The centrepiece of Sunderland’s new bridge crossing – the impressive A-frame pylon – has begun its slow journey to the North East. The 100m steel structure has been loaded out of the fabrication yard in Belgium and transported to the Port of Ghent in a carefully orchestrated operation that took several days to complete.
Victor Buyck Steel Construction, which is working with Farrans Construction to build the New Wear Crossing on behalf of Sunderland City Council, has spent the last year fabricating the pylon at its yard in Ghent. Made with more than 1,000 tonnes of steel and 550 tonnes of concrete, the structure is so big that the final stages of the fabrication process had to be completed in the open air, and it had to be loaded onto two barges before it could be transported along the canal to the port.
Sarens, a world leader specialising in heavy lifting and engineered transport, is working with Farrans and Victor Buyck (FVB) to bring the remarkable structure to Sunderland.
Jim Kilcar, Bridge Supervisor for Atkins, which is supervising the New Wear Crossing project for Sunderland City Council, said the operation had gone extremely well.
“The loading out of the pylon from Victor Buyck’s fabrication yard was a major milestone and something we have been planning for a long time,” said Jim.“The sheer size and weight of the pylon meant that it was never going to be an easy task and therefore specialists from Sarens were brought in to devise and oversee operations. The pylon was inched out over two days while ballast was adjusted on the barges to keep everything balanced. It was a very measured and steady operation – it has gone really well. It’s a magnificent structure. It’s only when you’re up close to it that you can really appreciate just how big it is.”
During the load-out operation, the pylon was supported on a series of computerised wheeled units, which gradually rolled the enormous structure onto the barges over a two-day period. Once the pylon was in place, the barges were then rotated into position on the canal and the pylon was lowered to enable it to travel under several relatively low bridges on its three-hour journey to the Port of Ghent.
The New Wear Crossing is on track to open in spring 2018.
With dual 2-lane carriageways for vehicles and dedicated cycle and pedestrian routes, the New Wear Crossing will enhance public transport as well as significantly improve the important transport links to the city centre and Port of Sunderland from the A19 and A1. It will create 2.8km of new road, connect Castletown to the north of the River Wear with Pallion to the south, and will open up land along the River Wear for regeneration and development, as well as help to create up to 6,000 new jobs and improve journey time around the city.
Patrick Van Severen, Project Director for Victor Buyck, said:
“A lot of man-hours have gone into designing and fabricating the pylon, and it has all been building up to this point. Manoeuvring something of this size and weight is not easy, and obviously transferring it from the fabrication yard onto two barges also brings complications too. It’s wonderful to see the pylon begin its momentous journey to Sunderland. We are very proud to be involved in the project.”
The pylon will spend the next few weeks in the Port of Ghent, where it will be transferred onto one, larger sea-going barge and then fastened down in preparation for its journey to Wearside. Once it arrives into the Port of Sunderland in the New Year, it will undergo further preparation works before being transported along the River Wear to Pallion and then raised into position on the site of the New Wear Crossing.
Leader of Sunderland City Council Cllr Paul Watson said the pylon’s departure from the fabrication yard signalled the start of a new chapter.
“The pylon is an impressive structure and I think the people of Sunderland will now be able to appreciate its immense size and scale, and just how magnificent it is,” said Cllr Watson. “Designing and building a river bridge like the New Wear Crossing is not easy – it takes a lot of time, patience and expertise from a whole range of people, and when we look at the pylon alone – and the work required just to load it out of the fabrication yard – we can begin to understand the skill and preparation that has gone into the project so far. I think we are all excited for the pylon to finally make its appearance into the Port of Sunderland.”