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The Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, 9 miles (14 kilometres) west of Edinburgh City Centre. It was opened on 4 March 1890 and spans a total length of 8,296 feet (2,528.7 m). It is sometimes referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge to distinguish it from the Forth Road Bridge, though this has never been its official name. The bridge leaves Edinburgh at South Queensferry and arrives in Fife at North Queensferry. Its construction began in 1882. It was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1890. Until 1917, when the Quebec Bridge was completed, the Forth Bridge had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world, and it still has the world's second-longest single span. The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure is owned by Network Rail Infrastructure Limited. It is considered an iconic structure and a symbol of Scotland.

Prior to the construction of the bridge, ferry boats were used to cross the Firth. In 1806, a pair of tunnels, one for each direction, was proposed, and in 1818 James Anderson produced a design for a three-span suspension bridge close to the site of the present one. Calling for approximately 2,500 tonnes (2,500 long tons; 2,800 short tons) of iron, Wilhelm Westhofen said of it "and this quantity [of iron] distributed over the length would have given it a very light and slender appearance, so light indeed that on a dull day it would hardly have been visible, and after a heavy gale probably no longer to be seen on a clear day either." Thomas Bouch designed for the Edinburgh and Northern Railway a roll-on/roll-off railway ferry between Granton and Burntisland that opened in 1850, which proved so successful that another was ordered for the Tay. In autumn 1863, a joint project between the North British Railway and Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, which would merge in 1865, appointed Stephenson and Toner to design a bridge for the Forth, but the commission was given to Bouch around six months later.

The Bill for the construction of the bridge was passed on 19 May 1882 after an eight day enquiry, the only objections being from rival railway companies. On 21 December of that year, the contract was let to Sir Thomas Tancred, Mr. T. H. Falkiner and Mr. Joseph Philips, civil engineers and contractor, and Sir William Arrol & Co.  Arrol was a self-made man, who had been apprenticed to a blacksmith at the age of thirteen before going on to have a highly successful business. Tancred was a professional engineer who had worked with Arrol before, but he would leave the partnership during the course of construction. The old coastguard station at the Fife end had to be removed to make way for the north-east pier. The rocky shore was levelled to a height of 7 feet (2.1 m) above high water to make way for plant and materials, and huts and other facilities for workmen were set up further inland.

The preparations at South Queensferry were of a much more substantial character, and required the steep hillside to be terraced. Wooden huts and shops for the workmen were put up, as well as more substantial brick houses for the foremen and tenements for leading hands and gangers. Drill roads and workshops were built, as well as a drawing loft 200 by 60 feet (61 by 18 m) to allow full size drawings and templates to be laid out. A cable was also laid across the Forth to allow telephone communication between the centres at Queensferry, Inchgarvie, and Fife, and girders from the collapsed Tay Bridge were laid across the railway to the west in order to allow access to the ground there. Near the shore a sawmill and cement store were erected, and a substantial jetty around 2,100 feet (640 m) long was started early in 1883, and extended as necessary, and sidings were built to bring railway vehicles among the shops, and cranes set up to allow the loading and movement of material delivered by rail.

In April 1883, construction of a landing stage at Inchgarvie commenced. Extant buildings, including fortifications built in the 15th century, were roofed over to increase the available space, and the rock at the west of the island was cut down to a level 7 feet (2.1 m) above high water, and a seawall was built to protect against large waves. In 1884 a compulsory purchase order was obtained for the island, as it was found that previously available area enclosed by the four piers of the bridge was insufficient for the storage of materials. Iron staging reinforced wood in heavily used areas was put up over the island, eventually covering around 10,000 square yards (8,400 m2) and using over 1,000 tonnes (980 long tons; 1,100 short tons) of iron.

In 1882 the NBR were given powers to purchase the bridge, which it never exercised. At the time of the 1923 Grouping, the bridge was still jointly owned by the same four railways, and so it became jointly owned by these companies' successors, the London Midland and Scottish Railway (30%) and the London and North Eastern Railway (70%). The Forth Bridge Railway Company was named in the Transport Act 1947 as one of the bodies to be nationalised and so became part of British Railways on 1 January 1948. Under the Act, Forth Bridge shareholders would receive £109 of British Transport stock for each £100 of Forth Bridge Debenture stock; and £104-17-6d (£104.87½) of British Transport stock for each £100 of Forth Bridge Ordinary stock.

Network Rail is in the early planning stages to add a visitor centre to the bridge, which would include a viewing platform on top of the North Queensferry side, or a bridge climbing experience to the South Queensferry side. In December 2014 it was announced Arup had been awarded the design contract for the project. "Painting the Forth Bridge" is a colloquial expression for a never-ending task, coined on the erroneous belief that at one time in the history of the bridge repainting was required and commenced immediately upon completion of the previous repaint. Such a practice never existed, as weathered area were given more attention, there was a permanent maintenance crew. Floodlighting was installed in 1991, and the track was renewed between 1992 and 1995. The bridge was costing British Rail £1 million a year to maintain, and they announced that the schedule of painting would be interrupted to save money, and the following year, upon privatisation, Railtrack took over. A £40 million package of works commenced in 1998, and in 2002 the responsibility of the bridge was passed to Network Rail.

Work started in 2002 to repaint the bridge fully for the first time in its history, in a £130 million contract awarded to Balfour Beatty. Up to 4,000 tonnes (3,900 long tons; 4,400 short tons) of scaffolding was on the bridge at any time, and computer modelling was used to analyse the additional wind load on the structure. The bridge was encapsulated in a climate controlled membrane to give the proper conditions for the application of the paint. All previous layers of paint were removed using copper slag fired at up to 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), exposing the steel and allowing repairs to be made. The paint, developed specifically for the bridge by Leigh Paints, consisted of a system of three coats derived from that used in the North Sea oil industry. 240,000 litres (53,000 imp gal; 63,000 US gal) of paint was applied to 255,000 square metres (2,740,000 sq ft) of the structure, and it is not expected to need repainting for at least 20 years. The top coat can be reapplied indefinitely, minimising future maintenance work.

The Bridge Experience Website

Ref: DP358

Gallery: Buildings

The Forth Bridge



United Kingdom


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