NT1172 : Ratho Viaduct

taken 8 years ago, near to Newbridge, Edinburgh, Great Britain

Ratho Viaduct
Ratho Viaduct
Looking along the line of the viaduct from the bank of the River Avon.
Almond Valley Viaduct

The viaduct, also unofficially known as Ratho Viaduct, Newbridge Viaduct, and 'The Arches', carries the main Glasgow and Edinburgh railway line over the River Almond and Brox Burn, as well as the A89 road and intervening farmland. It is a magnificent example of 19th century engineering, and has been adopted as the logo of West Lothian Council.

The viaduct is some 2.4 kilometres in length, and consists of two arched sections and an embankment about 400 metres in length and 20 metres in height. It is the longest structure on any railway in Scotland, and the line is about 22 metres above the bed of the River Almond.

The longer, eastern, arched, section which crosses the River Almond and adjacent farmland consists of 36 arches, each with a span of 15.2 metres and up to 21.3 metres in height. It curves gently, the radius of the curve being 2.4 kilometres.

The western section, which crosses the Brox Burn and the A89, consists of six arches of 15.2 metres span and a central arch of 20.1 metres span.

The stone is sandstone of Carboniferous age, from NT1075 : Humbie Quarry, just over 3 kilometres to the north.

The idea of a railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow was mooted early in the development of the railway network, but it was not until 4 July 1838 that the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company obtained the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the project to proceed. It linked Queen Street in Glasgow with Haymarket in Edinburgh. (Waverley Station was built a few years later.)

John Miller (1805-1883), of the firm of Grainger and Miller, Civil Engineers, Edinburgh, was engaged to design the route. At that early stage in railway development it was uncertain how much of an incline a train could cope with, so great efforts were made to ensure that inclines were kept to a minimum, which entailed the construction of tunnels, cuttings and viaducts. Apart from a rope-assisted inclined plane at Glasgow the resulting line had a maximum gradient of 1 in 880 and is the most level railway line in Scotland.

The project was split into sections, and the viaduct was part of the section from Norton to Priestinch, about 9 kilometres. Besides the viaduct, this section includes the tunnel under the village of Winchburgh and the long cutting, almost 25 metres deep, into which the tunnel emerges. This being the most challenging part of the route, it was the first contract to be put out to tender.

The contracts were first advertised on 28 July 1838, and the advertisements announced that the assistant engineer would be available at Brown's Inn, Winchburgh, on 23 and 24 August at 10 o'clock forenoon, to accompany contractors along the line. Completion was required by 1 July 1841, and a daily penalty was to be payable by the contractors if this deadline was not met.

The tenders were considered by the company's directors on 12 September 1838, and the contract was awarded to the respected Aberdeen contractors John Gibb and Son, at a tender price of 147,669. It turned out that Gibbs had made an error in their calculations, but he honoured the quoted price, making a personal loss of some 40,000 on the project!

Work began in February 1839, and in August 1839 the company secretary reported that Gibbs were 'removing stuff at the rate of upwards of 600,000 yards a-year'. Gibbs' Broxburn office reported in 1841 that the company had working on the viaduct 80 masons, 100 labourers, 18 joiners, 8 blacksmiths and 20 horses, and another 150 men and 100 horses were engaged in quarrying and supplying the stone, and that in order to complete the project more men would be engaged.

The last arch was closed on 8 June 1841 and the line was finally opened on 18 February 1842. A train left Glasgow for Edinburgh, and then returned to Glasgow, preceded by a second train from Edinburgh, and the entire company proceeded to a celebratory banquet in the Passengers' Shed at Cowlairs, temporarily transformed into a banqueting hall 230 feet long by 80 feet broad with seating for 1200, after which the second train returned to Edinburgh.

Demand for tickets was huge, and participants travelled in fifty-two carriages, each carrying eighteen passengers in compartments for six. Glasgow's public schools were given a holiday for the occasion, though the shortage of suitable viewing points in and near the city kept the number of sightseers down. Edinburgh, however, turned out in force, accompanied by a military band, to welcome the first train.

The celebrations did not quite go as intended; 'The Scotsman' correspondent regretted being unable to give the intended full report owing to the return train not arriving in Edinburgh until after midnight. The delay originated on the inclined plane at Glasgow, where the rope (five miles long and costing 500) drawing carriages up the inclined plane broke before all the carriages had reached the top, "owing, it is believed, to its having been cut by some miscreant"!

As a result, the banquet planned for half past two did not commence until nearly five o'clock. During the banquet, it was realised that the hall was so large that most of the company would be unable to hear any speeches. Even a pair of trumpeters positioned at each end to announce the toasts could barely be heard by some of the company, but the toasts, in champagne, were duly pledged and the speeches abandoned.

The 'Scotsman' journalist commented, "No similar event of equal importance has ever occurred in Scotland". He also waxed lyrical about the "stupendous embankment and viaduct" and the "extensive and beautiful view" it afforded.

In 1950, increasing speeds and heavier rolling stock made it necessary to strengthen the viaduct by infilling the hollow piers with concrete. In 1988 it was further reinforced by the addition of steel bands round the arches.

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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Grid Square
NT1172, 36 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Friday, 15 February, 2013   (more nearby)
Saturday, 16 February, 2013
Geographical Context
Farm, Fishery, Market Gardening  Railways 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 1115 7222 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.0879N 3:25.4285W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 1148 7212
View Direction
West-northwest (about 292 degrees)
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