The Tay Bridge Disaster

Designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, the Tay Railway Bridge was opened in 1878.

The single-track bridge was a box construction with numerous box-section legs, up to 230ft apart, supporting the steam trains up to 88ft in the air as they snaked for almost two miles over the Tay and Perth-bound shipping. Bouch had not designed his structure with the estuary winds considered in his calculations, nor had the contractor been supervised to prevent his use of badly manufactured material.

These points were discovered after the bridge’s central sections failed during the stormy night of 28 December 1879 while a train was crossing. The train, with seventy five passengers and crew, poured off the collapsing bridge into the icy river with all lives lost.

Bouch, who was held entirely responsible, could not take the strain either and died shortly after the inquiry. When travelling on the 1887 replacement bridge over the Tay, the bases of the original’s supporting legs can be seen along the eastern side, reaching out of the cold water, a disturbing sight on a stormy crossing.

William McGonagall remembers the night of the 28th well in his famous poem ‘Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay’.