Tay Bridge disaster
Tay Bridge disaster

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Tay Bridge disaster

5.7 Fitment flaws

The secondary category of defects observed by Law and his team refer to defects of fitment of the columns and braces together during construction of the bridge. He noted many bolt holes had been deliberately enlarged, but why this was necessary remains unclear, especially as the bolts were 0.125 inch smaller than the holes. Perhaps burrs or points in the holes needed removal before the bolts would fit correctly. The quadrants also came in for criticism for their poor fit to the columns, and it is certainly true they usually failed here during the collapse (see Figures 27, 28, 32 and 35).

Table 6 Tay Bridge defects: fitment flaws

Fitment flaw Number Where found Reference
1 enlarged, damaged bolt holes formed during erection of piers many e.g. P2 14,341
2 quadrants for horizontal tie rods poorly fitted; metal only 0.5 inch thick most 14,593 12,638
3 four bolts attaching L girders to pier heads, rather than eight 1 P2 14,609 12,651
4 extra set of holes drilled in flange 1 P1, T1, C3 14,718
5 poor adhesion between cement and masonry at pier base many piers e.g. P9, C6 12,533
6 base bolts poorly embedded many piers ? 12,565
7 poor quality of cement in some columns a few columns (?) ?P6+ 12,876
8 cement in joint a few columns P5, 6 ,C1 12,694
9 gibs/cotters poor fit: cotter compressed when tie bar strained 2 cotters/gib only, 2 gibs/cotter OK 14,374 12,619
10 packing pieces used in tie bars by noble 12 picked up from pier bases e.g. P1, T1/2, C5/6, C5/3, 4 12,676
Adapted from Law's evidence to BoT enquiry. References are to question number in transcript, from evidence-in-chief and cross-examination. P = pier, T = tier, C = column, ? = unknown

Isolated examples of poor flange joints were mentioned, especially in the context of the L girders at the pier heads. The L girders can be seen in Figures 34 and 36 just under the main girders of the bridge, with rivetted end plates. There were two such girders, each attaching the two sets of three tiers of columns, and one was found with only half the required set of bolts. Another flange joint had an extra set of holes drilled, presumably because of misalignment.

Although slag inclusions were apparently extensive, few if any are visible in the pictures. In addition, the metal was said to be ‘sluggish’, but it is not clear what defects were specifically produced in the columns.

Most columns were said to have poorly formed flange ends, but those visible in the pictures (for example Figure 26) appear reasonably flat. On the other hand, if cement could trickle through the joints, then fitment in some cases would have been faulty.

The foundations also came in for criticism, especially on those relatively few piers where the masonry had failed in the collapse, such as pier 5 (Figure 44) although not all foundations had failed like this (see Figure 45). Base bolts were found to be poorly embedded in the masonry, and the cement barely held the stones together. Some of the cement was apparently of poor quality, although there is rather little evidence of the problem. With one exception (Figure 32), the cement has broken cleanly (for example, in the column end in Figure 26, as one would expect for a brittle material.

Figure 44
Figure 44 Pier 5, looking north, showing tilting of masonry. The columns visible on the platform are from the most westerly tiers and have toppled to the east
Figure 45
Figure 45 Pier 4, looking north, showing intact masonry. Some columns have fallen to the west – those hanging down near the water – while others on the platform have tilted to the east

The joints in the many tie bars however, came in for sustained critical comment. The cotters in particular, fitted the slot rather poorly, and were held only by friction of metal against metal. It could easily loosen, as was observed by Mr Noble in his many attempts to tighten them after construction. He packed them with shims. But if this was so widespread a problem, was it not an indication of a design rather than a fitment problem?


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus