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Merseyside History, Widnes & Runcorn Bridges.

Looking west at the Runcorn Widnes Rail and Road Bridges 2003.
THE Construction of the Runcorn-Widnes railway bridge started in 1868 when the first stone was laid on 12 April by Philip Whiteway.   Whiteway was a local shipbuilder, who was also a member of the Runcorn Improvement Commissioners.   This became the first bridge to cross the River Mersey at this point.  The bridge was designed by William Baker, chief engineer of the London & North Western Railway Company based at Euston, London.   The bridge was officially opened on 21 May 1868 and open for railway traffic on 10 October the same year. The bridge was also used as a passenger toll bridge as well, but this led to the decline of ferry services.  The next step in crossing the  river was with the Runcorn-Widnes Transporter.  It opened in 1905 on the 29 May to replace a ferry crossing and to supplement the toll footbridge that ran beside the railway bridge.    The high level design was chosen  because the Manchester Ship Canal, running alongside the River Mersey at Runcorn, carried tall ocean-going ships, which a low-level bridge would have obstructed.  At the time, the expense and engineering complexity of a high-level road bridge were prohibitive, although the high-level railway bridge was already now next to the proposed site.   The bridge was a magnificent feat of Edwardian engineering.   The span of the bridge across the Mersey was 1000ft [305m]. The bridge towers stood 190ft [58m] above high water,  30 ft. apart on each side with a 1,000 ft. span over the river.    Four cylinders each 9ft. in diameter were braced under each tower. On the Widnes side these were bolted into the solid bedrock, but on the Runcorn side they were set 35ft. below the level of the Manchester Ship Canal.   The girders were 82ft. above the high water mark and were capable of withstanding wind pressure of 56lbs per square inch.  The car was 55 ft. long and 25ft. wide and took 2.5 minutes to cross the river. It could carry 4 two-horse drawn loaded wagons (equivalent to 12 vehicles) and 300 passengers.   The total cost was 137,663, about a third of the cost of an ordinary high level bridge. However, the suspended car was very sensitive to adverse weather, and would often be closed down in high winds.    Very little is now left to show that the bridge ever existed.    A high-level road bridge was finally built. It was opened by Princess Alexandra on 21 July 1961, and the Transporter Bridge was closed the very next day. It was scheduled for demolition almost immediately.  The road and rail bridges still stand today as you can see above.  The road bridge costing 3 million is 100ft (30m) higher than the railway bridge and had the longest single arch span in Europe (the third longest in the world). The road bridge was widened to four lanes between 1975 and 1977 and renamed the Silver Jubilee bridge. The approach roads on both sides were renamed Queensway.

On 30 December 2002 the government decided that anouther bridge should be built to cross the river Mersey at the cost of 150m.  The plan is to build another road bridge alongside the Silver Jubilee bridge, to help ease the traffic congestion. If it gets the go-ahead, building could start by the end of 2004 and be completed by 2007.

Photograph taken by Patrick Trollope BA(Hons) LBPPA in 2003 from the Air looking West. 

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.   Copyright Patrick Trollope 2004