Victoria Bridge (Penrith)
Victoria Bridge over Nepean River
|Locale||Sydney, New South Wales, Australia|
|Official name||The Nepean Bridge|
|Owner||Roads and Maritime Services|
|Total length||700 feet (210 m)|
|No. of spans||5|
|Engineering design by|
|Designated||28 September 1982|
|Official name||Victoria Bridge; The Nepean Bridge; RTA Bridge No. 333|
|Type||state heritage (built)|
|Criteria||a., b., c., d., e., f., g.|
|Designated||27 May 2016|
|Category||Transport - Land|
The Victoria Bridge (Penrith), also known as the Victoria Bridge over Nepean River and officially known as The Nepean Bridge, is a heritage-listed former railway bridge and now wrought iron box plate girder road bridge across the Nepean River on the Great Western Highway in the western Sydney suburb of Penrith in the City of Penrith local government area of New South Wales, Australia. The bridge was designed by John Whitton, the Engineer–in–Chief of New South Wales Government Railways, and built from 1862 to 1867 by William Piper, Peto Brassey and Betts (superstructure), William Watkins (piers). It is also known as Victoria Bridge, The Nepean Bridge and RTA Bridge No. 333. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 27 May 2016.
The bridge initially carried rail and horse–drawn traffic, and was converted in 1907 to exclusively carry the Great Western Highway. The bridge is managed by Roads and Maritime Services. The bridge is the oldest surviving crossing of the Hawkesbury–Nepean River. As at 2009, Roads and Maritime Services estimated that Victoria Bridge carried an average daily traffic of 25,000 vehicles per day.
Until 1856 travelers who wished to cross the Nepean River were required to use either the Emu Ford or a punt that was located south of the present day Victoria Bridge on Punt Road. This arrangement meant that in times of flood, travellers were often delayed at Penrith for days or even weeks waiting to cross the river. A small village developed near Emu Ford to cater to the people waiting to cross the river. With the discovery of gold west of the Great Dividing Range the flow of people, produce and animals through Penrith and across the river increased dramatically. It was no coincidence that attempts were made to build a permanent structure across the river, resulting in two timber road bridges located near to the eventual Victoria Bridge site being constructed.
Prior to the construction of the Victoria Bridge, a punt service was located at the site of the bridge. Following the discovery of gold in the west of the Great Dividing Range demand for a permanent river crossing increased. A timber bridge was constructed with private funds, charging a toll for its use.
In 1850 the Government, reacting to lobbying by Penrith locals, passed an Act authorising the construction of a bridge at the western end of Jamison Road. This scheme never went ahead. A second Act was passed in 1851 authorising the formation of a company, allocating A₤6,000 for the construction of the bridge and allowing for the collection of tolls on the bridge. Following this act the Penrith Nepean Bridge Company was formed. A further Act in 1854 increased the allocated funds to ₤20,000. The first directors of the Penrith Nepean Bridge Company were local entrepreneurs Robert Fitzgerald, James Thomas Ryan, Edwin Rouse, John Perry, Charles York, Henry Hall, Alexander Fraser. Construction of the bridge was under the supervision of David McBeth, a Scottish surveyor.
The bridge, completed in December 1855, was 213 metres (700 ft) long and 9 metres (30 ft) wide, becoming the first bridge across the Nepean River in the area. McBeth received a ₤200 bonus on top of his ₤300 salary for the timely completion of the works, the toll rights for the first year were sold by the Penrith Nepean Bridge Company for ₤2,250 and traffic flowed across the bridge. The successful Penrith Nepean Bridge Company held a celebration party costing approximately ₤1,000 on the new bridge to celebrate its completion. Opened in January 1856, the bridge was destroyed by floods in 1857, and again rebuilt. Surviving the February 1860 flood, it was again destroyed in May 1860.
