Ski-lift technology used in border bridge work

Date:15-12-2020

Author:Matt

Technology more commonly seen on the slopes of the Swiss Alps is being used in the latest stage of restoration of the famous Union Chain Bridge. 

Work on the 200-year-old structure got underway in October and will take around 18 months - during which time it’s completely closed. 

Steel frame access towers are now up at both ends of the bridge which will be used to carry out the essential masonry repair works and to provide access for the installation of new rock anchors which will strengthen the structure once re-built.

A temporary access system’s been built that will carry cradles over the bridge and a platform beneath to allow workers close access to all elements of the bridge structure during dismantling and avoid the need to work from the River Tweed. 

The system is called a “Blondin” or aerial cableway transporter. This impressive technology, often used to maintain ski lifts and cable cars, is named after the French acrobat, born soon after the Union Chain Bridge opened, who famously crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

And all the progress is being captured in stunning drone footage detailing every stage of the work. Watch it HERE

It’s the latest step for the structure which is a key transport link between Scotland and England and received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019. 

The ambitious funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the world-famous structure. 

Both councils committed match funding totalling £5.7m towards the £10.5m scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.

As well as conserving the historic structure, the project team has also developed a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities.

David Renwick, Director, England, North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are delighted to see that the work to ensure the iconic Union Chain Bridge is safeguarded is progressing apace and that it is using some innovative technology to do so. 

“Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re very proud to invest in this fantastic heritage scheme that will not only provide exciting opportunities for people to explore the heritage and stories of this wonderful structure, but also see improved transport links and connectivity for the area extending across the Scotland-England border, and in turn hopefully witness economic growth of the area increase further.”

>Northumberland County Council Leader Glen Sanderson said: “It’s fantastic to see real progress on the restoration of this famous bridge. 

“With each passing week you can see the changes taking place and what extraordinary skills the teams working on site are using on this extremely complex engineering project.” 

Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Infrastructure, Travel and Transport, Councillor Gordon Edgar, said: “Bridge repairs and restorations always pose challenges, but especially so in the case of this historic structure. 

“This innovative method of working on the bridge minimises the impact on the River Tweed below and enables the team to work on in a range of conditions and continue the excellent progress made to date.” 

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational chain suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles - when it’s not closed to traffic for restoration! 

The project team would love to hear from anyone who’s got a story to share about the bridge.

Please get in touch at  ucb@museumsnorthumberland.org.uk and also visit the new website for updates as the project progresses – www.unionchainbridge.org