THE Forth Bridge has been branded dangerous after an undercover inspection of the famous Victorian icon.
Reporters from the BBC’s Whistleblower programme, accompanied by a retired track inspector, examined the bridge as part of a wider investigation into the rail network.
The inspector, who has just retired after 14 years, claimed that many of the wooden wedges which hold the bridge’s rails in place were loose.
But Network Rail chiefs have disputed the BBC claims and insisted the bridge is safe after the wedges were checked by qualified engineers. During the examination, which is due to be screened tomorrow night on BBC1, the inspector said: "Well, this wedge, that is not holding anything and its opposite number, that has actually disappeared down the side of the timber."
When one of the BBC reporters, all of whom went undercover as track workers, said that to an untrained eye it looked "potentially dangerous", the inspector said: "To my trained eye it looks dangerous. It is. You don’t have to be, you know, knowledgeable with railway infrastructure to know that there’s something wrong with that."
The distance between the rails, which are installed about 150 feet over the Firth of Forth, is supposed to be kept constant by the wedges and plates. The inspector suggested scores of passengers would switch from trains to buses if they knew about the state of the clamps and wedges, saying: "I think the buses would be very busy."
He also claimed Network Rail chiefs were aware of the concerns, but warned: "We put our reports in, they go back to management. They read them and nothing’s done."
Professor Brian Clementson, a former director at British Rail and Virgin Trains, said he found the Whistleblower programme "very worrying and very concerning".
He told the programme: "I hope that Network Rail will take this film as being a positive contribution to trying to improve things. The filming that’s been done has been random in nature, it’s not been set up in any way. I can only come to the conclusion that the kind of things we’ve seen in the film are probably more widespread than I had hoped."
But rail chiefs today hit back at the BBC and insisted the Forth Bridge was safe. A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: "The BBC has recently put some allegations to us that are being thoroughly investigated.
"We are treating this matter seriously, although we have been hindered as the BBC has not allowed us to view the programme or have full details of the allegations.
"Our initial investigations into these allegations, however, have so far shown that train and passenger safety has not been compromised.
"We will watch the programme and consider it carefully to see if further action is needed."
It is understood the company, which oversees the UK’s rail infrastructure, has instructed its solicitors to discuss the programme with the BBC’s legal department.
It is believed the rail giant has also told the BBC that qualified engineers with more than 30 years’ experience had found no problems with the bridge.
600,000 more motorists use crossing
MORE than half a million extra motorists used the ailing Forth Road Bridge over the last year, new figures have shown.
According to the Forth Estuary Transport Authority’s (Feta) annual report, traffic peaked at 12,005,151 northbound vehicles during the year - an extra 600,000 motorists. The figure, a rise of 2.7 per cent on the previous year, would be even higher if southbound vehicles had been included, but there are no tolls on this carriageway.
Feta convener Mike Rumney said: "To get a true picture of how many vehicles are crossing the Forth Road Bridge, you have to double these figures. That means more than 24 million vehicles used the bridge in 2003-2004, which is why we are increasingly seeing problems."