Unfortunately this success did not last long. In August 1857 a flood carried away the four centre spans, no doubt due to the poor security of the mid-stream timber piles which reportedly were frayed like mop heads where McBeth had attempted to drive them into rock. McBeth had lacked experience and knowledge in bridge building and although the piles close to the bank went in easily, the mid-stream timber piles had struck rock and failed to achieve a secure penetration.
The Penrith Nepean Bridge Company decided to rebuild the bridge and employed an engineer named Moriarty to supervise the works. The construction contract was awarded to William Lockhart for ₤9,000. The piles that remained from the first bridge were utilised in the new bridge design, against the advice of both Lockhart and Moriarty. The new bridge was of a different, stronger design than the first and construction was completed in good time with the toll rights for one year selling for ₤2,850. The bridge withstood its first flood, but in 1860 the most devastating flood in New South Wales history until that time washed away the entire superstructure and deposited it on a bank down river. The structure was almost intact. Had the piles been replaced as originally suggested by the engineer and builder, the bridge might well have survived the flood. The Penrith Nepean Bridge Company was ruined by the destruction of the bridge and the directors lost large sums of money. Following the destruction of this second bridge the Government supplied two punts to convey people and goods across the river. The punts were irreparably damaged by a flood in 1867.
The loss of the punts coincided with a period in which the Great Western Railway was in the advanced planning stages, including plans for the construction of a bridge over the Nepean River to link Penrith with Bathurst in the west, as part of the Penrith to Weatherboard Line (later Wentworth Falls). It was decided that the required bridge would carry both a railway line and a single lane of road over the river, as a temporary solution.
Victoria Bridge was designed by the Engineer-in-Chief of Railways in NSW, John Whitton and checked in Britain by his brother-in-law and renowned railway engineer John Fowler. Victoria Bridge was designed to carry two railway tracks as it was intended that the road on the bridge be only a temporary arrangement. The flood of 1860 that had carried off the previous bridge influenced Whitton to raise the bridge deck by two metres (six feet) after witnessing the power of high flood waters.
The design of the bridge uses half through girders which are actually tall boxes made of riveted wrought iron plates was driven by the need to keep the underside of the bridge as shallow as possible to maximise headroom for flood clearance. The configuration of their boxes with their tall web plates, and upper box for lateral stability, reflected cutting edge design for the period. It utilised cutting edge of structural technology, using principles developed by Robert Stephenson in his design of the Britannia Bridge and the Conwy Railway Bridge in Wales, Thomas Telford and others who, by testing and theoretical work, developed techniques to prevent plate buckling by providing frequent vertical stiffeners, and sideways buckling of girders members by adding torsionally stiff boxes at the top and bottom. The first deep box girder bridge was designed by Stephenson and built across the Menai Strait in 1850. It was provided with suspension towers in case the deck was insufficiently strong and stiff, but the cables were never installed.
The construction contract for Victoria Bridge was split into several parts. One contract for the construction of the piers was awarded to William Tyler in 1862. He commenced work but flooding in 1863 and 1864 damaged his equipment and contributed to his abandonment of the contract in August 1864. The contract was subsequently awarded to W. Watkins for the sum of ₤44,658. He completed the work before the agreed completion date and avoided the ₤50 per week penalty he would have incurred had he not delivered on time.
The ironwork for the bridge was supplied by Peto, Brassey and Betts of Birkenhead, England for ₤41,750. The same firm had supplied the ironwork for the Menangle Railway Bridge constructed on the Nepean River in 1863 and now the oldest surviving bridge on the NSW railway system. The timber approach viaduct for the Victoria Bridge was constructed by Mr Baillie at a cost of ₤8,716. Other small contracts for earthworks were also made bringing the total cost of the 1100 tonne iron bridge to approximately ₤110,000.
High floodwaters struck again soon after the bridge was opened in 1867, when the highest flood recorded until that time damaged the western timber approaches and washed away a portion of the spans and river bank. The main span however withstood this first major test and the flood waters did not reach the underside of the deck. A result of this flood a portion of the damaged timber viaduct was replaced by a shorter wrought iron box-girder span manufactured by the Thames Iron Company, Blackwall, England. The bridge was in operation as a rail bridge during the repair works and was re-opened to road traffic in 1869. The Victoria Bridge was considered to be of such modern design that it was featured in the "Modern Examples of Road and Railway Bridges" by Maw and Dredge in 1872.
