IT HAS been lying motionless since the 1980s but this autumn experts will find out whether this rail relic still has its swing.

The Rewley Road swing bridge was built by engineer Robert Stephenson in 1850 but has fallen into disrepair after closing in 1985, when British Rail closed coal sidings at the site of the former Rewley Road station.

Early next year, Oxford Preservation Trust will begin work on restoring the bridge, which spans the Sheepwash Channel.

Civil engineering firm The Morton Partnership has been appointed to manage the restoration.

Trust director Debbie Dance said: “We had a meeting with Network Rail, which still owns the site, and hope to start work early next spring.

“We are going to do tests on whether the mechanism still works this autumn and find out what precise work needs to be done to the bridge.

“We don’t know whether we can get it to swing yet. With a bit of luck by this time next year people will see progress.

“Because it is on the canal, the River Thames and the railway, we can tell the story of transport in Oxford through this bridge.”

Although it will be restored and the area around it will be landscaped, the bridge will not be used as a swing bridge as it is no longer linked to any rail tracks.

Mrs Dance said a decision will be made on whether the bridge will move regularly once it is restored and the trust knows more of the condition of the mechanism.

Designed to swing open to allow boats to pass through the Sheepwash Channel, which links the River Thames and the Oxford Canal, it was in regular use until 1985.

It is believed to be the earliest moving-element railway bridge in Britain to retain its original mechanism and the only one designed by Robert Stephenson, who created the pioneering steam locomotive Rocket, to have its original structure.

It was built to serve the former Buckinghamshire Railway line, which linked Oxford with Bletchley - now part of Milton Keynes. This route is to be reopened to trains as part of the East West rail project in 2017.

A £90,000 grant from not-for-profit company Waste Recycling Environmental, will help fund repairs to the bridge.

The trust is organising events at the bridge as part of its annual Oxford Open Doors event on September 14 and 15.

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