Scotlands History

The Tay Bridge Disaster

The original Tay Bridge was designed by railway engineer Thomas Bouch (1822-80), using cast iron and wrought iron. The use of materials with different properties was later found to be a major design flaw: cast iron is very brittle, while wrought iron is very durable. The survey also misjudged the depth of the bedrock. The piers were redesigned, but their number was reduced - leading to longer spans. 

Opened in early 1878, the Tay Bridge was the world’s longest bridge at two miles from bank to bank. It greatly reduced the rail journey from Dundee to London. Even Queen Victoria used the bridge to travel to Balmoral, and she had knighted Thomas Bouch.

On 28 December 1879, a force 10 or 11 gale was blowing down the estuary. The bridge could not withstand the force. A section collapsed, taking a passenger train with it into the icy waters of the Tay; drowning all 75 people on board. Engine number 224 was later rescued, repaired and continued working until 1919.

Sir William Arrol, later to design the Forth Railway Bridge, redesigned and built a sturdier Tay Bridge using steel. It remains in use today.

  • Black and white drawing of boats battling stormy waters near a collapsed bridge

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