130 Years Of The Forth Rail Bridge


It’s hard to believe, but the Forth Rail Bridge opened on this day all the way back in 1890.

Thanks to this marvel of Victorian engineering, 200 trains still cross the Firth Of Forth every day. Annually, that’s more than three million passengers making the journey.

The 2.5km between the villages of South and North Queensferry might go by in a flash, but spanning them was no easy feat. It took nearly a decade and the work of 4,500 men to complete the bridge. It would finally opened by the Prince Of Wales, who would later be better known as King Edward VII.

The work was certainly worth it. A sight synonymous with Scotland, the bridge was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 with these words:

The railway bridge, crossing the Forth estuary in Scotland, had the world’s longest spans (541m) when it opened in 1890. It remains one of the greatest cantilever trussed bridges and continues to carry passengers and freight.

It’s distinctive industrial aesthetic is the result of a forthright and unadorned display of its structural components. Innovative in style, materials and scale, the Forth Bridge marks an important milestone in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long-distance land travel.

Fascinating facts

  • The overall length of the Forth Bridge is 2,467 metres
  • The highest point of the Forth Bridge stands 110 metres above high water and 137 metres above its foundations
  • 53,000 tonnes of steel and 6.5 million rivets were used to construct the Forth Bridge
  • The Forth Bridge’s piers are constructed from 120,000 cubic yards of concrete and masonry, faced with 2 ft thick granite
  • The total painted area of the Forth Bridge is 230,000 sq metres, requiring 240,000 litres of paint
  • In a 2016 VisitScotland poll named the bridge “Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder”
  • The bridge has featured on a series of Scottish banknotes, and a one pound coin issued by the Royal mint in 2004
  • On hot summer days, the bridge’s steelwork can expand by as much as three feet
  • Out of a workforce of more than 4,500 men, only 57 lives were lost during construction

Here for many years to come

Our Willie has taken a look at the Forth Rail Bridge on a few occasions, while exploring nearby — or indulging his passion for steam travel. In an issue of the “Friend” from last summer, he described how people crossed the river before the engineers set to work:

Crossing the wide Forth had long been an obstacle to the railway.

Before the bridge there was the world’s first ‘floating railway’, whereby trains could drive aboard one side, sail across and reconnect with the line on the other side.

We’ve tried to imagine how that might work here in the office, but so far without success!

We’re certainly glad to have a bridge instead . . .

And though it’s well into its second century, commuters and tourists alike can rest assured they’ll see it here for many years to come.

For more from the team, read our blog here.

Inspired to see more of Scotland? Click here to read some of our travel features.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.