The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 28

Home Page | Fiction | Lyndesfarne Introduction | Synopsis (PDF) | Download (PDF) | Previous | Next

Over the months when design work was going on, Kevin frequently found himself wondering just why the New Bridge was being built. He had not seen any kind of business plan or financial rationalization for the construction of the bridge, but had not sensed any unusually large concern over the budgeted costs. So, he concluded, there had to be some overwhelming justification to build the thing.

He felt it unlikely that the reason could be purely political, since the Old Bridge surely supported all of the inter-governmental communications that would be required. So, there had to be a sound economic reason, one where the expected increase in capacity added by the New Bridge would repay the outlay eventually. Of course, he knew that the expected lifespan of a bridge was usually measured in decades, if not centuries, so the economic justification would be very long-term. Just like the Channel Tunnel, he mused, likely to take a hundred years to pay back the investment.

Nevertheless, one boring evening he found himself considering just how much stuff could be moved across the old bridge, given that it had to be transported by horse-drawn wagons on the crossing itself. He set about roughly estimating this, in the back-of-a-used-envelope way he had been taught as an engineering student decades before.

Kevin could assume that the horse-drawn wagons could be loaded and unloaded close to the causeway ends, since he now knew where the depots were located on both sides. During his travels, he had seen that the same carts, horses and people were frequently on the bridge; he was even on nodding terms with some of the wagon drivers. He had spotted that the wagons, although superficially constructed in a traditional style, had slots in the sides and other fashionings that presumably made loading with fork-lift trucks and other machinery much more efficient on the Mainland. He could guess that there would also be magical assistance for loading and unloading, presumably inside the Lyndesfarne warehouses he had noted on various occasions.

Lyndesfarne horse and wagon

He already knew that the length of the entire causeway and bridge was a little less than one mile in total. He reasoned it would take a horse-drawn wagon travelling at walking pace about fifteen minutes to cross the causeway. He also assumed that it would take fifteen minutes to unload and load at each end, given the sophisticated assistance he had already postulated. So, Kevin concluded that each wagon could make just one trip each way in every hour.

As part of his musings, Kevin had undertaken a little research on the Internet concerning the practicalities of horse-drawn transport. From his reading, he could assume that each wagon could carry one ton of goods, or perhaps a little more, provided that they were not too bulky. A horse-drawn dray could make no more than half a dozen trips per day, depending on the season and weather conditions. So, any particular wagon could convey somewhere between five and ten tons of goods per day, into each world.

The limiting factor on the rate at which goods could be transmitted was probably the inevitable delays as queues built up, with wagons travelling in both directions trying to cross the old bridge itself. The entire length of the causeway was wide enough for wagons to pass provided, Kevin thought ruefully, that pedestrians kept out of the way. The problem was that the old bridge itself was only wide enough for a single cart at a time.

Given the number of wagons he had seen on the causeway, Kevin could imagine that several hundred tons of goods could be transported each way, each day. Really, this was not a huge amount of stuff - in Kevin's world, competent logistics and a small fleet of modern Heavy Goods Vehicles would easily enable that amount of goods to be distributed to any part of Britain. But that certainly explained, Kevin considered, why he always seemed to meet on-coming HGVs when he drove to the causeway, and had occasionally spotted them turning into the fenced site marked "unexploded bombs".

Heavy Goods Vehicle

All this analysis still left several unanswered questions in Kevin's mind. Firstly, what advantage would the New Bridge have over the existing crossing? There were certainly several areas where the specifications made it clear that there would be improvements. For example, he knew that the New Bridge would allow wagons to pass in each direction. This would result in fewer of those delays the wagon drivers found so frustrating, judging by the colourful and imaginative swearing that Kevin could not help but hear when making his way to and from the Island.

So, he mused, less delay meant that it was possible to deploy more wagons. He also knew that the New Bridge had slopes which were much less steep than on the original crossing, so that wagons could move faster - again, this was one of the features that he and Bret had been told to include in their design. So, for the new crossing still under construction, all this led to transport capacity that was, perhaps, three or four times that of the Old Bridge. And of course the older crossing could still be used - Kevin was not aware of any plan to demolish the Old Bridge, and it certainly seemed in remarkably good condition, considering the amount of use it had seen over several centuries.

Of course, all this assumed that the same approach would be used in the future. Kevin began to wonder whether there was some alternative to horse-drawn transport that could be used on the New Bridge, but was impractical on the existing crossing. He could think of nothing else that could possibly work in both worlds which could transport large volumes of heavy goods, but perhaps there was some other way of transporting materials which was feasible.

