NEWBURY boat users are facing weeks of disruption after a key bridge that connects the town’s waterways stopped working.
The hydraulically operated swing bridge at West Mills broke down last Monday and engineers are still determining how long it will take to fix before further traffic can pass it on its way along the historic Kennet and Avon Canal.
If the decision was taken to replace it altogether then it could clog up the canal for two months.
However, the trust responsible for the canal’s upkeep would not confirm how long repairs would take, and only said they hoped it would be a matter of weeks.
The Canal and River Trust said that following an assessment by engineers, Newbury-based contractor Kier Construction had been engaged to assess the bridge after the “significant” damage was caused.
A crane is to be installed on Monday to temporarily lift the bridge and let boat users through before it is closed again to passing traffic.
Waterway manager at the trust, Mark Evans, said: “We’re really sorry to the boaters who’ve been inconvenienced by this, and we’re trying our best to make their extended stay in Newbury as comfortable as possible.
“Our engineers have already tried a number of possible solutions, but unfortunately it’s not as simple to fix as might have been hoped.
“We’re looking at ways that we can lift the bridge temporarily so people can get on their way.
“We know it’s far from ideal, and we really do appreciate everyone’s patience.”
Rob Dean, chairman of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which acts as a canal ‘ambassador’ as well as operating tours along the canal said on Thursday: “The bridge is seriously damaged and it’s going to take a long time to fix it.
“We are quite worried at the moment about our Hallowe’en Tours which are very popular and there are a lot of boats backed up here.
“It’s going to have quite a big effect on various businesses that rely on the waterways.
“There are 1,300 jobs that rely on these waterways.
“I am convinced that the engineers are doing everything they can, but it is old and obsolete equipment.
“They were planning on replacing it in early January, but it’s let them down a bit early and that is the problem.”
Boat users have also reacted with frustration.
One boater who commands the Isambard, Laura Stansfield, and has been stuck behind the bridge for more than a week described the situation “a disaster”.
She said: “I was quite organised, but there are a lot of other boat users here who need water and the facilities are on the other side of the bridge.
“I am supposed to be on my way to Oxford but after the bridge broke, I am stuck here.
“I’m tempted to go all the way back to Bristol and to Oxford from there. The maintenance of this canal really needs looking at.”
Another, Colin George of the Evenlode, said: “There are a few boat users here who are having problems.
“My neighbour needs to get to Manchester and another was trying to get to Stoke-on-Trent, but there’s not a lot they can do about it.
“If it does close for more than a month then that is a major issue unless they can provide some facilities like water to us.
“I would imagine at Kintbury it’s quite chock-a-block because everybody coming down will be wanting to use those facilities.”
The swing bridge was originally a manually-operated bridge but was replaced with the current hydraulic system in 1990.