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NORTH BRITISH RAILWAY STUDY GROUP

The Tay Bridge

The Tay Bridge after the disaster
The Tay Bridge after the disaster

At approximately 7.08 pm on the night of the 28 December 1879, NBR engine no. 224, with its train of six carriages, entered on to the Tay Bridge in the teeth of a force 10 – 12 gale. It was nearing the end of its journey from Edinburgh to Dundee and, as it made its way through the 13 spans of the high girder section of the bridge, the structure collapsed under the train and the engine and carriages plunged into the stormy waters of the Tay. There were believed to have been 75 passengers and crew on the train that night and all lost their lives in the disaster.

The locomotive after recovery
The locomotive after recovery

It is now over 130 years since the fall of the Tay Bridge, and this tragedy, which rocked the Victorian age, still fascinates researchers today. The Inquiry into the disaster found that the bridge had been badly designed, constructed and maintained and that its fall ‘...was due to inherent defects in the structure , which must sooner or later have brought it down’. Why this was so, and the circumstances surrounding the events of that night, have been the subject of numerous books and papers published during the past fifty years.

More recent researchers have attempted to identify the key event which triggered the collapse of the structure as the train crossed over. Three different theories have been put forward: