HIGH & MIGHTY

Reckon Har­ring­worth has more bricks than any other viaduct? Think again. For the sec­ond in our series on the old East Ger­many, TONY STREETER takes a look at the spec­tac­u­lar Göltzschtal­brücke.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Vale Of Rheidol -

It is the world’s largest brick-built bridge. More than 26 mil­lion of them make up the viaduct that for more than 600 yards soars above a steep wooded val­ley.

Yet it’s not so much the length of the Göltzschtal­brücke that makes it so amaz­ing, but its height. When it opened, it was the tallest rail­way bridge in the world.

Since 1851 trains have run atop a dou­ble-track strip some 250ft above the River Göltzsch, which carves its way through the coun­try here close to Sax­ony’s bor­der with Thuringia. Hold­ing the rails aloft, like men bal­anc­ing on each other’s shoul­ders, are up to four rows of arches. The largest arch, in the cen­tre, spans over 100ft; there are more than 80 in all. While our own Har­ring­worth Viaduct is more than twice the length, at 1,275 yards, it only reaches 60ft in height; ac­cord­ing to Net­work Rail it con­tains an es­ti­mated 20 mil­lion bricks, or per­haps just over that.

En­gi­neer Jo­hann An­dreas Schu­bert could have built the Göltzsch val­ley bridge from iron, but cost and the avail­abil­ity of the right soil in the area led him to de­cide on brick. What he cre­ated looks less ‘rail­way bridge’ and more ‘mon­strous an­cient aque­duct’.

Schu­bert took in­spi­ra­tion from the re­sults of a com­pe­ti­tion to de­cide the win­ning de­sign – though not to the ex­tent of turn­ing it into a gi­gan­tic ver­ti­cal prison with cells in the arches; nor build­ing it from pipes stacked one above the other. He had al­ready shown him­self ready to be in­spired by oth­ers though. His 0-4-2 Sax­o­nia of 1838 is cel­e­brated as be­ing the first suc­cess­ful do­mes­tic Ger­man lo­co­mo­tive, but it drew on en­gines al­ready im­ported for his Leipzig-Dres­den Rail­way (LDE) from Roth­well in Manchester; Sax­o­nia was ef­fec­tively an ex­tended and im­proved ver­sion of 0-4-0 Comet, the first to ar­rive in 1836. The clos­est sur­viv­ing rel­a­tive to Comet is Fur­ness Rail­way 0-4-0 Cop­per­nob – which is why the Na­tional Col­lec­tion en­gine went to Ger­many for the LDE’s 175th an­niver­sary in 2014. Build­ing of the Göltzschtal­brücke be­gan in 1846. Re­port­edly, 50,000 bricks were made for it on a daily ba­sis. It’s also claimed that it was the first bridge in the world to be sub­jected to proper struc­tural anal­y­sis, per­haps one more rea­son why it was high­lighted at Lon­don’s 1851 Great Ex­hi­bi­tion. Now listed, the Göltzschtal­brücke is recog­nised in Ger­many as a land­mark in the coun­try’s engi­neer­ing story.

Since it opened the bridge has car­ried trains for var­i­ous owners – the Saxon-Bavar­ian rail­way that built it, the Royal Saxon State Rail­way, the Deutsche Re­ichs­bahn (pre-war and East Ger­man ver­sions), and now Deutsche Bahn. In all that time though, it has un­der­gone only fairly mi­nor changes; the line it car­ries was elec­tri­fied in 2010, though atop such a mas­sive struc­ture the masts make only min­i­mal im­pact.

Steam is an oc­ca­sional vis­i­tor. Sadly though, Cop­per­nob is long out of ticket… now that re­ally would have been some­thing, eh?

TONY STREETER

Not Cop­per­nob… On De­cem­ber 2 the few ob­servers who had gath­ered at Ger­many’s Göltzschtal­brücke had to make do with a ‘Pa­cific’ in­stead – not that ei­ther en­gine could pos­si­bly dom­i­nate the 26 mil­lion bricks that make up this unique viaduct. One of the ‘01.5s’ cre­ated in the 1960s by re­con­struc­tion of ‘01s’ to modern prin­ci­ples, oil-burn­ing No. 01.0509 rolls south with a spe­cial char­ter.

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