Network Rail is about to commence a £2 million project to improve the 18-span Eskmeals viaduct, which carries the railway over the River Esk estuary, roughly halfway between Barrow-in-Furness and Whitehaven in Cumbria.
The multi-million-pound project will start next month and will make journeys faster and more reliable for Cumbrian Coast line passengers.
Eskmeals viaduct was built in 1868 and still has its original wrought iron girders, which were strengthened in the 1920s, and its red sandstone piers which support the structure in the estuary itself.
This new project will see wooden timbers and 600 metres of rail renewed so that temporary speed restrictions can be lifted, speeding up journeys between Ravenglass and Bootle on the Cumbrian Coast line and making the timetable more reliable.
Network Rail’s route director for the North West, Phil James, said: “This significant Great North Rail Project investment at Eskmeals viaduct will ensure that the Cumbrian Coast line remains safe and reliable for passenger and freight trains for many more years to come.
“We know that this is the second time in a month that part of this line has been closed, and I want to thank passengers for their patience while work takes place.”
Phil James was referring to the stretch of line between Workington and Whitehaven, which was closed at Parton between 12 March and 1 June 2020 as a storm-damaged bridge was replaced.
The new work will close Eskmeals viaduct to trains for eight days between Saturday 20 and Monday 29 June. To keep passengers on the move, rail replacement buses will be provided between Millom and Sellafield.
Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, said: “The viaduct at Eskmeals is iconic and an important part of the railway heritage in Cumbria. But it’s more than that, it’s also a vital part of the current rail network.
“The viaduct has stood for more than 150 years and the improvements being carried out by Network Rail will future-proof it for generations to come.”
As well as replacing the timbers and track, engineers will take the opportunity to upgrade walkways and handrails across the viaduct. These are used by railway staff and will enable future maintenance work on the structure to take place more easily and safely.
As the summer starts, Network Rail is carrying out a lot of work on coastal structures to take advantage of the (hopefully) better weather. The viaduct at Barmouth in Wales is also to be repaired in a three-stage project over three years, while sleepers are being replaced on the Tay bridge in Scotland.