END-to-end walks across the Forth Bridge may be offered to visitors if plans to allow people on to the bridge are successful, Network Rail said yesterday.
The news came as the firm announced proposals for both Sydney Harbour Bridge-style catwalk climbs and lift access to a viewing platform on top of the 375ft structure.
The plans to allow public access were first revealed by our sister paper Scotland on Sunday last year, following the end of major repainting of the bridge for the first time in its history.
Network Rail hopes at least part of the £15 million scheme will be complete in time for the bridge’s 125th birthday in 2015.
Some 360,000 visitors a year are expected to be drawn to the attractions at North and South Queensferry.
A glass-roofed visitor centre would be built at the base of the Fife tower or cantilever, from where a lift would take people to an open-air viewing platform perched across the top.
Tourists would sample the “different types of weather on the Forth”, with the platform expected to close for “not many days” a year because of strong winds.
The centre, handling up to 230,000 people a year, would offer dramatic views of the “cathedral-like” structure, with around 133,000 of them taking the lift.
On the south side of the Forth, some 126,000 bridge walkers a year would don overalls and harnesses to be taken on a three-hour guided tour along catwalks under tracks on the approach viaduct then up into the structure and to the top of the south cantilever.
Network Rail said: “This is a very safe way to climb the bridge but still experience a thrill.”
A spokesman said detailed planning was still required and it was unable to say which part would be finished first.
However, it is understood the visitor centre and lift may be less problematic, which would involve upgrading the existing workers’ hoist and platform. The lift would be a “grander version of the hoist, so people could see the land drop away”.
The work would coincide with an expected decision on the bridge’s bid to become a World Heritage Site.
It would be funded by Network Rail without the need for sponsorship, with profits being ploughed back into the bridge./
David Simpson, route managing director of Network Rail Scotland, said: “It will give the public the opportunity to experience Scotland’s greatest landmark as never before. It will be a chance to get up close and personal with an internationally renowned engineering icon.”
Mr Simpson said walks along the entire mile-long bridge could follow: “It would be more challenging to set up, but we see it as a longer-term opportunity.”
Mr Simpson said there had been “very positive” discussions with Historic Scotland over the grade-A listed bridge, but he stressed the importance of the scheme “not intruding on the iconic image of the bridge”.
He said planning would include maximising the number of visitors arriving by rail at the stations at either end of the bridge.
To prevent the area being swamped with traffic, transfer buses may operate from park-and-ride sites. Mr Simpson said. “We want to make sure this does not become a negative.”
North Queensferry councillor Douglas Chapman said: “There is obviously going to be an issue with parking, so we need to get everyone round the table to discuss it. There are concerns in the village but, in the main, people are very proud to have a bridge of this stature on their doorstep.”
Alastair Dalton: Feel the fear and do it anyway – it’s worth it for the stunning views
CLAMBERING up the south side of the Forth Bridge may be aimed at “thrill-seekers”, but you’ll still need a head for heights just to take the lift to the north side viewing platform.
I’ve been writing about the bridge since its centenary nearly 25 years ago, but it had never occurred to me that when I finally got the chance to go to the top, it might be scary.
I didn’t give it a moment’s thought during a tour of the proposed visitor centre site at the base of the bridge’s north tower. I was focused instead on views of the structure that may be novel even for those who think they have seen it from every angle.
It was only when I stepped into the hoist that takes workers 375ft to the top that I realised this would be a very different experience from visiting other high buildings – and all the more memorable.
This was nothing like being whisked up to the top of attractions like the Empire State Building – we were going high, and felt it all the way.
Our conveyance was a metal cage that runs up what looks like a giant ladder. Network Rail says the lift will be upgraded, but it won’t become solid-sided, so visitors have the sensation of ascending the structure.
We came out on to a 40ft-wide deck made of toughened plastic and with scaffolding poles as guard rails. This will be rebuilt to look more like the bridge, but will remain open.
And it was worth it. Focus on the spectacular views – from Ben Lomond in the west to Berwick Law to the east – and you don’t need to look down. But the size of the trains crossing the bridge reminds you how high you are. So much so, in the lift down it feels as if you’ve reached the ground as you pass the tracks, still 170ft up.