Victoria Bridge had a significant impact on the local economy. Prior to its opening Penrith station formed the rail head of the western line, making Penrith a trade hub. The introduction of the road across the Nepean River diminished the business in the town previously brought in by travellers delayed in Penrith by poor river conditions. Conversely the opening of the bridge and the road and railway to the west enabled the growth of centres west of the mountains and the tourist industry of the Blue Mountains to become established.
Following the increase in rail traffic on the Great Western Railway and the increase in the weight of locomotive engines, options were considered for the duplication of the railway line and of the Victoria Bridge. The possibility of using Victoria Bridge to carry two rail lines was considered. But this would have required the strengthening of the bridge by constructing intermediate piers between the existing piers of the bridge, thus halving the length of the spans. This technique had been applied to Victoria Bridge's sister structure the Menangle Bridge in 1907. It was however decided that the construction of a second bridge alongside the Victoria Bridge would be more appropriate and construction on a steel truss bridge was undertaken. The piers of the new bridge lined up with Victoria Bridge's existing piers in an attempt to minimise stresses on the structures during high river flows. In 1907 the railway bridge that now stands alongside Victoria Bridge was completed. With its completion the Victoria Bridge was converted to carry two lanes of traffic and a footway while the new bridge carried two rail lines. Originally it took one railway line and a road across the river, however in 1907 another bridge was constructed a few metres to the north which thenceforth took two railway lines across the river, and the original bridge reverted to road and pedestrian use only.
In the mid 1930s the timber approach spans of the bridge were discovered to be heavily deteriorated through termite attack and the approach spans were replaced with reinforced concrete trestles and a concrete deck supported by rolled steel joists (RSJs).
The site of Victoria Bridge has long been a centre of recreation in the Penrith region. From the 1850s it has been used for national and international rowing competitions. The bridge is significant in the development of the colony of NSW as it allowed the railway, which previously terminated at Penrith, to reach the Railway Blue Mountains and beyond, as well as providing continuous road passage across the river using the Great Western Highway.
Today the bridge's significance as a road route to and from the Blue Mountains is diminished. The M4 Western Motorway has replaced the Great Western Highway as the main arterial route, crossing the Nepean River at Regentville. The M4 and the Great Western Highway join/separate at Lapstone Hill.
The bridge maintains its significance as a local tourist attraction and a centrepiece to sporting events along the Nepean River, as well as continuing to serve as vital link between the suburbs west of the Nepean, such as Emu Plains, and the major suburban centre of Penrith. The 1907 railway bridge still takes the Main Western and Blue Mountains railway lines over the river.
An undivided pedestrian pathway approximately 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) is located adjacent to the roadway. Following community advocacy, in 2010, Roads and Maritime Services commenced a feasibility study into a shared pedestrian/cyclist pathway over the bridge. By mid-2016 Roads and Maritime Services contracted Seymour Whyte Constructions Pty Ltd to build a pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the Nepean River, south of the Victoria Bridge, to connect Penrith and Emu Plains. The project is expected to be completed in 2018.
Victoria Bridge is a continuous iron through-bridge (the deck is between the girders rather than on top of them). The three main girders, each spanning a clear 56.7 metres (186 ft), were designed and constructed as one 181-metre (594 ft) long continuous structure (no separations over the piers), a novel structural feature for 1867. This structure, supported by hollow stone piers at 60.35 metres (198.0 ft) centres, has iron cross girders which support a concrete deck, 3.5 metres (11 ft) below the tops of the main girders which are 3.95 metres (13.0 ft) deep. Each span has a camber of 100 millimetres (3.9 in). There is a secondary, shorter, shallower, simply-supported girder, 41.1 metres (135 ft) long at the western (Emu Plains) end of the bridge. All four iron girders have pairs of hollow boxes top and bottom separated by two web plates, an early version of box-girder construction. They are all of riveted construction. The total weight of wrought iron is around 1,100 tonnes (1,213 short tons).
