THE £15 million Forth Bridge visitor centre could be fully operational in 2017, it has emerged.
Plans will see two tourism hubs built on either side of the crossing – with a “panoramic” lift set to whisk visitors up to a viewing platform 110 metres above sea level.
Rail bosses insisted the full attraction could be up and running towards the end of 2017 – but added a two-hour walkway leading from South Queensferry up into the steel girders of the bridge could open as early as 2016.
The news comes after Network Rail announced that designers had been appointed to drive forward plans for the project, with detailed blueprints set to go before council planning chiefs towards the end of next year.
Engineering and design consultancy Arup won the six-figure contract to steer the project, with support from local firm WT Architecture and landscapers the Paul Hogarth Company. Proposals for the bridge include a visitor centre underneath its northern Fife Tower in North Queensferry, featuring a cafe, shop and exhibition space – as well as two elevators leading up to a panoramic viewing platform.
In South Queensferry, guided tours for up to 15 visitors will be available along a walkway scaling the southern Queensferry Tower.
William Tunnell, owner of WT Architecture, insisted the firm was “over the moon” to have been selected.
He said: “It’s a great privilege and a great brief, and we were lucky to be involved in the early stages last year.
“For us, it’s about working in and around such an amazing structure – it’s incredibly exciting, and a real privilege.
“We are not trying to create something that is going to take attention away from the bridge.
“It’s all about the bridge.
“I think it’s really exciting that people are going to get the opportunity to get up close and touch the bridge.
“The view at the top is wonderful – it’s panoramic.”
David Dickson, Network Rail’s route managing director, said the visitor centres promised to be a “ground-breaking new tourist attraction”.
He added: “The quality of submissions we received from our procurement process were of an exceptionally high standard, as you would expect with a landmark of such importance and prominence.
“Arup’s bid stood out for a number of reasons, not least due to the involvement of local firms which will help form a strong core for the design team.”
John Campbell, Arup’s Rail Business Leader in Scotland, said: “Arup are delighted to be awarded this prestigious contract and look forward to collaborating with Network Rail to successfully deliver a scheme in keeping with this iconic engineering structure.”
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “Next year, we will celebrate the 125th birthday of the Forth Bridge – a Scottish icon that is recognised around the globe.
“A new visitor centre would be an exciting addition to this country’s wonderful array of world-class visitor attractions.”