A CAST-IRON Victorian bridge which spans high voltage train lines in Wirral has failed a safety check.
Engineers now estimate the cost of repairs to the Bedford Road Bridge at Rock Ferry station to be around £1m.
A report to Wirral Council said Network Rail owns the bridge, which is over 115 years old and requires some form of strengthening.
The bridge is currently restricted with a limit on vehicles which weigh more than 18 tons on the advice of Network Rail.
Because of the age of the bridge, parts of which are constructed from cast iron, conventional steelwork strengthening is unlikely to be appropriate according to council engineers.
Instead, the cast iron beams may need to be replaced, and the project is further complicated by the fact that the bridge crosses a busy electrified railway and any work will necessarily be restricted by the operational requirements of the railway as well as the local highway network.
The report to Wirral Council's cabinet, which meets on Wednesday, said the bridge had passed Network Rail's legal load-bearing obligation but failed to meet council standards.
After negotiations with Network Rail, the council was offered the options of either repairing the bridge itself, and taking on ownership of it, or Network Rail doing the repairs and retaining ownership of the bridge.
The report recommends the council asks Network Rail to do the repairs, but will have to pay for the work to be done.
A spokeswoman for Wirral Council said the bridge had been found to be inadequate for the current highway needs, and although there is a weight limit allowing it to be used safely at present, the authority would prefer to strengthen the bridge up to the current standards so that the restriction can be lifted and the bridge can continue to be used by all traffic.
She said: "At this stage, the full cost of the scheme is unknown and we have indicated a total of £1m as a guideline budget estimate following preliminary discussions with Network Rail. We need an indicative figure to be able to submit a bid to Central Government for funding for the scheme as part of the next Merseyside Local Transport Plan.
"If Cabinet approves the report, this will enable the council to enter into an agreement with Network Rail to carry out a detailed feasibility study, to determine the most appropriate form of strengthening and to estimate the costs more accurately."
A spokesman for Network Rail said the company was assessing every railway bridge in the country, about 10,000 nationally and around 1,000 in the North West.
A feasibility study on the work in Rock Ferry is due to be done by March 2005 and a provisional date for the work is 2006/07.
He said: "Network Rail is liable to ensure the roads can carry 26 tons, and only work needed to bring it up to 40 tons to meet European Union guidelines is borne by the local authority."