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Railway bridges are astonishing feats of civil engineering. The longest in the world (the Danyang-Kunshan in China) runs for more than 100 miles. But where is the world’s oldest – in use, or otherwise?

In 2025, Skerne Bridge, in the UK’s Darlington, will celebrate its 200th birthday. It opened on 27th September 1825, to carry the very first train of the Stockton and Darlington railway over the River Skerne. Skerne Bridge has been in continuous use since then, and is still in use today. It was classed as a Scheduled Monument in 1970, and has even appeared on a British £5 note.

Source: The Northern Echo

It’s received a little reinforcing and adjustment down the years, but its stone construction, with one large arch over the Skerne, and two smaller ones covering paths either side, would be familiar to those passengers who crossed it aboard George Stephenson’s famous Locomotion No 1 – the first time the public would travel by steam train, anywhere in the world.

A bridge of engineering revolutions
But if you are a true bridge connoisseur, your heart lies not in Darlington, but nearby Durham with the ‘Gaunless’. Created by Stephenson in 1823 to carry coal wagons across the River Gaunless, it holds a pivotal place in bridge design. It was one of the first railway bridges to be constructed of iron, and the first to use a lenticular truss design – two curved girders one above the other; one for tension, one for compression. Importantly the bridge’s construction in sections meant designers were no longer limited to the maximum length a piece of iron could be cast in.

Source: The Northern Echo

This August it was announced that the freshly refurbished and repainted Gaunless would take pride of place at the newly expanded Locomotion museum in Country Durham – just a few hundred metres from where Locomotion no1 originally set off on its groundbreaking journey.

Often overlooked or forgotten, there it will finally be celebrated as the world’s oldest surviving railway bridge.

Source: The Northern Echo

One more thing
Of course bridges existed long, long before the advent of railways. So where is the oldest, still used bridge of any kind in the world?

The Arkadiko Bridge (sometimes known as the Kazarma Bridge) is estimated to have been built in the Greek Bronze Age around 1,300 BCE. What makes Arkadiko unusual is that is still crossable, and in regular use today (though mostly by tourists). It’s sited in a small gully, by a modern road, in the Argolis region of Greece.

 It’s also the oldest preserved bridge in Europe, and is one of four Mycenaean cobel-arch bridges in the region, all of similar design and age. Arkadiko is constructed from limestone boulders and smaller stones, slotted together without mortar, and measures 22 metres long, 5.6 metres wide and 4 metres high.