by Phil Marsh

Plan to give visitors a close look at world famous Scottish rail icon

Published: 4th September 2013

Go Forth to the top off the bridge

Visitors would be able to get up close and personal with one of the world’s greatest engineering icons under a plan published by Network Rail in Scotland.

It is hoped that in 2015 the public will be able to reach a viewing platform on top of the world famous Forth Bridge. Two lifts are proposed to link a visitor centre near the north end of the bridge to the platform 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level.

How they did it

What was called a travelling platform was required during construction as the height of the bridge grew, a moving platform was devised to carry machinery and men upwards to the worksite as required.

Below the sea floor, huge supports were sunk up to 90 feet below the Firth of Forth. Workmen excavated downwards in a 7 feet high air chamber under the supports fed with compressed air. The giant steel tubes that formed the lower bridge member were 12 feet in diameter and it was from this the cantilever span was hung.

Guided walks

There might also be guided walks at the other end of the bridge to a Victorian viewing area that used to be open for guests on the stone tower between the Dalmeny viaduct section and the southern end of the first cantilever.

The bridge is 1.5 miles long and carries more than 200 trains a day. It was opened across the Firth of Forth at Queensferry in 1890 to complete the East Coast Main Line to Dundee and Aberdeen.

Million pound vision

Total cost of the proposal now being prepared by Network Rail could be £12 -15 million.

The concept of the new viewing platform on top of the most northerly of the three huge cantilevers was inspired by the success of a working area that had been temporarily in place there. It was used for access during a recent renovation project. That work ended the need for continuous painting of the familiar landmark.

The proposal for the North Queensferry end would include a visitor centre to be built underneath the northern cantilever.

Glass ceiling for all

Network Rail Scotland said the centre would have a glass roof to allow visitors a spectacular experience, looking up at the bridge. There would also be catering and shopping, along with facilities for education and exhibitions.

At the Edinburgh end Network Rail proposes to allow pre-booked parties using safety equipment to walk along an existing path under the track and then climb up the southern tower.

They said:

David Simpson, route managing director, Network Rail Scotland, said: “After 10 years spent restoring the bridge to its full glory, and in advance of the application for world heritage listing, these plans will offer the public the chance to visit the bridge and see it ‘close-up’ for the first time. We are hugely excited by these proposals and believe that they have the potential to be developed into an important new visitor attraction for Scotland.

“While these plans are still at development stage, we believe that the options we have revealed today can be delivered without impacting the well-loved view of the bridge. Any infrastructure on the bridge will be less visible than the existing scaffold platform and all building designs will be of premium quality.

“It’s an ambitious target, but we’d love to see these plans at least partially realised by 2015 to coincide with the bridge’s 125th anniversary. Any profits from the two facilities would be reinvested into the upkeep of the bridge.”

He added: “We are committed to working with communities, local authorities and relevant government bodies to develop plans that have a sustainable positive impact on the area. While we expect that visitor numbers will be high, we’re committed to encouraging as many of those visitors as possible to travel by rail and we will develop plans alongside train operators to incentivise that option.”

Scotland’s Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP, commenting on behalf of the Forth Bridge Forum, said: “I welcome Network Rail’s exciting and ambitious plans to combine an historic and vital part of Scotland’s transport network with a breath-taking attraction for visitors to enjoy. One of the key roles of the Forth Bridges Forum of which Network Rail is an active partner is to promote the Forth bridges and the surrounding area as a globally unique attraction for visitors. This announcement by Network Rail is the first stage of that aspiration.”

Painting a prize picture

Meanwhile, Historic Scotland is running a photographic competition, inviting the public to submit photographs of the bridge by 30 September 2013. All entries must be digital images and full details of how to enter can be found at: The top prize includes a visit hosted by Network Rail to the Forth Bridge, which is not normally accessible to the public at present.

Historic Scotland - which is part of the steering group established by the Forth Bridges Forum - will be submitting the railway bridge for World Heritage nomination to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and this photographic competition will help to inform the nomination process.

Forth Bridge facts supplied by Network Rail

Opened: 1890

Length: 2,467 metres

Main structure (portal to portal): 1,630 metres

Height of Bridge: High water to top: 110 metres

Foundation to top: 137 metres

Weight of steel in bridge: 53,000 tonnes

Number of rivets: 6.5 million

Concrete and masonry in piers: 120,000 cubic yards faced with 2ft thick granite

Operational information:

Number of trains per day: 200

Number of passengers per year: 3 million

Painting the bridge - Painting area: 230,000 sq metres, volume of paint used: 240,000 litres



1879 Bouch’s design for the Forth Bridge abandoned following Tay Bridge disaster

1882 Design submitted by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker approved

1883 Construction of Fowler and Baker’s cantilever structure began

1885 Last caisson launched

1886 Pier foundations completed

1887 Three towers completed

1889 Cantilevers completed

1890 Bridge formally opened by Prince of Wales on 4 March 1890

57 lives were lost during the construction of the Forth Bridge

At the height of its construction, more than 4,000 men were employed.

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