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Tay Bridge disaster
Tay Bridge disaster

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3.5 Sunday 28 December 1879

The morning of Sunday 28 December 1879 was quiet. When Captain Wright took his ferry boat, the Dundee, across the firth at 1.15 pm, he noted that the weather was good and the water was calm. The 4.15 pm crossing was just as uneventful, but the captain noted that the wind had freshened.

By 5.15 pm a gale was moving in from the west and the river, in the words of the captain ‘was getting up very fast’. The local shuttle train left Newport at 5.50 pm and arrived at Dundee station shortly after 6 pm. The passengers had had a worrying crossing. Their carriages had been buffeted by the growing force of the storm, and lines of sparks had flown from the wheel flanges under the sideways force of the wind.

The mail train from Edinburgh had left Burntisland at 5.20 pm, and by the time the local had arrived in Dundee, the mail had reached Thornton junction, 27 miles south of the bridge. The last station was St Fort, which lay in a small depression south of the bridge. The station staff collected the tickets of the passengers who were going on to Dundee. In addition to three men on the footplate of the locomotive, there were 72 passengers.

By 7.13 pm, the train had reached the signal station at Wormit. The driver slowed the locomotive down to walking pace so the fireman could take the staff for the single line from the signalman. Then he opened up the regulator, and took the train out onto the bridge and into the teeth of the westerly gale. The signalman returned to the shelter of his cabin, and sent the train-entering-section signal to his opposite number in the signal box at Dundee.