Genoa bridge disaster echoes 1879 Tay tragedy

Binsheng Zhang, professor in civil, structural and fire engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University. Picture: Peter Devlin
Binsheng Zhang, professor in civil, structural and fire engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University. Picture: Peter Devlin
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The late designer of the Italian bridge that collapsed last week, killing at least 42 people, will be left with the same tarnished reputation as the engineer behind the Tay Bridge, a Scottish expert has warned.

Binsheng Zhang, professor in civil, structural and fire engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that Genoa’s Morandi Bridge, just like the Forth Road Bridge, which was closed to most traffic last year after the opening of the Queensferry Crossing, was built in a “different era”.

The remaining section of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The remaining section of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“Just as the reputation of the Tay Bridge designer, Sir Thomas Bouch, was destroyed by the disaster, so many serious questions are being asked about Ricardo Morandi, the Rome-born civil engineer who gave his name, as well as his reputation, to the Genoa bridge,” he said.

Last week’s disaster, in which cars plunged from the motorway bridge as it collapsed in heavy rain, was reminiscent of the Tay Bridge disaster 140 years ago, which killed about 75 people when it collapsed into the river near Dundee as a train passed over it. Engineer Bouch’s professional reputation was left in ruins and, already in poor health, he died within a year of the disaster.

Zhang said: “It is interesting to compare and contrast Italy’s tragic experience with its road bridges with what has happened in Scotland. Perhaps that distant memory of the horror on the Tay in December 1879 had a lasting impact.

“The Forth Road Bridge, like the ill-fated Genoa bridge, was built in a different era, when traffic volumes and heavy goods vehicle loads were much lighter. Concerns about wear and tear on the Forth Road Bridge, and its increased loading, started to surface in the early 2000s.”

He added: “Uncomfortable though these processes can be for public authorities and for governments, in Scotland’s case it led eventually to the reduced use of the old road bridge and the design and execution of the much lauded Queensferry Crossing opened last year by the Queen.”

Local people had raised concerns about the strength of the Genoa bridge, but the company employed to carry out maintenance on the structure said it had been checked in line with official regulations.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. Prosecutors have said they are focusing either on possible design flaws or inadequate maintenance.