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Materials Engineering Group



Tay Bridge Disaster

Reappraisal of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879;

A book by Dr. P R Lewis

A .pdf copy of paper reappraising
the accident by Dr. P R Lewis and Ken Reynolds.

Other links to the reappraisal of the Tay Bridge


Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879

Author Dr. P.R. Lewis

Britain's worst engineering disaster revisited. Dr. Peter Lewis tells the real story of how the Tay Bridge so spectacularly collapsed.

Paperback 192 pages (November 30, 2004)
Publisher: Tempus Publishing
ISBN: 0752431609


Further Information about the reappraisal of the Tay Bridge
disaster of 1879:

As part of our Forensic Engineering Course (T839), a BBC - OU website with information about the bridge design, background and disaster theories. With an interactive section on how to 'Solve the riddle of the Tay Bridge'.

A link to Dundee Central Library web pages, more information including original photographs.


A paper entitled 'Forensic engineering: a reappraisal of the Tay Bridge disaster' by Dr. Peter Lewis and Ken Reynolds. Download the complete paper;

as a large .pdf file (8.6MB) with high resolution images, or a smaller .pdf file (631 KB) with low resolution images.

A summary of the above files:

From the early days of the Open University we have used case studies of disasters (such as the Markham Colliery incident of 1973, in which eighteen miners died when a brake rod failed, causing a pit cage to fall to the bottom of a shaft) to demonstrate the importance of fatigue. In our new course (T839) on forensic engineering, the block on catastrophic failures follows earlier blocks which present case studies of more recent product failures on a much smaller scale. We use our own published papers as the basis for student analysis, and expand the text where necessary to explain the underlying principles.

The TAY BRIDGE disaster of 1879 shocked the world and led to important changes in bridge design, construction, and inspection. The Court of Inquiry produced its final report in six months, and condemned the structure for its design and materials defects. However, the court did not specify exactly how the final collapse of the ‘high girders’ section occurred on the night of the accident. By reexamining the wealth of evidence surviving from the time, in particular the photographic archive and the court proceedings, we have looked again at the causes of the disaster. Our reappraisal confirms the conclusions of the original inquiry, but it also extends them by suggesting that lateral oscillations were induced in the high girders section of the bridge by trains passing over a slight misalignment in the track. The amplitude of these oscillations grew with time, because joints holding the bridge together were defective, and this in turn resulted in fatigue cracks being induced in the cast iron lugs, which reached criticality on the night of the disaster. Numerous east—west lugs fractured when a local train passed over the bridge in a westerly gale on the evening of 28 December 1879. The express train which followed was much heavier, and the towers in the high girders collapsed progressively as the train was part way over the section. Although wind loads contributed to the disaster. the bridge was already severely defective owing to failure of its most important stabilising elements.







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