Tay Bridge Collapse (1879)


The Tay Bridge Disaster occurred on 28 December, 1879 while a train carrying 75 people was passing over it.  The bridge collapse happened in the midst of a violent wind storm and caused the train to plunge into the Firth of Forth, killing everyone aboard.  The Tay Bridge was designed by structural engineer Sir Thomas Bouch, but his design contained many structural deficiencies which lead to the collapse.  Bouch had received advice from several engineers in relation to wind loading of the bridge, that a value of 10 pounds per square foot (psf) was a reasonable allowance.  However, in reality, a wind load of 20 psf was the regulatory wind loading allowance.  The wind loading error led to the size of piers being much narrower with weaker cross bracing compared to similar bridges that Bouch had previously designed.  There were numerous other problems that led to the failure including several detailed calculation errors, poor maintenance and poor quality control of pier castings.  All of these flaws either directly or partly fell under Bouch’s responsibility.  Bouch died in the same year with his reputation as an engineer forever being tarnished.  This collapse was an important lesson that showed the possible effects an engineer may have on public safety.  It highlighted the deadly consequences that negligence and incompetence can have on large civil structures.  After this disaster, extensive wind loading analysis became an important factor of bridge design.  Tragedies like this helped lead to the improvement of codebooks and regulations, while influencing the standard of care that is conducted by engineers today.

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