On this day 1890: Forth Rail Bridge opens

The Forth Rail Bridge as seen from South Queensferry. Picture: Wiki Commons
The Forth Rail Bridge as seen from South Queensferry. Picture: Wiki Commons
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ON 4 March 1890, the Forth Bridge was formally opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who drove home the final ‘golden’ rivet.

The steel cantilever Bridge was designed by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, and named the Forth Bridge - but is colloquially referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge to avoid confusion with the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal makes her way under the Forth Rail Bridge in February 2004. Picture: Getty

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal makes her way under the Forth Rail Bridge in February 2004. Picture: Getty

The idea to create a permanent rail crossing over the Forth estuary came about in the 1870s when engineer Thomas Bouch was enlisted to design a railway suspension bridge to replace the Granton train ferry.

However, Bouch’s involvement was brought to a halt following the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879, when the bridge designed by him collapsed during a storm, killing over 70 people.

After the disaster, plans were scrapped and a new cantilever design was mooted to avoid such a disaster happening again.

Included in the plans were details for the structure to be strong enough to withstand the weight of heavy freight trains and the battering of galeforce winds, as well as allowing large ships to pass underneath;.

Avro Anson Bombers fly over the Forth Rail Bridge in May 1939

Avro Anson Bombers fly over the Forth Rail Bridge in May 1939

As a result, the Bridge required ten times the amount of metal as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the rail track was constructed 150ft above the water.

At the time, it was the largest cantilever span in the world at 520 metres, and remained so until 1919.

Work on the foundations of the Bridge began in February 1883. Its construction cost £3 million (about £300m today) and was split between several rival railway companies.

Not only was it the first British bridge to adopt the cantilever method and the first major British construction to be built almost entirely from steel, but at 1.5 miles long, the Forth Bridge was the longest bridge of its kind in the world.

Until recently, it took a team of between 30 and 40 painters over three years to apply the Forth Bridge’s famous red coating of paint.

It used to be claimed that following each completion the paint at the other end would begin to wear off and the team would need to start again.

Although most likely a popular myth, ‘Painting the Forth Bridge’ became an oft-used expression to describe an arduous task.

Today the bridge is coated with a paint designed to last up to 25 years before requiring a retouch.

Happy Birthday, Forth Bridge!