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The forth bridges are very well known all across the world and many tourists especially Chinese tourists venture to the site of the two bridges to take photos every year.
The rail bridge is famous for being the bridge that they never finish painting and rumour would have it that they paint from one side to the other then turn and head back, although that is not quite how it happens there is always some sort of painting going on at the massive structure.
Building of the Forth rail bridge was interrupted by the fact that the man in charge of building it was to be removed from the job after the failure of another of his structures, Sir Thomas Bouch, got as far as the laying of the foundation stone then news of the collapse of the Tay rail bridge that he had been responsible for meant his time building this bridge was over.
The project was handed over to Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and those two gentlemen gave us the amazing structure but not without cost. 57 lives were lost during the building of this huge bridge and many other injuries occurred, all in all there were 4,600 workers involved in the construction of the Forth rail bridge and in those days the loss of 57 lives from such a large group of workers on such a dangerous project was pretty much seen as par for the course.
The bridge which stretches one and a half miles across the river Forth was and still is seen as an engineering master piece, it took seven full years to build from 1883 to 1890 and used an astonishing 54,000 tonnes of steel and 6,500,000 rivets.
The total cost of the bridge was a lot more than had originally been planned for and ended up around £3,200,000, which in those days was of course an enormous amount of money to give you some idea of just how much here is the figure that the bridge would cost to build in today's climate... £235,000,000, yes that is a staggering two hundred and thirty five million pounds.
The bridge is of course still costing money as it has done every minute it has stood and current figures for its maintenance are reputed to stand around £10m a year, it has also had several refurbishments with the most recent being in 1998 which cost in the region of £40m. It is reputed that since building the bridge has cost over £400m to maintain although many people say it is more and many people say that figure is ridiculous and it is actually much less.
The bridge however much it cost to build and maintain has been a huge success and continues to be so with over 50 trains a day crossing it carrying millions of passengers a year, I have crossed this bridge god knows how many times and still marvel at it every time. It is starting to look a bit rough round the edges these days but that is mainly down to the ongoing maintenance work that is being done and if you look past that you will still see the amazing beautiful structure that is the Forth rail bridge in all its glory!
I am sure that everyone is familiar with the well known anecdote regarding the Forth Bridge, that famous Victorian rail bridge crossing the Firth of Forth to the north of Edinburgh in Scotland. This review is indeed about the bridge that they famously never finish painting.
As some of you will already know, I am something of a fan of Victorian engineering, my hero being Isambard Kingdom Brunel, responsible for the design of the Clifton Suspension Bridge amongst others. The Forth Bridge was nothing to do with Brunel which, from my point of view, has made this particular review rather more difficult to write. Whilst I have visited the bridge on three occasions, as far as the design and building are concerned, the bulk of this review is based on research carried out following our recent visit in October 2006.
WHY BUILD A BRIDGE HERE?
The need for a rail bridge crossing the Forth Estuary between North and South Queensferry was obvious enough. In 1880, the Victorian traveller had a high speed rail connection - the East Coast Line - all the way from Dover to Edinburgh, linking London, York and Newcastle on the way. However, that same traveller who had sped from Dover to Edinburgh had to alight his train to take a legendarily unfriendly ferry crossing both of the Forth and, also if heading on to Dundee and Aberdeen, the River Tay too.
An equally famous - in this case for its notoriety - rail bridge spanned the river Tay. It had only been in use for nineteen months, when on 28th December 1879, during a violent storm it collapsed. Passing over it at the moment of collapse was a train carrying over seventy passengers, nobody survived the disaster.
Many saw this as an omen that "bridging nature" should not be attempted and that both the Tay and Forth should remain permanently un-bridged. That attitude was not in late Victorian times allowed to prevail however. The East Coast Railway Company was in fierce competition with its' rival on the West Coast. Both commercial success and pride were at stake, the two great Scottish rivers HAD to be crossed!
AND SO TO THE DRAWING BOARD!
Nowadays of course such a scheme would all be carried out using CADCAM 3D modelling. In those days teams of architects, engineers and draughtsmen toiled over slide rules and drawing boards. In 1873 the East Coast Railway's engineer in Chief, Sir Thomas Bouch had finalised the design for a suspension bridge crossing the Forth. His wife ceremonially laid the foundation stone the same year.
Plans were being made, materials ordered and preparations going ahead for the construction, then news of the Tay Bridge disaster broke. Bouch had received his knighthood in honour of the Tay Bridge achievement. The great loss of life and nationwide publicity not only broke him personally, but saw the collapse (pardon the pun!) of his Forth Bridge project too.
