OpenLearn Scotland
OpenLearn Scotland

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Free course

OpenLearn Scotland

3.3 The Tay Bridge disaster

This course will analyse a particular historical event, the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. The disaster came towards the end of a period of intense development of the railway system in the UK. The bridge had materials that were well known: cast iron was used for the columns and wrought iron for the trussed girders. The construction of the bridge was, at the time, the largest single engineering project in Britain, the Tay estuary being about two miles wide near Dundee, and the bridge was the longest in the world.

The disaster had a major influence on the way bridges were built afterwards, in particular the replacement Tay Bridge built alongside the failed structure, and the larger Forth Rail Bridge near Edinburgh. This is a good case study for examining not only the way the investigation developed and the forensic tools used, but also for the new light that can be shed on the causes of the failure using methods not available to, or not appreciated by, the Victorian investigators

To access this material click on the course link below. It leads to a separate OpenLearn course and will open in a new window.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this free course you should be able to:

  • critically evaluate disasters and their causes, especially from mechanical or material failures;

  • demonstrate the importance of systematic and rigorous analysis of disasters so that future failures can be avoided or prevented.



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