Getting it right at Fergushill


07 Dec 2023

Engineer Colin McNicol shares how close collaboration was the key to getting the right safety solution at one of our HRE bridges in Kilmarnock.

Getting it right at Fergushill

I joined the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) in late 2020, I’m lucky to visit different parts of the country, appreciating and helping to preserve some of the nation’s finest examples of former railway structures. I’m also very fortunate that the region I look after – northern England and Scotland – contains some of Britain’s most beautiful scenery too, providing a stunning backdrop for these fine structures.

Safety first

At National Highways, safety underpins everything we do. So, first and foremost, my job focuses on keeping people safe – from the public to our supply chain colleagues. We want everyone home safe and well every day. 

Our programme of work is planned and scheduled following inspections by our examining engineers, our contractors then get out on site, making repairs based on the recommendation by the examiner, and myself.

Fergushill Bridge has been on the receiving end of the west of Scotland’s weather for 150 years. While it has stood the test of time well, water has got into cracks in the stone, freezing, expanding and causing those cracks to enlarge. Over the years this has resulted in serious damage to the bridge. We care for many brick and stone arch bridges and it’s unfortunately a common issue with these structures.

Bridge showing missing section of stone from arch

(Bridge showing missing section of stone from arch)

Solving the puzzle together

My world is all about solving problems. I enjoy the process of working with colleagues and suppliers to come up with solutions to issues.

Engineering is a creative process, there are rules and standards we use but there’s rarely only one answer to a problem. The enjoyment comes from pulling together the various strands of knowledge to arrive at a solution. 

When works are happening, it’s common for the repair scheme to evolve on site once bricks have come out, revealing more below the surface. You start with a proven solution but need to be open to changing it as the issues become clearer.

In this case, the arch was much like a puzzle, with every piece of stone fitting together to complete it. We worked closely with Balfour Beatty’s internal designers to solve the puzzle and ensure the repair design addressed the arch’s condition.

We safely dismantled elements of the bridge to repair the arch

(We safely dismantled elements of the bridge to repair the arch)

We set aside as many blocks of stone to reuse as we could

(We set aside as many blocks of stone to reuse as we could)

A superb result

Ultimately, making the bridge safe, and ensuring it was protected for the future, led to a more complex project than we’d originally expected. But the bridge now looks fantastic and is safe again.

The project was a success thanks to our close working with Balfour Beatty, Ayrshire Roads Alliance and the local farmer – who could continue safely crossing the bridge while the work was taking place. 

View over the bridge used by local farmer

(View over the bridge used by local farmer)