A crumbling 170-year-old bridge that is threatening the safety of trains on the main east coast rail line in Aberdeenshire is to be knocked down as soon as possible.
Councillors have agreed emergency measures which will see specialist contractors brought in to demolish Abbeyton Bridge on the B966 just north of Fordoun.
The demolition of the crossing, which was shut in July after inspections found serious structural failings in the stonework, could run to £1 million.
Detailed monitoring will continue. If it reveals further deterioration, requiring an emergency closure of the railway, the council could be facing costs of £1-3m a day to cover disruption to services using the line.
The projected demolition cost is more than a third of the council’s £2.8m annual budget for bridges and other structures and officials have warned other bridges across the region may suffer a knock-on maintenance or repair impact as a result.
The council said no decision has been taken on whether or not to replace Abbeyton Bridge – a project which could also run into millions of pounds.
Aberdeenshire Council infrastructure committee chair, Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Argyle, said: “The costs associated with an unplanned closure of the line are huge and the only way to remove the risk is to remove the bridge, as it cannot be repaired.
“Under normal circumstances, this work would take two years to plan but this was considered to be unacceptable and early appointment of a contractor experienced in this field, with existing Network Rail approval, has been critical in moving this project forward.
“We appreciate this decision impacts on road users and the nearby Castleton Farm Shop, but it has been taken purely in the interest of safety and to avoid the potential issues caused by an emergency closure of the railway line.”
The sudden closure of the bridge earlier this summer after a short period of one-way traffic led to complaints about the impact on locals and the effect on businesses including the popular Castleton Farm Shop.
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Committee vice-chairman, Banff Independent John Cox, said: “Even with all vehicle traffic removed, the bridge remains a danger to the railway and officers continue to monitor any deterioration closely.
“Unfortunately repair is not an option, so we are seeking to demolish it at the earliest opportunity, minimising disruption to the railway, with a view to replacement in the longer term.
“It’s important to realise however that any proposed replacement is likely to run into millions of pounds, and take several years to plan, and there is no financial provision for this within current budgets.”