Just for the sake of argument, he told himself, suppose the goods were loaded onto sleds or perhaps some kind of pallets on primitive wheels. These could be moved by some technical means on the Mainland side - perhaps as straightforward as a railway line - and some magical mechanism on the other side. Then there would be some simple, and presumably manually assisted, changeover from one transport system to another in the centre of the new bridge. Of course, it would be necessary to man-handle the pallets on their wheels or skids for a few yards, although one could even allow simple inertia to keep the pallets moving from one side to the other.

This would mean that the goods would have to be palletised; they would still need to be trans-shipped at either side of the crossing. Kevin strongly suspected that fork-lift trucks and other machinery were used in the warehouses hidden behind the fence on the Mainland side, and he imagined that magical means of loading and unloading would be used in the rather less well hidden warehouses on the Island side.

But he had seen no plan to install any such infrastructure and it would, he thought, be highly desirable if it had been part of the original specifications for the crossing. So, back to the drawing-board, he thought, or at least the horse and cart.

All this speculation about ways and means begged an important question: what's the economic value in the goods being moved between the worlds? If they kept up the rate he had calculated earlier for most of the year, they could move no more than 100,000 tons of goods in each direction per annum, and probably rather less. He had observed that the causeway and bridge was not always busy, so it was probably not even that much.

Say fifty thousand tons. Such a quantity was enough to make a considerable difference to the local economies on either side. So what could it be? Kevin briefly considered precious metals, gold, platinum, and so on, or even uranium, these days. But so much would have a huge effect on the local (and indeed world) economy - besides, gold and so on would likely be rare in the world of Lyndesfarne as well.

In any case, he had heard that importing precious metals did not help an economy in the long term. When the Spaniards brought back large quantities of gold from the Americas in centuries past, they thought they were importing wealth. Actually, they were just importing money, which led to rampant inflation.

So, both in the past, and currently, there had to be goods which were readily available in one world and more valuable in the other, and where the additional complexity and expense of the peculiar transport arrangements would be more than compensated. So, Kevin thought, perhaps I can find out what actually is in transit over this crossing.

During his next few journeys over the causeway, Kevin started making a few enquiries, in the subtlest way he knew how. He was already on nodding terms with several of the wagoners, and felt that his face was becoming well-known too. He had already fallen into the habit of meeting Ricard at the Island end of the causeway, deeming it unnecessary to make the other man walk twice as far as he had to. He suspected correctly that many of the people who crossed the bridge on a regular basis would have at least a reasonable grasp of both languages.

The drivers seemed happy enough to answer his innocuous questions about their health, families and the heavy loads they were carrying. Sometimes, the carters themselves did not know, or at least claimed not to - although Kevin did sometimes wonder if that was just because they were not sure of the correct words in English. The loads were usually completely covered by heavy tarpaulins although, given the variability of the weather Kevin had already experienced, this was perhaps not particularly surprising.

Even so, he did manage to amass a fair amount of information about the goods being imported. Items being moved from his own world to Lyndesfarne included paper in cut sheets, bolts of cloth and uncut leather hides. Also being moved in large quantities was cement in sacks, which was particularly unpopular with the wagoners, presumably because of the weight and the dust. Kevin did wonder why cement was needed at all, given the magical construction stone he had already come across in Lyndesfarne.

Lyndesfarne imported marble tiles

Other items included cut stone: marble, slate and granite in fairly small pieces, such as might be used, Kevin thought, for tiles. In general, there were no finished goods, no foodstuffs, nothing that required a high level of technology to produce, although, these days, he knew that factories which produced these kinds of goods were both efficient and highly automated.

He was most surprised to find that a popular item imported into England was food. These were not dietary staples, but fresh foodstuffs; out-of-season fruit and unusual vegetables where there would presumably be a market demand from the increasingly pernickety consumers in the high street supermarkets.

He also came across one cart transporting timber, sawn to size and seasoned, but otherwise not finished in any way. Kevin could clearly smell the lumber, the rich odour reminding him of visiting a sawmill in South America during his peregrinations, and could also see the beams emerging from the tarpaulin covers. Emboldened, he asked the wagoner where this wood had come from. The answer, delivered in a strong accent, was that it came in from a place whose name Kevin - never at home with languages - failed to catch, but got the impression that it was somewhere exotically distant.

All this provided food for thought. To Kevin's mind, it was certainly cost-effective to transport materials for long distances - and presumably engage in dealing within the world of Lyndesfarne - simply to trade with his home world. And it also meant that there must be some effective rapid transport over very long distances on the Island, some kind of magical long-distance transport which he had not yet seen.

Home Page | Fiction | Lyndesfarne Introduction | Synopsis (PDF) | Download (PDF) | Previous | Next
© 2006-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved. Webmaster Last updated 15 March 2008