The bridge consists of three main spans of iron box girder, one secondary span of iron box girder and three concrete approach spans on either side of the bridge.
The piers that support the main spans are constructed of sandstone, the pier supporting the western end of the secondary iron girder span is constructed of mass concrete. The piers supporting the approach spans are constructed of concrete trestle frames. Piped services are supported under the pedestrian walkway portion of the deck and a large pipe is supported on the top flange of one of the main girders.
T-section shaped stiffeners can be seen running vertically down the sides of the girders at the bearing ends. There are 5 stiffeners over the central piers and 3 over outer piers. Stiffeners prevent the thin web plates from buckling vertically.
Architectural curved angle sections appear on the outer face of the girders of the main span. These serve no structural function but "lighten the appearance of the structure"
There are flood markers on the side of the easternmost sandstone pier. The remnants of old light posts can be seen on the piers on the northern side of the bridge.
There are modern street light posts and lights on the southern piers of the bridge.
As at 1 December 2008, the fabric of the bridge is generally in very good condition. There is little sign of rust on iron elements and concrete and stone elements also appear to be in good condition.
Theremay be remains of the plies of the earlier bridges may still be embedded in the riverbed. There is also the possibility that relics of the construction platforms, crane bases or coffer damns used to construct Victoria Bridge may be found in the riverbed.
The bridge has undergone several alterations in its life so far. The bulk of the bridge however remains intact.
Modifications and dates
The bridge has undergone several alterations in its life so far. The bulk of the bridge however remains intact.
- 1869 - Western approach spans were rebuilt following damage of the original timber approach spans by flood two weeks after the bridge was opened. The new spans were of a similar design to the main spans but with cast iron caisson piers.
- c. 1870-90 - The original road surface was close-fitting timber planking, wheel guides were installed early in the life of the bridge to help horse and bullock drawn vehicles drive in a straight line on the timber boards.
- 1883 - a galvanised iron fence was installed between the single railway track and the single lane road portion of the bridge. Around this time a warning bell was also installed to warn of approaching trains. This was installed after several incidents on the bridge involving livestock on the bridge being disturbed by passing trains.
- 1907 - new double track railway bridge was opened and the single railway line was removed from Victoria Bridge. The deck was also reconstructed to accommodate two lanes of traffic.
- 1934 - Approach spans and abutments reconstructed in steel and concrete
- 19?? - The footway across the main spans reconstructed to provide for utility pipes.
As at 18 March 2015, Victoria Bridge is of state heritage significance as one of only three bridges of its type that were ever constructed in NSW, of which only two remain ('wrought iron-through girder'). Although two bridges of this type still remain, Victoria Bridge is unique in NSW due to the intactness of its form compared to Menangle bridge, which has undergone significant alterations to its structural form through the addition of intermediate piers.
Victoria bridge represents a type of bridge that was considered to be the cutting edge of technology when it was designed in 1862. Design principles used in Victoria Bridge were pioneered by Robert Stephenson in his design of the Britannia Bridge and The Conwy Bridge in Britain. In addition to this prestigious design history, Victoria Bridge has the largest spans of any metal girder bridge in NSW.
The bridge is of state significance due to its role in bridging the Nepean River for the Great Western Railway. Victoria Bridge was a key element in bringing the railways to western NSW. The bridge's association with the designer of the Great Western Railway, John Whitton is also of significance.
The place is important in demonstrating the course, or pattern, of cultural or natural history in New South Wales.
Victoria Bridge is of state significance for its historical role as a vital element in the development of key road and rail transport routes across NSW from the 1860s and 1870s. In particular this includes the Great Western Railway line which opened up the western regions of the NSW, and made a significant contribution to improving trade flow across the state. As a road bridge it places a significant role in the story of crossing of the flood prone Nepean River, and was the first successful bridge crossing at Penrith. In addition to the wider advantages the bridge brought for transport across the state, it also has local significance for its economically on local workers and economies.
