4 March 1890: Opening of the Forth Rail Bridge

The Forth Rail Bridge, 1890

The Forth Rail Bridge, 1890

Before 1890 the only direct route between Queensferry and North Queensferry in the east of Scotland was the ferry across the Firth of Forth. The crossing was slow and often dangerous and the four ferries, Queen Margaret, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Sir William Wallace, were sometimes prevented from sailing by the weather.

When the railways arrived a ferry further downstream, from Granton to Burntisland, was used to transport goods from Edinburgh to Fife. But a more efficient means of crossing was required and so Thomas Bouch designed a suspension bridge.

Work started on the first pier at Inchgarvie but it was abandoned after another structure by Bouch of a similar design, the Tay Bridge, collapsed in 1879. A new design by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, incorporating three double cantilevers, was commissioned and work commenced in 1883.

Over the course of the next seven years almost 51,000 Tons of steel was used in the construction of the Forth Bridge (or Forth Rail Bridge as it is often known). On 4 March 1890 the bridge was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) who drove in the last of the 6,500,000 rivets. The total cost of the project was £3,200,000 and at least 57 lives.

Three 100m tall towers support the 2.5km structure and the two track railway is carried at a height of 48.2m above the Firth of Forth. With main spans of 521m, the Forth Bridge was, at the time of its construction, the world’s largest cantilever bridge. To this day it still ranks second.

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