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Tay Rail Bridge
Firth of Tay, Dundee to Fife, Scotland, UK
associated engineer
William Henry Barlow
Crawford Barlow
date  June 1882 - 20th June 1887
era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NO388286
ICE reference number  HEW 199
The current railway bridge at this spot is more than 3km long. It crosses the shallow estuary of the River Tay from Dundee to Wormit in Fife, replacing an earlier bridge by Thomas Bouch that is famous for having collapsed in a storm on 28th December 1879. Girders from the earlier bridge have been incorporated into the present one.
The Tay Rail Bridge carries double tracks along its 3.26km length, of which 2.3km is straight, running almost due north-south. The straight section is parallel to the site of former bridge, their centres being some 18m apart.
The original bridge failed because its river piers were too lightweight and not anchored properly. So contractor William Arrol’s innovative temporary works, including pontoon jack-up platforms, were designed to ensure that the new piers were substantial and well founded.
Including approaches, the whole structure covers 85 spans ranging in size from 21.6m to 74.7m. The bridge itself is carried on 73 pairs of piers. These are founded on tubular wrought iron caissons sunk into the river bed and backfilled with concrete. In the centre of the bridge, caisson diameter is typically 4.7m at the top and up to 7m at the base, with a tapered section between the pairs.
Above low water the caissons are faced with brick and each pair is joined above high water by a 2.1m deep horizontal concrete and brick beam supported on cast iron headers. This is topped with a tapered arch of wrought iron plate that supports the deck and framing. The wrought iron latticework framing, through which the trains run, is 4.9m high and made from hollow members that accommodate service pipes.
The central 13 spans of the bridge are flanked by bowstring girders 8.8m high at mid span. The southern four of these spans cross the navigable river channel where there is 23.5m clearance from the river at spring tides — 3.4m less than the first bridge had.
The spans are the same as those on Bouch's bridge and this made it feasible for some of its iron girders to be reused as facing girders on the non-navigation spans of the new bridge. Structural steelwork was then a technology at this time and it was used in the decking and for some internal frameworks within the piers, although wrought iron was used for most of the structure. Joints to allow expansion and contraction with temperature are located at 152m intervals along the bridge, and can accommodate a total change in length of up to 1.5m.
The 8.5m wide steel deck is made from plate approximately 10mm thick, riveted into a corrugated profile between 200mm and 400mm deep. The rail tracks are laid on sleepers bedded on ballast packed into the recesses of the corrugations.
Some work on site began in 1882, and the foundation stone was laid on 6th July 1883. The bridge was opened to public traffic on the 20th of June 1887, the 50th anniversary of the accession of HM Queen Victoria.
In 2003, Network Rail completed a £21m strengthening and refurbishment project that won the Saltire Civil Engineering Award. The work included removing tonnes of bird droppings and replacing many thousands of rivets — all by hand.
The Tay Rail Bridge was designed for two tracks but its condition and the increasing weight of freight trains mean that it will be reduced to carrying one track.
Resident engineer: Fletcher F.S. Kelsey
Contractor: William Arrol & Co
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"The Tay Viaduct, Dundee" by Crawford Barlow
ICE Proceedings, Paper No.2326, Vol.94, Issue 1888, pp.87-98, London, 1888
www.railbrit.co.uk
reference sources   CEH SHI
Location

Tay Rail Bridge