Concrete cancer on Grafton Bridge

Builder George Oxenbridge checks out the rust and spalling on Grafton Bridge.
Builder George Oxenbridge checks out the rust and spalling on Grafton Bridge. Daily Examiner

GEORGE Oxenbridge hands me a hard hat on the way to Grafton Bridge's footway as we go to inspect what he describes as appalling fatigue damage.

His concern centres on concrete cancer, known as spalling, and rust.

Thirty metres southbound along the western footbridge we look up to see a cracked piece of concrete about 60cm by 15cm in dimension sitting precariously above the path of the main Sydney to Brisbane railway line.

It's this piece of concrete, which has now been removed by bridge authorities, that prompted the urgency in his latest campaign - the dire need for maintainence on Grafton's best known icon.

He noticed the piece of concrete, which he estimated would weigh 2kg, last Wednesday and immediately notified staff at Grafton railway station. But it was still there last Friday.

A little further along and Mr Oxenbridge, a builder of more than 30 years, points to more spalling at the base of the RTA's top deck roadway - the rusty inner steel now exposed to the elements.

When reminded that many engineers had looked at the Grafton Bridge and found it structurally sound, Mr Oxenbridge said he found that hard to believe.

“I can't believe how I could find this on my own. It's staring you in the face. All you have to do is look up,” he said.

We continue our tour of the bridge and check out the base of the support pole holding up the southern approach to the bridge. The rust in the bracing plate (pictured) is disturbing - a hole bigger than the average hand is there for anyone to see.

“It's well beyond surface corrosion, which is all they are admitting,” he said.

“If the building inspector saw this on a job I was working on, they'd strike my licence.”

The Glenugue-based builder and designer said he was frustrated by the lack of maintenance taking place on the bridge, an issue he said was steeped in bureacratic red tape and departmental buck-passing.

George said he first noticed the corrosion when he was under the bridge in a boat in May last year, but keeps finding more damage the closer he looks.

Following our visit to bridge on Friday, Mr Oxenbridge and The Daily Examiner visited the RTA to encourage them to look at the spalling over the railway line.

Four RTA representatives met with him later that afternoon and thanked him for informing them. They told him they would contact the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

The threatening concrete was finally removed about midday on Monday.

Media and communications manager for the ARTC Brad Emery said they had established the spalling in question was on the road deck section of the bridge, which was the responsibility of the RTA.

“However in liaison with the RTA, ARTC assisted in removing the piece of spalling,” Mr Emery said.

An RTA spokeperson said routine maintenance for the bridge was on the agenda for later in the year on 'some of the northern and southern approach spans to maximise the life of the bridge'.

“The RTA will also be working closely with ARTC to identify further opportunities to address future maintenance activities,” she said.

“The RTA undertakes regular maintenance inspections of the bridge ... and it remains safe for traffic.

“After Mr Oxenbridge raised his concerns, the RTA conducted a number of additional inspections which found there were no issues with regards to the structural capacity of the bridge.”

Mr Emery said a professional engineer who inspected the bridge recently revealed that despite some aesthetic surface wear, the iron bridge was in good structural condition.

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