The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, to the east of the Forth Road Bridge, and 14 km (9 miles) west of central Edinburgh. It is often called the Forth Rail Bridge or Forth Railway Bridge to distinguish it from the Forth Road Bridge, but should correctly be referred to as the Forth Bridge. The bridge connects Scotland's capital Edinburgh with Fife, and acts as a major artery connecting the north-east and south-east of the country.
Construction of an earlier bridge, designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, got as far as the laying of the foundation stone, but was stopped after the failure of another of his works, the Tay Bridge. Bouch had proposed a suspension bridge but the public inquiry into the Tay bridge disaster showed that he had under-designed the structure and mistakenly used cast iron, which weakened the entire structure. Upon Bouch's death the project was handed over to Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker, who designed a structure that was built by Sir William Arrol & Co. between 1883 and 1890. Baker – "one of the most remarkable civil engineers Britain ever produced" – and his colleague Allan Stewart received the major credit for design and overseeing building work. During its construction, over 450 workers were injured and 98 lost their lives.
The bridge was built in steel alone, the first bridge in Britain to use that material. It was the first major structure in Britain to be constructed of steel; Its contemporary, the Eiffel Tower was built of wrought iron.
Large amounts of steel had only become available after the invention of the Bessemer process in 1855. Until 1877 the British Board of Trade had limited the use of steel in structural engineering because the process produced steel of unpredictable strength. Only the Siemens-Martin open-hearth process developed by 1875 yielded steel of consistent quality.
The bridge is, even today, regarded as an engineering marvel. It is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) in length, and the double track is elevated 46 m (approx. 150 ft) above high tide. It consists of two main spans of 1,710 ft (520 m), two side spans of 675 ft, 15 approach spans of 168 ft (51 m), and five of 25 ft (7.6 m). Each main span comprises two 680 ft (210 m) cantilever arms supporting a central 350 ft (110 m) span girder bridge. The three great four-tower cantilever structures are 340 ft (104 m) tall, each 70 ft (21 m) diameter foot resting on a separate foundation. The southern group of foundations had to be constructed as caissons under compressed air, to a depth of 90 ft (27 m). At its peak, approximately 4,600 workers were employed in its construction.
In 2005, a project was set up by the Queensferry History Group to establish a memorial to those workers who died during the bridge's construction. In North Queensferry, a decision was also made to set up memorial benches to commemorate those who died during the construction of both the rail and the road bridges, and to seek support for this project from Fife Council.
The Forth road and rail bridges; the rail bridge is on the right.
The use of a cantilever in bridge design was not a new idea, but the scale of Baker's undertaking was a pioneering effort, later followed in different parts of the world. Much of the work done was without precedent, including calculations for incidence of erection stresses, provisions made for reducing future maintenance costs, calculations for wind pressures made evident by the Tay Bridge disaster, the effect of temperature stresses on the structure, and so on.
Where possible, the bridge used natural features such as Inchgarvie, an island, the promontories on either side of the firth at this point, and also the high banks on either side.