Now used as a pedestrian and bicycle way across the Parramatta River, the Meadowbank Railway Bridge bridge opened in 1886 when the Sydney and NSW rail systems were undergoing a period of rapid expansion. John Whitton, the designer of this bridge and Engineer-In-Chief of the New South Wales Railways, was a prominent railway engineer in the late nineteenth century, being the man behind the famous Zig-Zag Railway which descends from Clarence in the Blue Mountains to Lithgow.
The Meadowbank Railway bridge is a six span wrought iron lattice girder bridge, on the Main North Line, between Rhodes and Meadowbank. The wrought iron structure and cast iron cylinders were fabricated in England and shipped out to Australia, and the above-track sections were locally made steel lattice trusses. The bridge was erected bu local contractor Amos Bros. at a cost of 69,000 pounds. The ramp at the end of the road is the site of the original punt crossing the Parramatta River, which was in service from the 1830s until the opening of the Ryde Bridge in 1935.
Its use as a railway bridge ended in May 1980 when it was superseded by a parallel box girder bridge. Out of srvice for 20 years, it became a cycle and pedestrian path in April 2000. The bridge has deteriorated since it was made redundant in 1980, but even in its corroded state it is still an elegant structure surviving from the first major programme of iron bridge construction in the colony.
The North to South, Homebush to Waratah, Junction Railway Line was a relatively late link in the trunk lines of New South Wales. It was part of the railway link that joined the Northern New South Wales and Queensland railways to those of southern New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia which was used as a symbol of the emerging Federation of Australia.
The difficult topography of the route and the very large and technically demanding crossing of the Hawkesbury estuary somewhat to the north of Meadowbank, are the obvious explanations for the delay in connecting the two largest population and industrial centres in the colony. The connection was completed on 1st May 1889 at Hawkesbury River, but the line though Meadowbank had been opened about three years before, on the 17th September 1886.
The bridge was built for double track and while initially it only carried a single line of rails, the second track was provided in 1891. The contract for the construction of the whole section from Homebush to Hawkesbury River, including Meadowbank Bridge, was undertaken by Andrew and Robert Amos. The casings for the piers were made by Stockton Forge and the lattice spans by Andrew Handyside and Company, both located in Britain.
The development of railways, and the bridges which would carry them across rivers was occurring simultaneously with the development of metallurgy and the technologies which produced iron components which could be fabricated into large structures. All of these early bridges, including Meadowbank, use wrought iron. The availability of steel, in the large quantities needed for a bridge, was still in the future. The first steel railway bridge in NSW was Hawkesbury River, completed in 1889.
Metal bridges were used when necessary. The most notable predecessors of Meadowbank are the Tubular Girder bridges at Menangle and Penrith, and the earlier lattice girder bridges. Menangle, and all of the lattice girders had nominal spans of 150 feet. Penrith was perhaps an attempt to increase the span of the already built Menangle design and was stretched to 186 feet, but this development was not pursued.
Railway bridge over the Murray River, Albury
There were twelve lattice wrought iron railway bridges on the NSW railway network built between 1871 and 1887 and Meadowbank is among the last. The earlier ones had closer spaced lattice and the cross girders were still framed into the side of the bottom of the main member. The later lattice bridges had a wider lattice spacing which was carefully designed to allow the regular placement of the cross girders between the lattice members on top of the main bottom chord members. In that way the load was carried directly from cross girder to lattice girder.
All the few rivets had to do was keep the whole assembly from rattling and vibrating out of position. Of the twelve similar bridges, Meadowbank is the largest. Only one other, at Albury across the Murray River, is double track, and only one other, at Como (below) across the Georges River has six spans, but it is gauntlet track (dual rails sharing the same sleepers), the same width of single track.