The Tay Bridge Disaster occurred on the evening of the 28th December 1879 close to the city of Dundee in Scotland. The bridge crossed the Firth of Tay, a wide expanse of water and was designed by Sir Thomas Bouch a noted railway engineer. A violent storm caused the collapse which occurred while a train was crossing the bridge. All those on board the train were killed. Of the 75 that died, only 46 bodies were found, two of those were not recovered until February 1880.
The investigation into what went wrong quickly found faults in the design, the materials used in construction and the bridge not having an allowance for wind loads. The official enquiry concluded that the bridge was badly designed, badly built and badly maintained. That its downfall was due to the inherent structural defects which would have sooner or later brought it down. The designer of the bridge was in the opinion of the enquiry team mainly to blame.
The maintenance inspector had heard joints chattering just a few months after the bridge opened in June 1878 and it was clear that the central structure of the bridge had been deteriorating for a number of months before the accident. The chattering was an indication that the joints had loosened and no attempt was made to tighten or replace the faulty joints. Instead pieces of iron had been hammered into place to stop the rattling of the joints as trains crossed the bridge.
Painters working on the bridge during the summer of 1879 complained about the centre section being somewhat unstable and passengers on trains complained about the strange motion felt on the trains when crossing in a northerly direction. All this was ignored by the owners of the bridge. Trains were timed as they crossed the bridge, the speed limit had been set at 25 mph or 40kph, many were completing the crossing at 40 mph or 64 kph. Once the enquiry completed its findings the reputation of the designer was destroyed, he died within a year of the disaster.
Some theories claimed that the rear carriages derailed after being blown off the rails by the wind and this caused the bridge to collapse. This theory was dismissed as to the bridge should have been capable of remaining intact despite a derailment. Also over half a mile of the bridge was destroyed and not just the section where the train was located.
The locomotive was salvaged from the water and repaired, it continued to be used until 1919. It acquired the nickname of ‘the diver’ and many drivers were reluctant to take it across the rebuilt bridge.
On the same Edinburgh to Aberdeen line but a little further to the north in Forfar, between Carnoustie and Arbroath another railway accident happened also on the 28th of December, this one in 1906. This one caused the loss of 22 lives and a later enquiry put the blame on driver error.
One train was stationary at the Elliot Junction railway station during a blizzard when it was hit by a second train on the same section of track. The blame was placed on the driver for failing to the instruction of driving with caution. Also alcohol was considered to have played a role as a bar on the platform at Arbroath station was a very desirable location and would be better served as a coffee shop and refreshment room.