Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 6: ‘The Tay Bridge’ (4 September, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events.

 

Sir,—I have read all that has been printed in your paper about the unfortunate Tay Bridge, and have paid attention to the different plans proposed and the speeches of others who have no plans, but whose aim seems to be to pull the thing to pieces.

I am not aware of any one proposing to sink a new pier outside of each of the old ones, if the old ones are faulty, which I don’t believe. I think when those girders fell with the train in them the piers got such a test as I hope they never will again. The leverage was something awful. When they stood that I think it was proof enough, but by sinking a new pier outside of each old one they may go any depth they please and make sure of the outside being right. If there should be anything wrong let them sheet-pile it where the dotted lines are and fill with concrete. I don’t think many will want it. The foundations, I believe, are a good job, but the columns and girders have been shameful. They talked of an unholy alliance. What gentleman builds an addition to his house by first pulling down the old one? Who mends an old coat with an old rag? Such trash carried weight before the Committee.—I am, &c.,

Torbain, Kirkcaldy. W. Johnstone.

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 5: ‘The Tay Bridge Report—Mr Rothery and his Colleagues’ (17 July, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. This collection of letters sent by the solicitors of Bouch to ‘The People’s Journal’ throw doubt on the operation of the inquiry surrounding their client. Thomas Bouch’s reputation as one of the worlds leading engineers was ruined by Tay Rail Bridge. He would die on 30 October 1880, less than a year after the disaster.

 

Sir,—We beg to send you copy of a correspondence which we, as solicitors for Sir Thomas Bouch, have had with Colonel Yolland and Mr Barlow, two of the members of the Court of Inquiry on the Tay Bridge disaster, in reference to the separate Report made by their colleague, Mr Rothery, to the Board of Trade. We shall feel obliged by your giving publicity to this correspondence, on which it is unnecessary for us to comment, as it speaks for itself.—We are, &c.,

A.J. & J. Dickson.

2 Queen Street, Edinburgh,

14th July 1880.

 

1. Letter—Messrs A.J. & J. Dickson, W.S., Edinburgh, to Colonel Yolland, R.E., Board of Trade.

Edinburgh, 9th July 1880.

Sir,—On perusing Mr Rothery’s Report, we find that it contains several most injurious (and, as we think, unjust) statements and charges reflecting on Sir Thomas Bouch, which appear to us to be inconsistent with the opinions and findings contained in the Joint Report of yourself and Mr Barlow, and which certainly are not countenanced by anything therein contained. Had these statements and charges been put forward simply as the opinions of Mr Rothery alone we should have said nothing, but Mr Rothery, at §137 of his Report, makes the following statement:—“The points on which we are not agreed are as to whether some facts which have come out in the course of the inquiry ought or ought not to be mentioned,” thereby implying, that you agree with him as to the truth of the facts. Again, at §142 Mr Rothery implies that you concur in the justice of his censures, although not thinking it your duty to say so. And in the closing words of his Report Mr Rothery states explicitly—“Although my colleagues have not thought fit to join in this Report they do not differ, except perhaps on very minor points, from the conclusions at which I have arrived.”

It is manifest that Mr Rothery has thereby represented that all the findings and censures of his Report, with some very minor exceptions, are concurred in by yourself and Mr Barlow, and entitled to the great additional weight which such concurrence would necessarily give. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 5: ‘The Tay Bridge Report—Mr Rothery and his Colleagues’ (17 July, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 4: ‘Proposed Reconstruction of the Tay Bridge’ (20 March, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. In this letter John Roy, an engineer and architect in the United States gives his view on the reasons behind the bridge’s failure, and how it should be rebuilt.

 

Sir,—Pardon me for intruding upon you in the hour of your calamity. A friend sent me copies of your valuable Journal of the 10th, 17th, and 24th of January 1880, giving an account of the loss of life and destruction of the Tay Bridge at 7.16 P.M., December 28th, 1879.

The evidence shows the gale was unprecedented in that part of the world. Capt. Scott says, “In the gusts it came as high as 11, and at the time the wind was almost due west, directly at right angles to the high girders.” Eleven inches of water is equal to a pressure upon a square foot of 57 1/4 pounds, under which the wind travels 107 miles per hour. In this country the wind often blows so as a man cannot stand before it. On Mount Washington, in the State of New Hampshire, January 1878, the velocity of the wind was over 100 miles an hour during nine different days, but the highest registered is:—

November 29th, 1875 6 P.M. velocity, 170 miles per hour
December 13th, 1875 do. do. 108 do.
January — 1876 do. do. 132 do.
February 24th, 1876 do. do. 163 do.
March 22d, 1876 do. do. 100 do.
May 1st, 1876 do. do. 108 do.

From the testimony of Captain Scott I infer that no long, high, and light iron bridge with a single track ought to be built at right angles to the prevailing winds and sea in an exposed position like that of the Tay Bridge. Had the Tay Bridge been built on a curve to the west, the girders forming a polygon, only one girder would be exposed at right angles to any wind, and the two adjoining girders would form a strut or tie to the strained girder; this would form an arch against the west wind and sea, and a suspension bridge to resist eastern storms. The strength of such a bridge would be in proportion to the length of the versed sign of the segment, the tensile and compressive force of the iron would be brought into action in a more favourable manner, and much of the cross or transverse strain avoided. A long train would add to its lateral strength as a brace and poise The train itself forming part of a curve, the leverage of its wheel base would be increased in proportion to the length of the versed sign of the segment. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 4: ‘Proposed Reconstruction of the Tay Bridge’ (20 March, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 3: ‘The Tay Bridge of the Past and Future’ (31 January, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. In this letter William Leslie from Alyth dismisses some of the previous letters to the paper about the bridge’s faults. There is also a note from a correspondent from Derbyshire who decries the cheapness of the materials used.

 

Sir,—I have read with much interest all the various letters on the above subject which have lately appeared in your paper, some of these written by more indignant than experienced persons. One correspondent writes—”No doubt the weakness of the Bridge was its length.” There, I may say, he is decidedly under a mistake, for the Bridge was designed so as to be equally strong between any two of the highest pillars as between the first pillar and the land, and if these pillars were to blame the error lay in the calculation of their strength and not in the length of the Bridge. Another says that, “seeing the iron pillars were tubular and filled with cement, perhaps water had got into them, and when the frosty weather came the water expanded and the iron contracted, so damaging the pillars.” This is right so far, although no water could have got into these pillars. Nevertheless, seeing firmed cement has no yield, the contraction of these pillars should have been provided against. This could easily have been done by putting between the cement and the pillars oneply of ordinary pipe bagging. Another condemns the Bridge at once as “a wind trap,” and tries to make out that the lattice girders strain the supporting piers greater than the plates. In support of his theory he says—”Had the side of the Bridge presented a solid body to the wind the current would have divided before it reached the Bridge, and passed above and underneath it.” Now, if this was the case, bridges built on the solid or plated design (such as tubular bridges) would require no extra support to provide against oscillation, and would be recommended above all others. But such is not the case. Although the Bridge had presented a solid body to the wind, and divided the current into two parts, the space between the currents was not a vacuum, but compressed air equal in strength to the passing currents, and the stronger these currents grew the lesser grew this space, and the greater the pressure against the side of the Bridge. The lattice girder prevented this pressure, was equal to any other pattern in strength, superior in beauty, and I believe inferior in price. Yet, for one fault, I would condemn the bare lattice girder, that fault being the want of protection to the passing train from the wind. I believe this will be one of the most difficult points to settle in the reconstruction of the Bridge. Although no carriage was ever proved to be overturned by the wind, yet it would be well to provide against it, seeing the wind once before blew one of these girders—far heavier than any carriage—from the top of the Bridge into the river. As to the question of rebuilt, continuing the levels where the Bridge is broken. This would only lower the shipping height some twelve or fifteen feet, to which the town of Perth could not reasonably object, as it would not lessen their shipping interest nor diminish their traffic. Yet it would not be commendable to allow the North British Railway Company to run passenger trains across the Bridge until another line of rails was added, b a new Bridge built alongside the present one and firmly connected with it, both having supports slanting out into the river as far as the fallen engine lies from the base of the upright piers, thus forming a bridge that would meet the demands of the public, and on which the most timid passengers could safely venture.—I am &c.,

Cumno, Alyth. Wm. Leslie. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 3: ‘The Tay Bridge of the Past and Future’ (31 January, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 2: ‘The Tay Bridge A Wind-Trap’ (17 January, 1880)

On the 28 December 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. In this letter “A.H.” discusses a perceived design flaw in the bridge.

