1 london bridge Victorian trainshed by Phil Marsh

London Bridge moves to West Wales

Published 27th June 2013

Network Rail donates London Bridge station roof to the Vale of Rheidol Railway.

As London Bridge station undergoes a £6bn redevelopment, components amounting to around a third of the Grade II listed barrel arch trainshed roof have been donated to the Vale of Rheidol Railway. At the 2ft gauge line’s Aberystwyth base the saved components, including 16 columns and spandrels, 14 elliptical beams and other important elements of the main roof arches, will find new life forming the main structure of a narrow gauge museum.

Problems overcome

London Bridge Station has undergone numerous renovation and rebuilding projects since construction in the 1830s. The current project includes construction of 15 new platforms and creation of the biggest under-rail concourse in the UK. Planning agreements required Network Rail to save as much as possible of the original Train Shed Roof, which was extensively damaged in the Second World War.

The task was always going to be difficult due to the age and corroded condition of the structure, but NR and its development partners, Costain and Xervon Palmers, succeeded in saving significantly more elements of the historic roof than expected. Lifts by crane had to be undertaken during overnight access hours and weekend closures, with the lifting operation further complicated by the need to use a crane on top of Victorian rail arches, meaning three different cranes had to be used depending on the location of the element to be lifted.

To retain the complete cast iron columns significant excavation was required in the platform surface, with specialist equipment required to prise apart the 150 year old connections between the columns and baseplates. The recovered components have already arrived at Aberystwyth in a series of 27 lorry deliveries.

Museum ambition closer to fruition

Construction of a narrow gauge museum at Aberystwyth has been the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s ultimate ambition for many decades. Totally aside from its operating locos and stock, all original to the railway, a large collection (in the region of 30 locomotives and items of stock) have been collected over many years with the objective of display in such a museum.

Most of this collection has been stored away from public viewing since acquisition. Donation of the London Bridge roof components represents a massive step towards fulfilling the museum objective.

Workshop link to narrow gauge ‘London train shed’

Construction of a magnificent new workshop commenced alongside the VoR in 2011 and is now approaching the final stages before completion. The design of the building incorporates a section of cladding intended to be removed to provide a seamless transition between the gallery above the loco roads and the museum which the railway planned to build alongside. Now, the core elements for the new museum are on hand to complete the vision.

The breathtaking new museum structure will produce a 100,000 sq ft (9,300 sq metre) of floor space on a site owned by the VoR which is presently leased to the local authority for car parking. Architects Stephen Langer and the Vale of Rheidol Railway have come up with a scheme blending the Victorian elements with modern building requirements to enable the display of locomotives in the context of a train-shed environment, the VoR saying it will work hard to recreate the atmosphere of a London terminus.

The VoR will shortly apply to Ceredigion Council for planning permission and work on grant applications. The local authority will need to provide alternative car parking provision to replace that lost when the land is handed back to the railway. A start on construction is not therefore imminent, but is in the foreseeable future.

They said:

Robert Gambrill, Spokesman for the Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust, the owners of the Vale of Rheidol Railway said:

“It has been a pleasure to work with such a dedicated team from Network Rail, their care and attention to detail has ensured as much of the structure that we need has been saved. Without their co-operation none of this would have been possible. We all look forward to unlocking the potential of our collection and seeing the Vale of Rheidol becoming a world class tourist attraction for Wales”

Phillip Ellis, Vale of Rheidol Railway Company director.

“What a wonderful opportunity to bring one of the world’s iconic railway structures to Wales where it will eventually display part of the VoR’s amazing collection of narrow gauge engines and rolling stock.”

Chris Drabble, Senior Sponsor for Network Rail.

“This great news has been possible because many people, from many organisations, have been working together. Up until the actual structures were lifted, we were never sure if any of this would be technically possible, so all of the teams can be really proud of what they have achieved.”

VoR history

The Vale of Rheidol Railway was constructed in 1901 and opened to passengers on December 22 1902. It runs from a station alongside the NR terminus at Aberystwyth for some 12 miles up the valley to Devil’s Bridge, climbing some 666 feet in the process.

The original company was absorbed into the Cambrian Railways in 1911, grouped into the Great Western Railway in 1923 and became part of British Railways on nationalisation in 1948. It reverted to private ownership in 1988 when bought by the Brecon Mountain Railway, its ownership being transferred to The Phyllis Rampton Narrow Gauge Railway Trust in 1991. The railway, now a stand-alone charity, attracts around 40,000 visitors annually.

Written by Cliff Thomas

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