Looking back at the original Forth Road Bridge

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When the Forth Road Bridge opened on September 4 1964, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, outside of America.

While its future will be downgraded to a public transport corridor between Fife and the Lothians, when the new Queensferry Crossing is opened later this year, the original bridge was an iconic structure which changed the coast line.

While travellers have been crossing in this area of the Forth since the 11th century, the need for the creation of a road bridge over the Firth of Forth was highlighted as early as the 1920s, with the rising popularity of the private car.

The first proposals for a bridge were discussed in 1923 and won the support of the Ministry of Transport the following year.

But a proposal wouldn’t be agreed upon until 24 years later, in 1947 - and even then it took another 11 years for construction to begin, due to the post WWII economic slump.

Construction work began in September 1958 and the bridge took six years to build. After construction was completed, the bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world, with the official opening conducted by HM Queen Elizabeth.

Settling a foot in both South and North Queensferry, the bridge has a main span of 1006 metres between the two main towers. The two main aerially spun cables from which the suspended deck is hung are 590 mm in diameter, and each is made up of 11,618 high tensile wires with a 4.98 mm diameter. The suspended deck is made up of a steel stiffening truss, with three longitudinal air gaps at roadway level to improve aerodynamic stability.

39,000 tonnes of steel were used to build the bridge and the bridge project, including roads, costing just shy of £20 million.

The bridge currently serves more than double the original 11 million vehicles it was intended to cater for, which resulted in a three week closure of the bridge when one of the truss links cracked.

The bridge currently serves as the only road link between the south-east and north east of Scotland - before the bridge was built the only way to get across the Forth was either by train or ferry, between North to South Queensferry.

While there were several trains per day, there were only four daily boats to heard passengers across the water. The last journey the ferries ever took was to sail the Queen back across the Forth after she had opened the bridge.

The building of the first road bridge was no walk in the park – workers enduring tough conditions.

Alex Porteous served as an electrician and was responsible for the maintenance of seven cranes on the bridge’s south tower for three years. He was even tasked with erecting the safety light on the top of the tower.

Mr Porteous said: “The job was the best paid job I ever had. We worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week but we enjoyed it.”

Although he worked above the Forth most days, one day, when working underground inside the cable anchoring sections, Alex had a narrow escape. A spark ignited petrol being poured on cables to clean them. He said: “I was covered head to foot in flames but managed to roll on the ground and put the flames out.”

He was not the only person who suffered an incident in the construction - 78 men lost their lives during the build.

Current Forth Road Bridge chief engineer Barry Colford said: “One of the main things which impresses people is the workmanship of the bridge. In these days, there were no computers just slide rules etc.

“We know what it is like to work on the cables and towers but we cannot imagine what it must have been like back then, when health and safety was more relaxed. We must also remember the seven workers who died and the many more that were injured while building the bridge. We thank them all.”

The Forth Road Bridge was designated a Category A listed structure in March 2001.