 

“A.H.” writes:—The Tay Bridge was a wind-trap because it was constructed with open lattice work. Those who understand the matter know this; those who do not may think the statement ridiculous. The latter believe, and the engineers who designed the Bridge seem to have believed, that by constructing the sides with open lattice work the wind would pass through without exerting its full powers on the Bridge. Let us examine the facts and illustrate them. Any one who has stood by the side of an exposed wall in a snow-storm and watched the driving snowflakes must have noticed that the current becomes deflected a good distance before reaching the wall, and, instead of striking the wall, as one would at first sight suppose, passes right over. This is what always happens with a wall close from bottom to top. Watch it as it blows towards an open, sparred wall of the same height, and you will see it make straight for the opener fence, which it will strike with great force and will not pass through to the extent one might suppose (just as in the case of the close wall), which it strikes with very much more force than would at first sight appear. From where this is written there are some narrow strips of plantation; one of them is protected by a boarding 5 feet high, and this boarding is close. The other was protected in the same way, but with this important difference, it was composed of sparred work. The spare were nailed on perpendicularly, with two inches between them; they are 4 inches broad. What is the result? Equally exposed, the sparred fence has been utterly demolished. Pieces of it too large for two men to carry were blown twenty, and in one instance forty-five yards. The close one is a little awayed, but has sustained no serious damage. Mark this difference in the way each was secure. The close one was put up carefully, the posts to which it was nailed being of a substantial nature, and they were carefully secured in the ground. Its purpose was to shelter a plantation, and it only incurred the force of the gale at a little distance beyond where it was put. The other was equally well put up, and had the additional support of a very securely fixed stay (buttress) to every post. Those who put it up were acquainted with the above facts as to the manner wind behaves with close and lattice work, and yet it is wholly ruined, while the other stands. While it stood it afforded much better shelter than the close one; it caught the current of wind; the other (close) one deflected it. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 2: ‘The Tay Bridge A Wind-Trap’ (17 January, 1880)”

Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 1: ‘The Moral of the Tay Bridge Disaster’ (10 January, 1880)

On this day (28 December) in 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in a terrible storm. The disaster claimed the lives of all 75 passengers (although only 60 bodies were found). Naturally the tragedy featured heavily in ‘The People’s Journal’ and large features on the inquests were regularly found in the paper throughout 1880. Amongst the reporting there were also letters from readers published about the events. The first of these, by ‘A Christian Democrat’, discussed the way competition had harmed the rail system and, ahead of his time, called for the nationalisation of the railways.

 

 

Sir,—The destruction of the Tay Bridge teaches several important lessons to all who are interested in railway enterprise. The Bridge was too high and too narrow for its width. This is the simple explanation of the disaster. From the first it should have been a double line. The Bridge must be rebuilt all on the same level, made firm and good, and the traffic resumed as quickly as possible on the single line. Then a new Bridge should be made alongside the present structure, and the two Bridges united firmly together with tie-rods. It requires no engineering skill at all to see that this is the effectual remedy for all the trouble. Then the traffic will flow in a grand unbroken stream. The capital must be provided, and to the great Companies really interested the money required is not considerable. In the present mood of London it will not be difficult to raise the money with a guarantee by the East Coast lines of even a small minimum dividend. The most practical help to the shareholders of the North British, who deserve well of the public, would be a speedy and influential movement in this direction. Shares should be issued at one pound each. The working men of England will feel a pride in coming forward in their thousands to share in the honour of great national work like this. They know that failure is the usual road to real and permanent success. Often mechanical difficulties seem about to frustrate a clever idea, but they know that careful attention to the causes of errors in the end ensures safety and triumph. Let Sir Thomas Bouch take heart; the working men of Scotland will help him, and all classes will join in strengthening his hands in this hour of trial. Continue reading “Tay Bridge Disaster Letters 1: ‘The Moral of the Tay Bridge Disaster’ (10 January, 1880)”