His departure from the project was swift, the railway company determined to forge ahead with the bridging plans, in 1880, calling in consultant engineers; Barlow, Harrison and Fowler.
A TOTAL RE-DESIGN
With all confidence in Bouche's bridge designs gone with the Tay bridge, a ground up re-design had to take place. The railway company recognised that in order to re-gain public confidence, the Forth Bridge would have to be massively strong - and even more importantly, LOOK it!
John Fowler, consulting engineer and Benjamin Baker, the designer, put forward a design based on the cantilever principle, connected to, and strengthened by, central girders. Even this design was strengthened further by adding second sets of footings on the outside two cantilever sections.
In 1882 an Act of parliament granting authorisation to build the bridge was passed, with the condition that the Board of Trade would carry out an on-going inspection of all work as it was carried out.
Whilst, by any stretch of the imagination, the builders were to undertake an immense task, the particular site where the Forth Bridge was to be built could hardly have been better. Almost centrally located in the Firth was the island of Inchgarvie, forming a perfect natural anchor point for the all-important central cantilever or "pier".
The purpose of the bridge was to carry a railway line across the Firth of Forth, however, the tallest ships still had to be able to sail underneath it. It was designed with 150 feet (45.7 metres) of clearance above high tide. On either bank of the Forth, there was a minimum of track grading and embankment work required as the level of ground was sufficiently high.
THE BUILDING OF THE WORLDS BIGGEST BRIDGE BEGINS
The Tay Bridge was reconstructed by the well respected Victorian engineer William Arrol, he was particularly well known in the then modern field of steelwork in construction. Having swiftly and successfully reconstructed the Tay Bridge, in 1882 he moved south to begin preparing the groundwork for the construction of an altogether grander project.
As a matter of interest, Sir William Arrol, knighted in recognition of his Scottish bridge endeavours, in 1886 went on to construct Tower Bridge in London, a small project by comparison to this one.
The construction of the Forth Bridge took place under the glare of publicity. Comparable at the time to the first moon landing, in news value terms the whole project was given an "edge" too by the Tay Bridge disaster, still very fresh in the minds of the public. This was a very different era, a time when great engineering schemes were big news; national pride was high, in the knowledge that the world's biggest construction project was taking place in Scotland
The Victorian news hounds were hungry for fantastic facts and figures; projects like this provided them in abundance. This was not only the world's largest railway bridge, but the first to be constructed entirely of steel. Another historical fact is that this was the first project of its type to be recorded from start to finish by an official photographer, a gentleman by the name of Evelyn Carey, who was an Assistant Engineer on the project.
South Queensferry where the project was based was a very small town, lacking in almost all suitable facilities for the thousands of workers that were about to descend upon it. Accommodation blocks, canteens, workshops and stores all had to be swiftly erected. In order to handle the many hundreds of tons of materials, cranes were erected and sidings built, extending the railway from South Queensferry Station to the bridge building site.
Inchgarvie Island, which was previously only home to a ruined castle dating from 1490, was quickly turned into a headquarters for the construction of the central cantilever. The castle was roofed over to provide indoor workshops and stores, a kitchen was installed as well as accommodation for the 90 workers who were to live on site. One can only imagine what the living conditions must have been like for all those men on that small island out there in the middle of the Firth of Forth.
An aspect of the project which considerably speeded the building programme was the fact that the whole site was illuminated by electric lights. A whole team of men was dedicated to the servicing and replacement of the lights, cabling and dynamos required to power them.
A SCOTTISH BRIDGE, AN INTERNATIONAL WORKFORCE
Once building was in full swing, not only were materials being ordered from all over the Kingdom (those were the days!) but workers from all over the world were being drawn to this prestigious project. In the mid 1880's there were 4,600 men employed, whilst naturally Scottish, English and Irish workers made up the majority, French, German, Swedish and even Japanese workers were also to be found here.
THE CAISSONS - ANCHORS FOR THE BRIDGE
It took from 1882 to 1885 to construct and then put into place the caissons. Those of you having an interest in military history may well know what caissons are, however for the rest of us, a brief explanation is in order.
