Port Talbot Parkway began life in 1850 simply as Port Talbot station, acquiring its latest name in 1984. It serves around half a million passengers each year, with services by Arriva Trains and GWR to Swansea, West Wales, Cardiff Central, Newport, London Paddington and Manchester Piccadilly.
As part of its Wales Station Improvement Scheme, Network Rail planned to invest £10 million to improve facilities at the station, including the ticket office, waiting area, customer facilities and car parking, incorporating step-free access for passengers, all common across the network. However, something much grander was proposed for Port Talbot Parkway.
While Port Talbot has been in the news in recent months with its steelworks under threat of closure by Tata Steel, the town had a confident 110-year history of steel production when the project was being developed in 2011. The Welsh Government, Network Rail and Tata took the opportunity to create a new station footbridge that would act as a high-profile example of the architectural use of steel.
The project was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government, Department for Transport, Network Rail, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Arriva Trains Wales and Tata Steel.
At the time, a spokesman for Tata Steel said: “We are providing some 185 tonnes of structural steel and 1,145m2 of strip steel. That locally-made steel will play such an important role in Port Talbot Parkway demonstrates the continued strong bond that exists between the steel industry and the community.”
Port Talbot Parkway has a single island platform with up and down avoiding lines serving the route’s heavy freight traffic. The existing footbridge spanned from the north side to the platform. Access to the south was via the nearby Oakwood Lane level crossing. The proposal was for a new footbridge with a 26 metre span from the platform to the entrance area to the north and a 23.5 metre span to the car park to the south, with a large elevated ticket office, retail unit and waiting area above the platform.
At platform level, the buildings were to be completely rebuilt to provide a new passenger waiting room and toilets as well as a new office and mess facilities for Arriva Trains. The contract to design and construct the bridge was awarded to Kier. The fabrication was carried out by Miller Fabrications in Lanarkshire.
The architectural shape of the structure was challenging. The cross sectional shape was a constantly-changing irregular hexagon, with the footbridges wider at mid-span than the ends. As a result, the intermediate members and bracings joined at differing angles and inclinations; every joint was unique. The main fuselage and footbridge structures were prefabricated into base, sides and roof sections and transported to site as 20 wide loads.
The project’s scope included a 111-space car park to the south, which fortuitously provided an ideal location for Kier’s off-site, off-line assembly of the structures and their cladding – externally with Kalzip and internally with German Fundermax panels.
Preparing the lift
Site agent Adrian Fox found the erection of the structure a challenge. Rules of the route possessions were available for preparatory works, including the structural steel central lift shaft and fin wall. The placing of the new steel structure was restricted to just two 12-hour disruptive possessions. The size and weight of the structure and the radii involved – the fuselage weighing in at 213 tonnes – meant that only very large craneage could be used. Detailed planning identified that a 1,200 tonne crane, the UK’s largest, could erect most of the structure with the assistance of a smaller 500 tonne crane for some lifts.
On 21 September 2015, the Sarens’ AK680 Gottwald crane arrived on site for the start of a four-day assembly process. A 100-tonne attendant crane was used to assemble the vast 83 metre main boom, which stretched the length of the site compound.
On the weekend of 26-27 September, the 1200 tonne crane successfully lifted and installed the 250 tonne central fuselage section. The lift included 25 tonnes of multiple spreader beams and other lifting tackle that had been attached prior to the possession. Once the possession was granted, the fuselage was lifted from the carpark and slewed towards the track, to enable the super lift tray to be attached to the crane and the load jibbed out to its final position. The 168 connection bolts were installed and the possession was successfully handed back an hour ahead of schedule. The challenging installation of the two footbridge spans was completed on 4 October. These were installed simultaneously using both the 1200 tonne crane and an additional 500 tonne crane. The two spans had to be handled very carefully to prevent any twisting of the supporting fuselage. All of the lifts were all managed in-house by Kier, rather than contract lifts.
Following the completion of the structure, the glazing, mechanical, electrical and internal cladding out were completed through the winter. The bridge was opened to the public on 17 February 2016 and declared a great success by the local community.
At the opening, Assembly Member David Rees said: “I am delighted that we now have a modern, accessible railway station that offers improved facilities to the people of Port Talbot. The building reflects the industrial strength of the town through its use of steel from TATA”.
Whether steel making will survive in south Wales is still uncertain at the time of writing, but in any case the new Port Talbot Parkway station footbridge will remain a monument to the possibilities of steel structures for many years to come.