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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016827

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The original Tay Rail Bridge was designed for the North British Railway Company by Sir Thomas Bouch. It was an ambitious project to build a bridge over 3.2km long across the exposed estuary of the Firth of Tay. Few of the problems associated with the construction oflong bridges in exposed sites had been considered at that time. Bouch took advice on wind forces but was given a ridiculously low figure. Similarly the rolling-stock in use at that time was not tested for stability in exposed situations.

The bridge carried a single railway track for 3,261m across the Firth. Work was started in 1871 and the bridge was opened in 1878. It is not certain what caused the bridge to collapse but the slender nature of the design, the poor quality of the workmanship and the possibility that the train may have been exceeding the speed limit of twenty-fIve miles per hour or may have been derailed by the force of the wind may all have contributed to its failure. The bridge collapsed within nineteen months ofits opening and Bouch was apportioned most of the blame. There are a great many books and articles on the subject and with hindsight Bouch appears to have been badly judged. The brick column bases used to support the cast-Iron columns of the first bridge may still be seen on the east side of the second bridge.

In 1882 the North British Railway Company commenced work on the second bridge. The engineers were W H Barlow and Sons and the contractor was William Arrol and Company of Glasgow. The second bridge was sited 18m upstream from the original. Since the regulations in force at that time did not allow the use of steel for bridge construction, many of the wrought-iron girders from the Bouch design were re-used by Barlow. The new bridge was nearly 3.5km long and had eighty-six piers, seventy-six of which were in the river.

Sir William Arrol also built the Victoria Bridge at Caputh (NO 088395) for William Cox ofSnaigow and Foggyley. The bridge was started in 1887 and made use of girders of identical design to those used on the Tay Bridge.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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