Caissons usually take the form of large cylinders, often circular or oval in shape, which are deep (or tall) enough to sink to the sea bed. Caissons may be made of several materials, usually steel or in some cases concrete. In the case of the Forth Bridge, each cantilever section is mounted on top of four wrought iron caissons, cylindrical in section and weighing 400 tons each. Looking at the bridge today, the top of, that is the section above the water, the caissons appear as four feet at the foot of each span.
These huge cylinders were fabricated by Arrol Brothers of Glasgow (no connection with Willaim Arrol the builder) who sent them over to South Queensferry to be constructed and then floated out to their prepared sites. Once positioned in the correct place, the caissons were filled with concrete until they sunk to the sea bed. The caissons had a false bottom, below which was a seven foot steel cutting edge, this dug into the sea bed providing a temporary anchor until they could be permanently affixed to the rock below. This having been done, all the sea water had to be pumped out from the area between the base of the caisson and the sea bed.
This was very dangerous work, involving the use of compressed air to ensure that the water could not re-enter the caisson. Once the water had been evacuated workmen then had to dig away at the foundations until the caisson was level and at the correct depth. This having been achieved, the area was then finally pumped full of concrete.
By and large this work was completed remarkably smoothly, one of the caissons tilted sideways as it was floated into position. This actually happened on 1st January 1885, it is thought that the previous evening's Hogmanay celebrations may have had some bearing on this miss-hap. It took ten months to re-float the flooded caisson.
Bearing in mind the dangerous nature of the work, surprisingly only two men were killed on this stage of the bridge building, when one of the caissons split and flooded rapidly.
NEARLY AS MANY DIED HERE AS IN THE TAY BRIDGE DISASTER!
In those pioneering days of major engineering projects it was not unusual for workers to be killed. It is however sobering to think that whilst at least 70 (the exact number is not known) were killed in the collapse of the Tay Bridge, here in constructing the Forth bridge, 57 deaths were recorded along with 461 serious injuries.
57 was the official death toll. However, research which was undertaken in 2004 actually documents 63 deaths, listing the cause of death and date on which it occurred. For those interested in this information (and more besides regarding the bridge) I would recommend visiting www.forthbridges.org.uk which is the bridges official website.
In this day and age, I think a 10% death or serious injury rate amongst the workforce would be grounds for a health and safety investigation. The working conditions even for those men not actually under the water were appalling. Work went on all year round, no matter how inclement the weather conditions.
It was recorded that the engineers of the day were proud that the death toll had not been higher, especially those men working at great height on the superstructure, once the caisson work was finished.
THE HAWES INN, SOUTH QUEENSFERRY
The bridge designer, Baker, made a blasé, but probably true remark that 'The Hawes Inn flourishes too well for being in the middle of our works, its attractions prove irresistible for a large proportion of our 3000 workmen .many dead and injured men would have escaped but for the whisky served there'.
(As an aside at this point, the Hawes Inn is now one of the Innkeepers Lodge Chain - but for an invitation from friends to stay with them in Linlithgow, we were actually intending to stay there on our recent visit to Scotland. A Vintage Inn, it certainly has more of a claim to historic fame than most!)
THE HUGE STRUCTURE RISES ABOVE THE WATERS OF THE FORTH
With the footings in place, the enormous steel sections could now be fabricated on top. The first job was to erect the towers from which each of the three cantilever sections would grow. Viewing the sheer size of this bridge, it is remarkable that this work took place in a mere three years - from 1886 to 1889.
Part of the secret behind this swift progress was the fact that that all of the sections had been pre-fabricated and tried for fit. Everything was standardised and once delivered to the site, merely had to be slotted together, rather in the fashion of a huge Meccano set.
As the steelwork spread out and grew from the three central cantilevers, so the masonry sections connecting the bridge to the land at either side were being built. Once the cantilevers were finished, the two relatively short box girder sections connecting them had to be constructed.
A TRACK IS LAID AND HEY PRESTO - A RAILWAY BRIDGE OPENS!
Finally, on 4th March 1890, this great marvel of the Victorian age was complete and ready for use. The then Prince of Wales, destined to become Edward VII, accompanied by many other royal dignitaries performed the opening ceremony by driving in the last rivet.
The royal party travelled slowly over the bridge by train, before ascending to the foreshore at North Queensferry to take a steam launch tour on the Forth to view the bridge from below. Following this a lavish banquet was laid on in the former engineers loft in Queensferry.
THE MOST FAMOUS PAINTERS IN THE WORLD?
As everyone is fully aware, a bridge built of steel is going to need maintenance - mostly in the form of rust prevention, this is going to involve paint, gallons of it. Obviously the designers were aware of this ongoing requirement and put out the job to tender before construction of the steel sections started.