The place has a strong or special association with a person, or group of persons, of importance of cultural or natural history of New South Wales's history.
Victoria Bridge is of state significance for its association with its designer John Whitton, Engineer-in Chief for the NSW Railways, who also designed the Great Western Railway and the Zig Zag Railway at Lapstone and Lithgow. Mr Whitton was an outstanding engineer of his time and was also responsible for overseeing construction of the bridge and the railway line between Penrith and Wentworth Falls. It is also associated with the renowned British engineer John Fowler, of Firth of Forth Bridge Fame, who checked Whitton's design and plans and supervised the fabrication of the bridge in England.
The place is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in New South Wales.
Victoria Bridge is of state aesthetic significance because its design was based on important principles pioneered by Robert Stephenson on the Britannia Bridge and the Conwy Bridge in Wales. It is the most intact of only two iron through girder bridges built in NSW. Menangle Bridge now has intermediate piers and so no longer has its original form. Victoria Bridge is the only one of its type still operating with the same structural system that it was built with. The bridge has been an important landmark in Penrith since its construction.
The bridge has state technical and aesthetic significance. Whitton's design employed the latest in British Bridge technology, utilising the through girder form, reinforced with boxes at the top and bottom of the girders, and long continuous spans to achieve maximum waterway, a feature of major importance at this site. The construction of the bridge constituted a major project carried out under extremely difficult circumstances. The bridge has strong and bold lines, providing a reassure presence in a landscape continually attacked by high floods which destroyed two previous bridges. It is a highly visually distinctive structure, and its enclosing form has always provided a distinctive travel experience, whether crossing by train, horse drawn vehicle, motor vehicle or on foot. The Victoria Bridge and the visually complimentary adjacent rail bridge form a landmark from both the Great Western highway and from the Nepean River and its banks. Both bridges are visually articulate about their structural properties and together, through their contrasting forms, provide an essay on the developments in metal bridge design across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The quality and longevity of the bridge is evidence of Whitton's correct understanding of the power of the Nepean and his enormous commitment to build railways of a high standard, employing cutting edge British technology in a colony barely out of its infancy. The high level of the bridge and its robust stone piers, as well as s the iron span on the western end of the bridge added after its initial completion are articulate about the devastating potential of the river and the high level of persistence intelligence and investment required to bridge it.
The place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in New South Wales for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.
Public esteem for the bridge and an enduring interest in its management and use over its lifetime has imbued Victoria Bridge with social significance at a State level. Its historic, technical and aesthetic qualities are widely recognised within the Penrith, Sydney and Blue Mountains communities and more widely among railway and bridge enthusiasts and historians. It forms a landmark in the Penrith area and has been the centrepiece of the tourist and sporting activities of the Nepean which have attracted boating parties, swimmers, rowers, spectators and picnickers from a wide catchment area.
The bridge has local significance as a place of recreation. It is significant to the Heritage Engineers of Australia.
The place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of the cultural or natural history of New South Wales.
Victoria Bridge has research significance at a State level as one of the oldest metal bridges in Australia. Together with the Menangle Railway Bridge and Prince Alfred Bridge at Gundagai, it is an important benchmark in early metal bridge design and construction practices giving insight into these activities which would be difficult to gain from other sources. With the largest spans of any metal girder bridge in NSW and being the most intact of two remaining bridges in the state of this type, the Victoria Bridge is of state significance for its research potential to illustrate the design and construction techniques of this type of bridge.
The place possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of the cultural or natural history of New South Wales.
Victoria Bridge is of state significance as the only "iron-through girder" bridge that has not been significantly altered, making it unique in NSW. It was one of three iron box-girder bridges built in NSW and one of only two surviving bridges, the other being at Menangle. The third, being an 1869 single span over the Wollondilly River near Goulburn, was demolished after duplication of the Great Southern Railway in 1914. The bridge also has State significance more generally as one of the oldest metal bridges in NSW and Australia.
