A Southend-on-Sea landmark was consigned to an annulus of history on Saturday 2nd February 2013 as the railway bridge straddling the High Street was finally retired after 130 years of service.
It was not the prettiest of bridges but became a landmark that people had become blind towards, a little bit of history that generations of Southender and visitor would walk by without a second glance.
The railway bridge was put in place in 1883 and has seen countless millions of people that have passed both over and under the bridge that had also provided a roost to generations of pigeons!
The new bridge that is replacing the 1883 one has been given a 120year lease of life, it was bought into Southend in sections on a number of articulated lorry’s and built up in the nearby Tyler’s Avenue car park.
The High Street under the bridge was naturally closed to pedestrians as was the middle walkway leading up to Clifftown Road where it crosses the pedestrianized High Street, this also resulted in four shops having to remain shut all weekend but Network rails compensated them. To help people get round the diversion there were large signs and stewards directing people in the right direction.
The Bridge the day before it was removed.
The closure of the walkway was not only for safety but also because they had to wheel the old bridge could out of the way on two self-propelled modular transports with a hydraulic elevating platform, these are controlled by a remote control box, the two units had 16 bogies each (32 in total) each could be set to a different angle and the thing can turn on a sixpence! The hydraulically operated rams that rise up to the level of the bridge to take the weight whilst crews working on the bridge cut the last few bolts holding it to the brick embankment.
Naturally with a rather large gap where the bridge once sat, C2C the railway operating company (the UK’s most punctual) could not run any services between Southend Central a few feet from the bridge to Shoebury so a bus service was laid on, leaving every 25minites on Saturday and every 30minites on Sunday over 250 bus trips over the weekend.
To make sure the two self-propelled modular transports due to carry the bridge were not hampered on their way out a number of the street furnishings from bins and seats to electronic information points and lighting had to be removed, the street lights on both Clifftown Road and Tylers Avenue were also lopped removing the lighting arms.
The old bridge had been designed and built for steam locos of the day the 4-4-2 tank engines and later the 2-6-4Ts locos, after the electrification of the line took place in 1961/62.
The electrified line was originally operated by class 302’s the last retiring on 4th July 1998, sadly only two driving trailers made it into preservation both residing at the Mangapps Farm Museum in Essex.
In 1983 the class 307 entered service on the line the last departing in 1990.
The class 310 was also operated on the line alongside the class 312 which was the last slam door trains to be built for British Rail with the last slam door train running on the 29th March 2003, sadly no class 310’s made it into preservation whilst two class 312’s are owned by the Electric Railway Museum in Warwickshire
The class 310 & 312’s were phase replaced by the first new build trains to operate on the line the C2C exclusive Class 357 Electrostar with the first running in 1999, in a dark blue colour scheme, this has since been changed to a white scheme after it was found water would get behind the vinyl covering and start to corrode the metal door frames.
Since the electrification of the line no steam trains had operated on the line let alone run across the bridge, that was until Saturday 2nd May 1990 when two steam locos visited Southend for a weekend of special services, on the Saturday a service was ran from Fenchurch Street to Southend via Upminster & Basildon, whilst on the Sunday the service operated the original London, Tilbury & Southend route.
Since then such grand steam trains as Britannia, Duke of Gloucester and Tornado have all paid their respects to the old bridge.
The new bridge was transported some 691ft to be lifted into its new home for the next 120 years shortly before midnight the same day the old bridge was removed. Work then started to relay the tracks, ballast and reconnect the signalling, the first train to cross the bridge was an empty test train at 2:00am followed up at 4:30am by the first passenger carrying train.
"The Bridges of Southend Borough" The old and new briadges in Tylers Avenue car park