SAK Rebuilt - Progress Report 17

Bridging The Gap!

After the amazing progress in the autumn of 2006 that saw track laid all the way from Stirling to Cambus, and then more than four miles of track laid in just four days on the eastern section of the SAK (see Progress Reports 15 & 16), I wasn't surprised that things were a bit quieter during late November. Tracklaying had stalled between Cambus and Alloa, but in compensation work was proceeding slowly on the new station in Alloa, and the half-mile or so of trackbed between the Hilton Road level-crossing and Helensfield seemed to be almost ready for tracklaying. However, as I mentioned at the end of the last progress report, one major gap remained in the trackbed of the SAK as a new bridge had not yet been put in at Helensfield, despite the new bridge abutment appearing to be nearing completion, and I didn't know when this would be done.

It may surprise some people, but I have got this far with my reports of the progress on the SAK without a lot of 'inside info'. In fact the emails I had seen telling me about the Kirow crane, 08756, and the work train for the tracklaying machine (see progress report 14) were virually all the advance information I had had. However a request in early December 2006 by one of the people connected with the SAK project to borrow a few of my pictures for some sort of presentation (to which I said yes of course) gave me a chance to ask (politely) about when the new bridge was to be lifted in, and it turned out that it was to be the weekend of 16th-17th December. So I made a point of visiting the SAK on my way to Fife on the (bitterly cold!) morning of the 16th, and what I found had me hurrying back only a few hours later...

1. Despite the fact that I was heading to Helensfield, I first detoured via the centre of Alloa to check om the progress of the new station and other work going on there. The drainage works there seemed to be finished, but there is now a heap of ballast and a couple of items of plant suitable for spreading it visible in this first picture.


2. Looking at what will clearly become the new station car park shows that it is still a messy worksite, which is hardly surprising this early in the station construction.


3. Swinging round shows that the station platform is now taking shape, and that a foundation has been put in for the waiting room building that will be built here.


4. Zooming in a bit reveals that the platform edge is vertical and not high enough, and thus still has to receive the proper edging slabs that a station platform requires, after which more infill and a paved or tarmac surface will be required to set the final platform height. The target platform height can perhaps be guessed at (approximately) from the height of the building foundation.


5. I've avoided mentioning it so far, but I must now 'come clean' and admit that I already knew that tracklaying had just started between Alloa and Helensfield, but hadn't had a chance to film it properly due (inevitably!) to bad weather and lack of daylight in the evenings. This being the case, I made a point of visiting this work next, and here is a view looking back toward Alloa. As can be seen, a loop like the one at Cambus is being put in here, so that trains to and from Longannet Power Station can pass each other.


6. The zoom view shows the end (or start) of the tracks more clearly, at what is clearly going to be the location of the points at the Alloa end of the loop.


7. Swinging round a bit shows what look like concrete sleepers sitting on the track, and my best guess is that these are some of the longer sleepers for the loop points.


8. Swinging round further shows the current end of the newly laid track, with some shorter concrete sleepers sitting crosswise on it. The rail ends are covered in ballast, probably to allow road-rail plant to get onto the track more easily.


9. Looking eastwards down the trackbed shows that the ballast doesn't go all that far yet - perhaps there is some good reason why track can't be laid under the bridge yet.


10. It wasn't far to go to reach Helensfield, and I had no difficulty in finding the crane being used to lift in the new bridge! Obviously the road underneath is closed for the weekend, which wouldn't have been too popular with anyone diverted through Clackmannan and Kennet as that is the Clackmannan bypass.


11. I got a bit closer, and was thus able to get a better view of the crane in action. It isn't totally clear from this angle, but the crane has lifted a side girder of the new bridge into place, and is holding it in the right place while it is fastened down.


12. Naturally I took the chance to swing the camera round and this view reveals not only a stack of steel sleepers, but completed track in front of them.


13. Swinging the camera round further, so that I was looking back towards Alloa, revealed that the track went right down the embankment to where the Helensfield end of the loop would be, and that a section of it had concrete sleepers. My guess [which later turned out to be correct] was that the concrete sleepers belonged to a point like those used in the loop at Cambus.


14. I walked back toward Clackmannan (back toward where my car was parked) and tried filming the crane over a high wall (using the angled LCD viewfinder as the wall was taller than me!). It gets the whole crane jib into the shot all right, but it's now too small to see the details...


15. ...without zooming in! Clearly only one side girder has been lifted in so far. Interestingly, the girder is being lifted in with a railing already fitted to stop track workers falling over the edge accidentally once the line is re-opened! I was a bit surprised at this, as there was surely a risk of damage to it during the transportation and lifting, but it certainly saves time when assembling the bridge.


