AN £8million scheme to restore a historic swing bridge to help meet rail service demands has been completed after more than a year’s work.

Network Rail has been strengthening the iconic Hawarden bridge across the River Dee with new steel plates and has given it a new coat of paint to protect it from corrosion and improve the structure’s appearance.

The 165-metre bridge, which was the longest of its kind in the UK when it was opened in 1889, originally cost £71,000 and was the culmination of nearly 30 years of proposals, planning and construction work.

The first cylinder was laid by former four-times Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived at Hawarden Castle before his death in 1894.

Network Rail, with the help of AMCO Engineering, has restored the Grade II listed structure to its former glory, using more than 7,000 litres of paint, 12,000 bolts, 130 tonnes of additional steel and more than 85,000 man hours in its completion.

Project manager John Harrington said: “Things have gone very well.

“It was a big challenge but we have regenerated what is a great asset for the area.”

Workers had to contend with trains using the bridge to keep the rail service alive throughout the project, while barges carrying Airbus 380 wings continued to pass under the bridge three times a week.

During the work the four metallic spans of the bridge were grit blasted to remove old layers of paint and then repainted. The work was carried out in 30-metre sections and the structure was enclosed to protect the environment from dust and debris caused by the work.

While the swinging part of the bridge itself has not operated since 1960 due to a decline in shipping, the railway it supports continues to form one of the main commuter routes in the area.

The bridge has long-provided an important link between Deeside and the original John Summers and Sons steelworks.

This link now also provides access to the cycleway along the Dee embankment to Chester and to the Burton Point cycleway, improving access to the Wirral coastline.

While previously restricted to just one freight train at a time and speed restrictions of 20mph due to the weakened condition of the structure, the bridge will now be able to support two freight trains simultaneously at speeds of 25 mph.

Jonathan Pegg, route asset management director for Network Rail Wales, said: “Thousands of passengers use Hawarden railway bridge on the Borderlands line to cross the River Dee every day.

“This iconic structure has been in use for more than 100 years and our work to strengthen the bridge will ensure we can use it for many more years to come.”

The scheme’s stakeholders included CADW, TATA Steel and Flintshire Council, and Jerry Spencer, conservation and design officer with Flintshire  Council, heralded the completion of the project as “a shining example and a listed building to be proud of and an iconic flagship to launch the redevelopment of the area”.