position, awaiting being unloaded, but this was in the wrong order of assembly, and the correct ones were still coming down past Birmingham.

They were due on site at around 11.00, and sure enough they rolled along Station Road  at 11.05, and men and some ladies swung in to action in their bright orange overalls, and white protective helmets.

After the slingers went about their part of the job, just an hour later the first section was being swung in to place.

The massive crane which could be seen for miles around was provided by "Baldwins" who are based in the home counties at several depots. One of the shots to put that size in to perspective was taken as the rink was being cut at Irchester bowls club, with the crane in the background.

Weather conditions were really sticky and humid, with the temperature in the mid 20's C over the duration of the weekend, perhaps summer had arrived?

The possession ended at 04.30 on the Monday morning of the 4th, June, 2018, during the day the crane was still on site, but left later on in the day.

I did pose the question as to why there was going to be such a delay in the re-opening of the road bridge, and was informed that it was the speed of the utility companies who have to install various services over the railway lines. (so now we know).

Work following the delivery of the pre-cast sections has been steady as can be seen, and seems to be still on going.

pre-cast sections pre-cast sections
Pre-cast sections of the new bridge

The November 2018 road re-opening cannot come soon enough, as there have been numerous hold ups on the A45.

Paul Wright, November 2018

Re-opening Irchester Bridge

Work to electrify the Midland mainline was well underway in 2018, and this meant raised bridge replacements being built in numerous rail locations.

The ‘orange army’ working for Network Rail had already made a start on erecting ‘overhead lines masts’ between Corby and Kettering. These masts stand at a height of about 5 metres above the railway track, and in place to hold the overhead lines needed to electrify the route from Bedford to the North of Kettering.

Closure of the bridge at Irchester certainly gave motorists a few snarl ups to contend with, made worse by a bad accident on the A45 west bound next to the White Arches site selling motor homes.

To make things worse for would be bus passengers, they had to catch a bus from Irchester into Wellingborough, then change to get another bus for Rushden Lakes, finally change at the Lakes for a bus in to Rushden.

Or maybe have a taxi from Irchester to Rushden or vice versa via the A45, Rushden taxi firms were doing a door to door service for a fixed £10 fare.

The reason for all of this motoring manoeuvring can be seen as we look at the metal gantries that support the power cables.

the tracks finishing kerbs
The railway track and gantries ............................. and the road being finished

Also during 2018 the fourth rail track was re-instated to allow normal workings of traffic, this had been removed during the late 1980's.That was during the period which was known as the ‘Leicester Gap’, which was the closing and removal of the mechanical Midland style signal boxes.

The signalling was then done from the power boxes at West Hampstead in London, and the final part at Leicester, thus the so called ‘Leicester gap’ was filled in.

The Irchester south signal box shut in late1987, and the signalmen used to communicate with West Hampstead in London regarding rail traffic etc.

Spare a thought for the workers taking down the bridge at Irchester, as they worked during record high temperatures during the April of 2018.

This was only the second week of the road closure, and the sweltering heat nudged 28C, not seen since 1949.

They did leave a small area to get across the bridge on foot, or by cycle while some of the work was being done.

But wet weather came back to haunt us in April, 2018. This rain had been so persistent, that the popular Rushden Cavalcade was called off one week before the Bank Holiday in May. That was due to be held up at Bedford Road/Avenue Road and would have been the 40th Cavalcade.

‘Rushden Historical Transport Society’ (RHTS) did arrange a small scale event up at the station museum, and it was blessed with some great sunshine, and decent high temperatures of 24C.

But this proved to be the end of the road for the popular event on a large scale, so after four decades, and various venues over the years RHTS has called time and will have smaller events in future.

Several accidents on the A45 saw traffic tailing back to the Lightstrung Roundabout in Rushden, although this became a regular bug bare at peak times in the mornings!

I visited the site of the bridge at Irchester in the first week of May, this being one month after closure, and yes, the road surface had now been stripped off, but to my surprise there did not seem a lot of activity while I was there?

Coming to the end of September and we could see the work had moved on with kerb laying having taken place, following the laying of some tarmac.

walk way bridge
Almost ready.....

Rumours were circulating right into October about the progress being made, and numerous locals gave me several dates for a possible completion time. Quite where it stemmed from I don't know?

But things were not so rosy up at Corby; the bridge at Cottingham Road should have been completed by mid August 2018, but badly over ran, and did not open until October 19th. Even this was under the restriction of temporary traffic lights for another month.

More locally some motoring misery was relieved on Friday October 12th, as the Finedon Road Bridge in Wellingborough was finally opened in the afternoon, on a very windy, but mild sunny day, and 22C was the order of the day.

Back to the technology that will be eventually running on this stretch of railway. On Tuesday 16th October, 2018 a test train running from London to Bristol wrecked the cables that supply the power. This was caused by an Hitachi 802 locomotive that caused over 1,600 feet of cable to be snagged by its pantograph at Hanwell in west London.

Another train that was following got derailed as it ran over the cables that had fallen. This dilemma meant that Paddington station was disrupted for many hours, and caused big problems travelling out to Heathrow airport.

Maybe we can expect to suffer problems with the overhead cables during adverse weather conditions, but in their defence these expensive Hitachi 802's can run on electric, or switch over to diesel power, they are not cheap though at £16 million per train.

Glad to say that on my visit to the Irchester Bridge on Monday 22nd October, 2018, work was nearing completion, and staff did tell me that they thought the road would re-open a week earlier than planned, this turned out to be Thursday 25th October, 2018.

road open gantries
Bridge open again and the overhead power lines

And true to their word, the traffic was flowing over the bridge in bright sunshine and 8C, and we can see the number 14 bus service making her way to Wellingborough. Also in shot is the road sweeper making one of her final runs over the bridge.

The following week on Friday November 2nd, 2018, the former site plant compound was being cleared after being there for the best part of the year.

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