View of the bridge from Barmouth
|Carries||Rail traffic, pedestrians|
|Total length||699 metres (764 yd)|
|Heritage status||Grade II listed|
Barmouth Bridge (Welsh: Pont Abermaw), also known as Barmouth Viaduct, is a single-track largely wooden railway viaduct that crosses the River Mawddach estuary on the coast of Cardigan Bay, Wales. It sits between Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth in Gwynedd and caters for rail, foot and cycle traffic.
The bridge opened in 1867, and originally included a drawbridge section at its north end for tall ships to pass, though this was later replaced by the current swing bridge section. In 1980, major repairs were undertaken to fix problems with woodworm on the bridge, which came under threat from closing. Tolls were collected for foot and cycle traffic until 2013. The bridge is a Grade II listed structure, and has one of the longest timber viaducts still in regular use in Britain.
Location and structure
The bridge crosses the estuary of the River Mawddach from Morfa Mawddach near Arthog in the south to the edge of Barmouth to the north. The line is operated by Arriva Trains Wales, with connecting services south to Aberystwyth and east to Welshpool and Shrewsbury. The section containing the bridge is on the Cambrian Coast railway between Machynlleth and Pwllheli. It is a Grade II listed structure about 699 metres (764 yd) long and contains 113 wooded trestles supported by a series of cast iron piers. It is one of the longest timber viaducts still standing in Britain.
A footbridge is incorporated on the eastern side and pedestrians and cyclists can cross the estuary by the side of the track. Since 1996, this has formed part of the National Cycle Route that links North and South Wales. The footbridge is owned by Network Rail but an agreement is in place with Gwynedd County Council, who pay for 10% of the annual maintenance in exchange for a licence to use the bridge.
Most of the bridge is built on a section of shifting sand across the estuary, which in turn is based on a thick gravel bed. The north end by the swing bridge section is next to the foot of Cadair Idris, and the river channel here can flow up to 9 knots (16.7km/h). The first two spans here are built directly into the rock.
There is no nearby crossing for road traffic. The first of there spanning the Afon Mawddach is a toll bridge at Penmaenpool about 5 miles (8 km) further upstream and suitable only for motor cars and light vans. Heavier road vehicles must use the first public road bridge, which is at Dolgellau about 10 miles (16 km) from Barmouth.
The bridge was first proposed as part of the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Pwllheli by the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway around 1861-2. It was designed by Benjamin Piercy and Henry Conybeare in 1864, and opened on 10 October 1867. Conybeare decided to construct the viaduct from timber as it would be cheaper to import by sea than iron. As built, it included a lifting drawbridge section at the northern end to permit the passage of tall ships, constructed entirely of wood. It was never in regular use since the opening of the railway killed off competition from boat traffic. In 1899, the drawbridge arrangement was changed to the current swing bridge arrangement. It is still theoretically in operation, though it has not been open to ships since testing in 1987.
Passenger train services over the bridge declined significantly after the Ruabon to Barmouth line via Llangollen and Dolgellau was closed in 1965, causing all traffic to take the longer and slower route from Shrewsbury via Machynlleth and Dovey Junction. The old trackbed from Morfa Mawddach railway station to Dolgellau now forms the Mawddach Trail, a walk and cycle trail.
In 1980, serious doubt were raised over the bridge's structure, which had come under attack from marine woodworm and was struggling to cope with the weight of modern freight traffic. British Rail discovered that woodworm had eaten into 69 of the supporting pillars and estimated it would cost £2.5 million to repair. Locomotive-hauled trains were banned, which immediately resulted in the lost off traffic from Tywyn, including explosives traffic to and from the factory at Penrhyndeudraeth. That traffic was re-routed via Maentwrog Road railway station and the Conwy Valley Line. However, the local council were opposed to closing the bridge completely as 40% of all railway traffic in the area was tourist related. The government applied for a £2.5 million grant from the EEC to repair the bridge, with a further £4.6m being spent on improving the signalling. The bridge was closed entirely to traffic for six months during the repair works, and 30 of the tressels had to be replaced.
On 13 April 1986, a British Rail Class 37 37427 was named "Bont Y Bermo" to celebrate the (short-lived) re-introduction of locomotive-hauled trains following repairs in 1985–1986. Following major repairs the weight restriction was relaxed in 2005, and locomotive-hauled trains have again been allowed to cross.
In March 2013, the Barmouth Viaduct Access Group (B-VAG), was established to investigate an alternative route from the town centre to the bridge, as the current walkway is steep, narrow, and unsuitable for buggies or weelchairs. In June, the toll was removed after the couple who were employed to collect it left and were not replaced. The council have not yet decided how to pay for the bridge's maintenance costs, which were £39,405 for the year. This has proved to be problematic as the revenue collected from tolls has not been sufficient to cover the council's share of maintenance costs, and there is not a sufficient budget to employ any full-time staff to collect payments.
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