The place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural or natural places/environments in New South Wales.
It is of state significance because it is representative of the cutting edge of bridge design in 1864 and is representative of early wrought iron heavy bridge design. It also represents the importance of high quality bridge design in the opening up of Western NSW to the railway.
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- "Victoria Bridge". Road Projects. Roads and Maritime Services. October 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- "NOTICE is hereby given, that an application will he made to His Excellency the". New South Wales Government Gazette (55). New South Wales, Australia. 26 April 1850. p. 693 – via National Library of Australia.
- "An Act to Incorporate a Company to be called the Penrith Nepean Bridge Company, and to enable the said Company to erect and maintain a Bridge over the River Nepean at Penrith, in direct continuation of the present line of the Great Western Road, and to take Toll thereat for a term of years; and for other purposes therein mentioned. [Assented to, 15th December, 1851.]". New South Wales Government Gazette (143). New South Wales, Australia. 19 December 1851. pp. 53–68 – via National Library of Australia.
- "THE PENRITH NEPEAN BRIDGE COMPANY". The Sydney Morning Herald. XXXII (4607). New South Wales, Australia. 19 February 1852. p. 2 – via National Library of Australia.
- "OPENING OF THE PENRITH VICTORIA BRIDGE". The Empire (1554). New South Wales, Australia. 2 January 1856. p. 4 – via National Library of Australia.
- "The Sydney Morning Herald". The Sydney Morning Herald. XXXVII (5516). New South Wales, Australia. 7 January 1856. p. 4 – via National Library of Australia.
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- "THE FLOODS. THE NEPEAN". The Sydney Morning Herald. XLI (6770). New South Wales, Australia. 16 February 1860. p. 6. Retrieved 20 November 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
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- "THE NEPEAN". The Sydney Morning Herald. LV, (9074). New South Wales, Australia. 24 June 1867. p. 5. Retrieved 20 November 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
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- Penrith Valley Heritage Drive.
- National Trust Item Sheet.
- RTA Bridge File 5/358.123 t1.
- "The Nepean Times 14 April 1882 & 1883, 26 Jan 1884, 19 Apr 1884, 28 June 1884, 20 December 1884".
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- Connell Wagner Pty Ltd (2001). Duplication of the Victoria Bridge over the Nepean River EIS.
- Department of Main Roads (1934). Main Roads Magazine Vol 5 No 3 May.
- Fraser, D. (1995). Bridges Down Under.
- Langdon, M. (2006). Conquering the Blue Mountains.
- Lee, R. (1988). The Greatest Public Work.
- Maw, William Henry; Dredge, James (1872). Modern examples of road and railway bridges : illustrating the most recent practice of leading engineers in Europe and America. Published at the offices of "Engineering" ; Berlin : A. Asher. pp. 8–10.
- NSW Government Printer (1879). The Railway Guide of NSW.
- Palmer, H. (1976). Some Bridges Around Penrith.
- Rapley, J. (2003). The Britannia Bridge and other Tubular Bridges.
- Singleton, C. C. (1956). 'Ascents of Lapstone Hill' The Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin No 277 September.
- Stacker, Lorraine (2002). A Pictorial History of Penrith and St Marys.
- Stacker, Lorraine. Victoria Bridge - A Story of Four Bridges.
- Sue Rosen and Associates (2004). Study of Heritage Significance of a group of RTA Controlled Bridges and Ferries.
This Wikipedia article contains material from Victoria Bridge, entry number 1950 in the New South Wales State Heritage Register published by the State of New South Wales and Office of Environment and Heritage 2018 under CC-BY 4.0 licence, accessed on 11 October 2018.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Victoria and railway bridges, Penrith.|
- Kass, Terry (February 2006). "RTA Thematic History: A component of the RTA Heritage and Conservation Register" (PDF). NSW Roads & Maritime Services (PDF) (2nd ed.). Government of New South Wales. Retrieved 12 January 2015.