Eden & Motray Water viaducts

(Photos 1-9 © K-Burn, photo 10 © George Robin)

St Andrews, the university and golfing town on the Fife coast, was connected to the rail network on 1st July 1852 when a 4½-mile branch was driven from the Edinburgh Perth & Dundee Railway near Leuchars. Responsible for promoting it were the town’s Provost, Hugh Lyon Playfair, and distiller Robert Haig. The line paid its way from the outset thanks to the large influx of tourists and considerable freight traffic.

The route did not place great demands on the skills of engineer Thomas Bouch as its alignment was fairly level. It did though have to cross two rivers - the Eden at Guardbridge and Motray Water - which were traversed by timber structures. The latter was the smaller of the two: 49 yards in length with five spans of 20 feet 4 inches. Considerably larger was the viaduct over the Eden: 106 yards with nine 32-foot spans. Both stood 16 feet above their respective river beds and had a design life of 25-30 years.

Construction work got underway with the sinking of deep piles in September 1851; the structures - built from best Baltic pine - were substantially complete five months later. Bouch did not apply tar to the timber, asserting that to do so would have been prejudicial. Perhaps as a result, their condition soon began to deteriorate: repairs had to be actioned in 1856 and 1860; watchmen were also employed.

1877 saw the St Andrews railway absorbed into the North British. The perpetual process of patching-up the structures continued but the company’s engineers, wary of the increasing loads being imposed of them, decided that such an approach was untenable long-term. In June 1889, contracts were placed for replacement structures, with James Young & Sons of Edinburgh sinking caissons and erecting masonry piers whilst wrought-iron girders were manufactured and installed by Motherwell-based Goodwin Jardine & Co. The structures were erected alongside the originals and moved into position during three successive Sunday possessions. Costing almost £7,900, the project was done and dusted in less than five months.

The new Eden Viaduct comprised eight piers formed by pairs of cylindrical columns with iron cross-bracing. These supported nine plate-girder spans. The curvature to the north was in the order of 12 chains. Motray Viaduct was replaced with a single-span of girders but with three intermediate piers of a similar construction to those at Guardbridge.

The line’s viability was deemed uneconomic during the Sixties reshaping, closing on 6th January 1969. Both viaducts’ ironwork was subsequently salvaged although the cross-bracing at Motray Water has survived. Today, the masonry piers still stand in the River Eden, overlooked by modest abutments on the river banks.

(George Robin's picture, taken from Wikipedia, is used under this Creative Commons licence.)

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