Hayle Viaduct - Major refurbishment works 2014/15
History of the viaduct by Mike Roach
The Hayle Railway was one of the earliest railways in Cornwall, and the first length opened in 1837 for freight only. The western terminus of the Hayle Railway was at Foundry Square, Hayle and was orientated north-south beneath the present railway viaduct. The West Cornwall Railway was formed in 1846 to takeover the Hayle Railway and extend it eastwards to Truro and westwards to Penzance. However the line of the Hayle Railway at Foundry Square was pointing in the wrong direction, and was not amenable to being extended. So the new railway was constructed at a higher level and eventually joined the old line some two and a half miles further east, west of Gwinear Road Station. The new line crossed Foundry Square on a Brunel style wooden viaduct at a height of about 10 metres, crossing the turnpike road twice. This road through Hayle was later the A30 trunk road until the Hayle Bypass was built in the 1980s.
The West Cornwall built railway viaduct across Foundry Square consisted of 38 spans and was opened in 1852. Apart from the two spans crossing the main road they were all of 20 feet opening. The whole of the superstucture was of timber construction in the style of Brunel's low timber viaducts, with the timber supports starting at ground level. In horizontal alignment the viaduct was, and still is, straight at its western end and curved at its eastern end. The total length was 277 yards. With a large number of industrial buildings under the viaduct the strength and stability of the viaduct gave cause for concern and it was replaced by the Great Western, which had taken over the line, in 1886 by a mostly new viaduct on the same alignment using stone piers and iron girders. I wonder if the 1886 work was done with the trains kept running, or was (horse) bustitution used from Hayle Station to St. Erth Station. An attempt will be made to find out by looking at the archives of the local newspapers.
In his book "Brunel's Cornish Viaducts," which can be recommended, John Binding reports that the timber superstructure was replaced bit by bit by one of wrought iron. To the present writer viewing the superstructure in 2014, admittedly from a distance, it looks exactly like riveted mild steel. Here we are entering a minefield. If it is wrought iron, then it would have been one of the last wrought iron structures to be built as mild steel had taken over completely by about 1890. Similarly riveting was ousted by welding by 1950. The 1886 iron or steel beams of the Hayle Railway Viaduct should continue in every day use for many years to come after the latest refurbishment.
The iron/steel superstructure of 1886 was overlain by timber beams forming a continuous wooden decking on which the ballast and track were laid. This would have been of single-line mixed gauge until 1892 when broad gauge was dispensed with. The 1886 superstructure was built wide enough to carry double standard gauge track, but the line remained single until 1899. In November 2014 the wooden decking was completely renewed in a 16-day closure of the line. This kind of re-decking had probably already occurred at least once and perhaps twice before in the 128 years between 1886 and 2014.
The following photographs record the major work that was done between 8 November an 23 November 2014 when the timber decking was replaced in a 16-day 24-hour a day operation. The line was completely closed to passengers between Truro and St. Erth, but the only passenger trains running through St Erth were from Penzance to St Ives. Longer distance passengers were bussed from Penzance to Truro. The railway timetable east of Truro stayed the same, so passengers from the closed stations had to leave home earlier, and arrive home later, or catch a different train.