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.
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?
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.