Forth Road Bridge closure linked to maintenance budget cuts

Former bridgemaster Barry Colford. Picture: Jane Barlow
Former bridgemaster Barry Colford. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE former chief engineer for the Forth Road Bridge has told MSPs the crucial component at the heart of last month’s closure was due to be replaced until Scottish Government funding was cut.

Ex-bridgemaster Barry Colford said replacement of the truss end links was included in the 2011 capital programme of works which engineers believed was “needed in our professional opinion”.

But a government spending review that year led to a 58 per cent cut in the bridge’s budget.

Mr Colford said: “After that, we had to reprioritise.”

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The plan to replace the truss end links at a cost of £10-15 million was dropped,

Mr Colford – who flew from his new post in Philidelphia to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s infrastructure committee – said the bridge’s main cable and anchorages became the top priority.

“If failure occurred there, it would be a catastrophic failure of the bridge,” he said.

“If the truss end link failed there would be what we term an operational failure – the risk of someone being killed or seriously injured was lower, but unfortunately it would involve a lot of disruption.”

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The committee had previously heard that a seized pin in a truss end link had caused the problem which led to the closure of the bridge for almost three weeks in December.

Mr Colford said that, in 2011, the truss end links were nearly 50 years old. “We felt they had to be replaced,” he added.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, a former chair of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta), which used to run the bridge, told the committee: “Replacement of the truss end links was in the capital plan. As far as Feta and the management were concerned these were the works that needed to be carried out. A spending review came along which cut that funding.”

Asked whether Feta had challenged the funding reduction, she said: “We could have gone back and I’m sure the answer would have been ‘No’.”

She said the abolition of bridge tolls in 2008 had removed Feta’s guaranteed income. But she claimed: “Long-term investment was not thought through by the Scottish Government, The tolls had gone, but the money had to come from somewhere.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com