Four firms quoted for the job, Craig and Rose of Leith won the maintenance contract and supplied "Forth Bridge Oxide of Iron Brushing Paint" for the following 108 years. Since 1998 a new painting system, proven on offshore oil rigs has been employed which has a 20 year lifespan.
As they were assembled, all parts of the steel bridge were thoroughly cleaned using boiled linseed oil before the internal surfaces were treated with one coat of red and two coats of white lead paint. Once assembled, all surfaces were coated with red lead paint.
During construction 35,527 gallons of paint oils and 250 tons of paint were used.
It is estimated that the entire painting area of the bridge is 145 acres and that to apply one coat of paint to all of it would require 7,000 gallons of paint.
Civil Engineering Company Balfour Beattie currently hold the maintenance contract until 2009, an estimated £10M is scheduled to be spent each year until then, catching up on painting and re-furbishment of the steelwork.
A FEW VITAL STATISTICS:
Length: 1.1/2 miles (2.5km)
Height of deck: 150ft (46 metres) - deck above high water mark
Height of Cantilever Piers: 361ft (110 metres)
Cost to Build: £3.2 million (2006 equivalent £235 million)
Workers killed: 63
Workers seriously injured: 461
SOME OF THE MATERIALS USED:
Weight of Steel: 55,000 tons
Total number of Rivets: 8 million
Quantity of Granite: 640,000 cubic feet (18,122 cubic metres)
AN OLD TRADITION, SOMEWHAT TURNED ON ITS' HEAD
In the early years of the Forth Bridge, passengers used to open their carriage windows and throw pennies into the Firth as an omen of good luck. This was in memory of those passengers lost in the Tay Bridge disaster. Of course in our modern days of sealed, air conditioned trains this is no longer possible.
In 2004, the Royal Mint decided to issue pound coins depicting bridges in England, Scotland,. Wales and Northern Ireland. In the case of Scotland, the obvious choice was the Forth Bridge. You may no longer be able to throw your coin from the train, but you are now able to carry a picture of the bridge on your coin!
WHAT OF THE BRIDGE NOW IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY?
Today the Forth Railway Bridge is Scotland's largest preserved monument.
On my first visit to Scotland, in 1998, I had determined that the Forth Bridge would be an essential part of my itinerary whilst there. As a bridge and engineering enthusiast I was not disappointed. What I was surprised about however was how close the 1960's road bridge was to it. The road bridge is an even longer, but much lighter suspension bridge, upon which you pay a toll to travel north, but not south. Driving over the bridge is not the best, or safest viewing point for the rail bridge.
Being so large and prominent, both bridges dominate any views of the area; even from the centre of Edinburgh they can be seen. Dropping down into South Queensferry, the road runs along the river bank, underneath the bridge, past the famous Hawes Inn. There are plenty of places to stop here for a very close - rather too close view of the bridge. Taking photographs here is not so easy as you are right under the bridge, which towers almost 150ft above you. Facing the road, set into one of the masonry towers supporting the track above, is a plaque commemorating the designers and builders of the bridge, presented by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
On our latest visit, in October of this year, our hosts, being local to the area, knew of a tiny road leading to the east from Queensferry, ending at pier sticking out into the Forth. This was an ideal viewpoint as with a 28mm wide angle lens I was just able to get the whole bridge into shot. The sheer size of the bridge is difficult to comprehend until you see a full size train starting to cross it. As you can see from my picture below, the train looks minute in comparison to the scale of the bridge.
On the north side of the bridge there is an official viewing site and visitor centre at the Queensferry Lodge Hotel. There is free parking and entry to the exhibition is also free of charge. This site overlooks both bridges and can be found on the B981 just before entering the village of North Queensferry.
The last, or most northernmost, of the three cantilevers is actually sited on the shore at North Queensferry, here it is possible to get very close indeed to the steelwork of the bridge in order to appreciate the labours of all of those Victorian workers close at hand.
Would I recommend a visit to the Forth Bridge? Well, if it were stuck out on its own in the middle of nowhere, no, I probably would not. However as the most famous of Scottish landmarks, located less than ten miles from the centre of Edinburgh, yes I most certainly would. I am sure that you could also get a good lunch in the Hawes Inn and, whilst there, in that most appropriate of hostelries, raise a toast to the great engineers and brave builders who created this incredible land mark.