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THE FIRST pile in connection with the railway bridge over the Macleay was driven on Wednesday, January 27, 1915, after the tenders for the manufacture, supply and delivery of the wrought iron and steel work were given to the Meadowbank Manufacturing Company in September, 1914.
A considerable number of piles were driven into the river to carry the bridge spans between the river and Belgrave St. These piles were necessary to enable the structure leading to the main portion of the bridge to be kept above the low land.
All the preliminary work for the bridge was completed by May, 1915 and it was suggested by engineer-in-charge, Mr A Love that the bridge should be finished in 18 months. The bridge was to consist of four spans, each 160 feet long, built on concrete cylinders and piers.
The same year timber moulds for the piers were brought from the Hastings bridge and a bank to connect the station with the bridge was being built up.
However, in 1916 strikes over payment for sleepers and the lack of steel rails was creating problems. Rumours were spread that the work would be stopped but the chief engineer on a visit to Kempsey stated that this was untrue but he did admit there had been difficulty in regard to supplies of rails.
By the end of October, steel materials were arriving by the vessels, Gunbar and Duranbah
For the Kempsey bridge, two spans of the steel work were already on the site. They had been getting some rails, and 3½ miles were laid, and they had a further 1½ miles on the ground, and men were putting them down. He expected the line to be laid to Kempsey within six months.
In July 1917, Ald Webster reported that the rail was so far advanced that the ballast trains were running over the new bridge across the Macleay River to the station at West Kempsey. In August the woodwork was completed and walkway steps led directly down to Kemp St.
However floods were always going to be a problem for the bridge and in 1921 the bridge decking was only 6 inches out of the water. Crowds of people watched as three foot waves boiled under the railway bridge. Workmen were quickly on the scene and construction trains were sent from Newcastle, Taree and Kempsey to deal with washaways. In 1933, workmen were engaged to repair and strengthen the Kemp St viaduct.
In the 1949 flood, debris built up against the embankment which was undermined by the waters. Steps to the footbridge 34 feet above the water were washed away. A railway viaduct approaching the bridge was washed away suspending all through rail traffic.
This article first appeared on www.macleayargus.com.au
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