5.11 Further evidence on stability

Given the importance of establishing the nature of the stability of the bridge, further witnesses were called at a later stage in the enquiry to shed some light on the problem. If Mr Noble had observed chattering of the joints in the tie bars, had similar phenomena been observed earlier?

The key witnesses were the engineers in charge of erecting and finalising the structure before it was opened in May 1878, Major-general Hutchinson, the BoT inspector who approved the structure for publi
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5.10 Bridge stability

Any fracture of the diagonal wind brace tie bars could allow substantial lateral movement at the top of the piers. If these tie bars had already been injured by the previous train to cross the bridge, it would have only taken a little extra effort to complete the process as the mail train arrived over each pier supporting the high girders. Once the wind braces had failed completely, and the struts fractured at their connections each pier would behave as two separate supporting structures.


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5.9 Mechanical tests by David Kirkaldy

In order to determine which of the several parts of the joint were weakest, and gain some idea of the scatter in strength, David Kirkaldy was employed by Henry Law to test various samples he had collected from the bases of the fallen piers. David Kirkaldy had a good reputation for accurate and rigorous mechanical testing of materials using a large tensometer he had designed and built in London (see Input 9, linked below).

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5.8 Design problems

Table 7 summarises the many design problems of the piers uncovered by Mr Law and his team. We have already seen the numerous fractured lugs in the remains of the bridge, shown in Figure 29. Was the weakness of the lugs somehow associated with their shape?

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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 i
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5.6 Casting defects

The first class of defect would have been inferred from examination of fractures in the cast-iron columns, where, for example, the wall thickness would be exposed for measurement. However, some of the casting defects he mentioned in his testimony – and which were to gain some notoriety both in the popular press accounts of the enquiry and in later accounts – are difficult to describe in detail because he did not specify where they were found in the debris, or how exactly they had contribu
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5.5 Evidence of Henry Law

Henry Law's report is brief and to the point, and includes a substantial appendix giving detailed calculations of the effects of wind pressure on the structure (not included in Paper 1). Further information on his inspection of the remains – the two standing piers, the twelve wrecked piers the high girders and the train within – was given during his testimony before the enquiry.

Law was able to examine the extant remains in considerable detail, and noticed numerous defects in the br
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5.4 Expert evidence: an overview

The second part of the enquiry was devoted to analysis of the disaster. There were three engineers appointed: Mr Henry Law for the enquiry, and Dr William Pole and Mr Allan Stewart acting on behalf of the NBR. In addition, Mr Law collected samples of columnar material and wrought iron straps, bolts and struts for mechanical testing, as well as many broken parts to be shown as exhibits at the enquiry. He asked Mr David Kirkaldy to test the samples using a hydraulically operated tensometer.


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Loosening of tie bars

On Monday, 19 April, when the sitting had been moved to Westminster, such comment received dramatic but indirect support from the man put in charge of maintaining the fabric of the bridge after completion and up to the disaster, Mr Noble. Although much of his time was spent examining the pier foundations, which involved measuring the depth of water, questions were asked about the piers:

11,404. Leaving the foundati
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Bridge oscillations

Testimony was taken from the many workers employed during construction and painting of the structure just after completion. Their evidence was more compelling, especially from painters working at the top of the high girders piers during passage of trains, as well as during windy weather. They were painting the cast iron of the piers during the summer of 1879. In the main, they reported feeling strong sideways as well as vertical motion:

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5.2 Eye-witness testimony

Their first main aim was to question local witnesses, including several who claimed to have seen the fall itself. One especially impressive eye witness was Alexander Maxwell, who lived on Magdalen Green, near the north end of the bridge. He was examined by Mr Trayner, counsel for the enquiry:

942. You are an engineer? – Yes

943. You live with your father, who is an ex-baillie of this town at Magdalen Green,
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5.1 Overview

The enquiry team set up by the Board of Trade, and sitting in Dundee Court House, held an initial session lasting several days starting on Saturday 3 January 1880. There were three members chaired by Mr Rothery, Commissioner of Wrecks. The others were Colonel Yolland, the Inspector of Railways, and Mr W H Barlow, president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and a distinguished practising civil engineer.

Henry Rothery was a mathematics graduate but trained as a barrister. He had been a
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4.11 Model for pier failure

Figure 39 shows a simple model to explain the failure of the piers. The lateral wind loading on the top of the pier bends to shear the pier from a rectangle into a parallelogram. In turn, this stretches the tie bars and also strains the bolted joints at the top and bottom of each column.

Figure 39
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4.10 High girders and the train

Divers found the high girders lying on their sides in the shallow water of the river bed a short distance away (Figure 22), within which the almost intact remains of the train itself was found. No bodies were recovered because they had all been washed away by the river or tide. Although bodies were recovered in the months that followed, some 29 victims were never found.

Most of the train was lying inside the fifth span
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4.9 Survey results

We have inspected some of the remains of the collapsed bridge using the set of photographs taken shortly after the disaster for the official inquiry. It is important to emphasise that the pictures form only a small part of the total of fifty, but those chosen were selected to give the clearest evidence of the failure modes in the cast-iron piers that supported the high girders. They are by the far the best real evidence to rely on to understand how and why the structure failed.

It would
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4.8 Photographs showing the detail: standing pier 28

The final part of the survey deals with the two standing piers connected to the lower girders left after the high girders section fell during the disaster. The whole of pier 28 is shown in Figure 34, and two close-ups of the columns are shown in Figures 35 and 36.

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4.7 Photographs showing the detail: damage to pier 1

The final example of a partly collapsed pier is pier 1, photographed from the base of pier 28 and shown in Figure 32. Fracture damage to the flange at the top of the second tier is visible on the east-most column (top right); a large chunk of metal has broken off. The southern column (right of centre) exhibits a matching fracture where the parts are still held in position by the wrought iron strut. Propagation of the same cr
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4.6 Photographs showing the detail: debris field

The relatively clear platform of pier 3 is also visible in Figure 28. There are several pieces of shaped metal on the floor, at least one appears to be a bolt. A close-up of the floor, taken looking east, is shown in Figure 31. So, what are the fragments? At least three bolts are visible, but more significantly, there are nine broken lug ends. These are the
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4.5 Photographs showing the detail: broken lugs

The bases of the columns to which they were attached originally on pier 3 deserve closer inspection. Even at this scale, the two fractured lugs where the tie bars were formerly fixed are clearly visible at the right-hand and left-hand sides of Figure 28 (arrowed). The southern (left-hand) column base in Figure 28 is shown at about ×8 magnification in F
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4.4 Photographs showing the detail: partly collapsed piers

There were only two piers that showed tiers still standing, piers 1 and 3, next to the south pier still standing (pier 28). They are important because the debris lying on the platforms is much reduced, giving clear views of the platform surface and the state of damage of the upstanding tiers.

Two views are shown of pier 3, a view from pier 2 (Figure 27), and a close-up of the lowest tier looking west (Author(s): No creator set