Since I was already running late, it was high time I set out for Fife, but after picking up a fellow railway enthusiast friend (the same one I had with me when I filmed progress report 15), I came right back through as this was definitely something I was unlikely to see again soon! The rest of the pictures in this progress report were therefore filmed in the afternoon of the 16/12/06 rather than the morning.


16. On getting back to the 'Wee County', I chose this time to head down the Clackmannan bypass from the east. Although the road under the bridge was closed, the rest of the bypass was still open but signposted 'Access Only', and that suited me just fine! However before we got to Helensfield we saw a parked lorry about halfway down the bypass with what looked like deck sections for the bridge...


17. ... with another trailerful in the next layby down for good measure!


18. After dodging a few holes in the road (someone had taken the chance to start road repairs on the bypass but had then gone away without filling them in!) I got to Helensfield. Here is a view from the north side of the road a few yards down, showing an impressive selection of road signs given that almost no cars would be coming this way with diversions in place!


19. Zooming in gives a much better view of the crane turret, which has an impressive collection of ballast weights and jib reeves, without which a hydraulic crane of this size would struggle to lift very much once it had extended it's jib. Oh and it's lifting the second side girder of the new bridge!


20. By walking round onto the footpath on the other side of the road, we were able to get much closer to the crane and bridge and got the bonus of a better viewing angle into the bargain.


21. A closer view show not only more details of the crane, but that there are a couple of 'cherry pickers' to lift the construction crew up to reach the bridge sections, and also some scaffolding at the bridge abutment serving the same purpose.


22. I zoomed right in on the chassis of the crane, and sheer size of the crane can be judged by comparing it to the man on the left of the picture. This is one of the largest mobile cranes about, and will I suspect have been chosen for this job due to the height of the jib when extended, rather than it's lifting capacity which will be much higher than needed for the weight of these bridge sections.


23. A closer view of the new bridge, showing that one of the workers is actually working up in between the two side sections, with his head where the bridge decking will be.


24. At this point the lorry with deck sections we saw parked on the bypass earlier showed up, suggesting that the next part of the bridge installation would be to lift them in.


25. Reading the captions so far may have given you the misleading impression that we were the only people watching all this, but that wasn't the case at all. As it turned out, the editions of the local newspapers for that week gave notice of the road closure and explained why it was happening, so other people turned up to have a look, and here is a picture to prove it! Had the weather been warmer, there might have been even more people!


26. At long last the construction crew were satisfied that they had the second bridge section fastened down in the right place, and the crane ropes were unfastened from the lifting points. Time for the deck sections?


27. Yes! But work had to be done to the first deck section before it could be lifted, probably to attach shackles to allow the crane to lift it.


28. Up, up, and away! The first deck section takes to the air (albeit slowly!)


29. Across, across, and over! Obviously the section needed to be swung round over the bridge, and it can clearly be seen here that it isn't rectangular. This is because the Helensfield bridge is a 'skew' bridge, which means that the deck sections at either end of the bridge have to have a diagonal shape to fit correctly in line with the abutments. This one is in fact shaped to fit the Alloa end of the bridge.


30. Down, down, and in! The first deck section is lowered into place.


Alas, failing light, failing camcorder battery, and having filmed so extensively that I had less than a minute left of my last unfinished camcorder tape meant that we had to give up watching soon after the first deck section was dropped into place. I wasn't particularily sorry, not just because the temperature was cold and getting colder, but also because the lifting of the other deck sections would be very similar to the first one, would take a long time, and would either be finished in darkness, or on the Sunday (depending whether they stopped overnight). I didn't want to neglect my preservation activities for the whole weekend (I'm never short of something to do there!), so we didn't come back on the Sunday, but I was never in any doubt that the bridge would be finished without serious problems, and it was.

Despite having missed the actual lifting of the side sections into place, I was delighted with what I had seen, since once the Helensfield bridge was complete the SAK project could progress to having continuous track right from Kincardine station right through (more or less) to Alloa! (On current boundaries most of the new loop shown above would probably be inside Alloa, but my railway-centric point of view has Alloa starting where the railway crosses Hilton Road! The distance from where the end of the loop will be and Hilton road is probably less than a hundred yards however.) This prompted the next big question however - whether the SAK tracklaying into Alloa would first be done from the east, or from the west. Progress was actually made from both ends in the next few weeks, but it was about a month before I got a chance to film it, the results of which can be seen in the next progress report!


Click Here To Go To 'SAK Progress Report 18'


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