On this day 1890: A train travels on Forth Bridge for first time

It was a journey that launched tens of thousands of others.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 3:58 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 6:54 pm
The first train travelled over the Forth Bridge on January 21, 1890 to test how much weight the superstructure could take. PIC: TSPL.

On this day in 1890 the first train travelled on the Forth Bridge for the first time after seven years of construction on the Victorian super structure.

To test the stability of the bridge beyond all doubt, it was decided to take a double train each made of 50 loaded coal wagons onto the rails.

The total weight was some 1,800 tonnes - more than double what the bridge would be expected to take.

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The test was organised and witnessed by Sir John Fowler and Mr Baker, the bridge engineers, with the wagons loaded onto the bridge at the north end.

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None of the engineers were allowed on the bridge at the time with observations of the impact of the weight taken at various points.

"The bridge exhibited exceptional stiffness in all directions," a report in the Greenock Telegraph noted.

A few days later, on January 24, the first passenger train crossed the Forth Bridge

The voyage was described by the Edinburgh Evening News as "an important event in the history and development of railway systems" which took place "after seven years labour with immense difficulties".

The train was loaded with dignitaries and executives from Britain's rail companies with a few 'ladies' allowed onto the platform at the old Forth Bridge Station to wait for the train, along with Sir John.

The train was due to arrive from Waverley at 10am - and it was on the platform at one minute past.

"Fortunately for the success of the event the weather was bright, frosty and agreeable," the report in the Edinburgh Evening News said.

Sir John boarded the train along with the assembled women and, adding to the excitement, the Marchioness of Tweeddale, the wife of the North British Railway Company, took the train's controls and drove the locomotive over the bridge.

The report added: "The ladies in carriages waved their handkerchiefs to the observers on the south side...who responded with equal enthusiasm.

"At various points groups of workmen cheered loudly as the train passed and those on the train re-echoed the greetings. The journey was finished in less eight minutes.

"When the train arrived at the centre of the structure on the return journey tile shone out beautifully, and the view obtained was picturesque.

"A cold stiff breeze blew from the west. arriving back at the Forth Bridge Station the whole company left the train which went iuto siding. Her ladyship wan congratulated the uniform rate at which she conducted the locomotive, and although the cold wind must have been disagreeable, she stuck to her post and drove back the Forth Bridge Station.

"The directors appeared greatly delighted with the success of the journey."

And from this day, almost 130 years of commuter and holiday journeys across the Firth of Forth began.