THE man in charge of the Forth Road Bridge and another of its key engineers have quit, sparking fears about the future management of the crossing.
Bridgemaster Barry Colford and engineering manager Chris Tracey are understood to have resigned over the transfer of the crossing – one of Scotland’s key transport links – to a private company.
It follows the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency taking control of the bridge from the locally elected Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) and switching its operation to road maintenance firm Amey in June.
Colford and Tracey have played central roles in a series of major repairs to the 50-year-old bridge, which carries 24 million vehicles a year between Edinburgh and Fife.
These include an investigation which revealed corrosion of its main cables that led to the building of the £1.4 billion Queensferry Crossing.
Critics claim such precautionary checks would not have been carried out under the new private contract because of its limited scope, but this is denied by Transport Scotland.
Colford is understood to have left after his role and authority were diminished under the new contract – which the agency also denied.
He told Scotland on Sunday: “I guess a different individual might be angry and annoyed and might view it differently but I’m not. Just a pity about the loss of knowledge.” Colford, who is also the bridge’s chief engineer, worked on the crossing for 19 years, while Tracey has been there for 15 years.
They were responsible for some £60m of bridge work, which also included strengthening the main towers, replacing bolts on main cables and fitting a de-humidification system to halt the corrosion.
The bridge is due to be restricted to buses and taxis when the Queensferry Crossing opens next year, but there is likely to be pressure for it to take other traffic if congestion increases on its replacement.
Colford has moved to Philadelphia to become bridges preservation practice leader for engineering giant Aecom, where he will work on other suspension bridges. Tracey is now bridges manager for roads firm BEAR Scotland.
Edinburgh City Council transport convener Lesley Hinds, and last Feta convener, said: “My concern is for the future running of the bridge because of the loss of Barry’s expertise and experience.”
Fife councillor and past Feta convener Tony Martin said it had ordered precautionary main cable checks, expecting to find nothing, after the Severn Bridge suffered corrosion.
He said: “I do not think Amey would have pursued that as an engineering project. They would have opened the cable only if something had definitely happened.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “These claims are misleading, incorrect and disappointing. A three-way process involving Feta, Amey and Transport Scotland put in place the operational plans to ensure a successful handover and uninterrupted operation of the Forth Road Bridge.
“The chief engineer and bridgemaster and his team were fully consulted during the development of the new operating contract and had valuable and significant input.
“We are confident there was no drop in service during the transition and beyond from the service previously delivered by Feta.
“There is no limitation in the scope of the works that can be undertaken by Amey under the new contract. All inspection, maintenance, management, operations and works are undertaken in much the same way as was done previously by Feta, and all staff transferred across are engaged in similar tasks.
“It’s our understanding it was always Mr Colford’s intention to remain in post for a few months to share his experience and knowledge and help ensure a smooth transition before taking on a new challenge.”