A KEY section of the Wrexham to Shrewsbury railway line over the River Dee has been closed to freight traffic because of safety fears.

Network Rail believes the huge brickwork piers supporting the Victorian structure of the Cefn Viaduct in Newbridge could have been damaged by flood waters when the Dee became massively swollen by heavy rain earlier this month.

It is now checking the condition of the viaduct every three hours.

The eventual aim is to send divers down to make an underwater inspection of the brickwork, which has been scoured by the flooding, but this operation is being held up because of the high speed at which the river is still flowing.

Deliveries of raw material to two major factories in the region have been affected by the closure but both say their production has so far not been affected.

The main railway line over the viaduct, built in the 1850s, was closed to all rail traffic immediately after the Dee rose to its highest levels in 64 years.

Arriva Trains Wales ran a replacement bus service between Wrexham and Shrewsbury for 10 days until last Wednesday when the viaduct was partially re-opened.

But while Sprinter passenger trains are being allowed to run across it they are being strictly limited to a maximum speed of 20mph and heavier freight units have been banned altogether.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “I can confirm that as a matter of precaution we have closed the line to freight trains and only allowing Sprinters to travel through the viaduct at 20mph. Unlike Sprinters, the impact of freight trains on the structures is significantly greater as they carry heavier engines, goods and have bigger axles.

“In addition, we are also monitoring and inspecting the structure daily at an interval of three hours.

“We note that the water level is receding but, for precaution, we will be carrying out further inspections by sending divers under the water to examine the scour.

“However, that can only be done when the undercurrent falls below two knots for the examination to be carried out safely.”

As the freight closure stays in place regular deliveries of raw material to the Kronospan chipboard factory at Chirk and Tata Steel at Shotton, which both come by rail over the viaduct, are being diverted through Crewe and Chester, adding over an hour to their journey times.

A spokesman for Kronospan said: “We appreciate everything people are doing to get our deliveries in.”

The giant Tata steelworks on Deeside, formerly known as Corus, relies on deliveries of coil steel coming along the route from a sister plant at Port Talbot in South Wales.

A spokesman said: “This has affected our supply but not affected production.”