Plans for 'Forth Bridge Experience' inspired by Sydney Harbour Bridge climbs revived after 6 years

Plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge-style climbs of the Forth Bridge have been revived, six years after being originally proposed.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 7:48 pm
An artist's impression of the visitor centre.

Network Rail has applied for planning permission for a new centre at the south end of the bridge from where parties of visitors would be led onto the 129-year-old structure.

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Groups of 12-15 people would don safety harnesses to tour the bridge’s south cantilever, or tower.

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An artist's impression of the viewing platform at the top of the bridge.

They would climb to a new viewing platform at the top, 110m (367ft) above the Forth, using existing and new walkways built into the structure.

Each tour is expected to last some two and a half hours.

However, estimated numbers taking part have been reduced to 85,000 a year from 126,000 quoted when the plans were first unveiled in 2013.

The scheme was announced following the end of major repainting of the bridge for the first time since it was built. It was subsequently put on hold because of lack of funding after detailed design work had been completed and initial consultations with local communities.

People take a walking tour on Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Changes to Network Rail’s governance in 2015 restricted its ability to borrow money on projects that did not directly improve the transport system.

“Non-core railway opportunities”, such as the Forth Bridge visitor centre, were seen as less of a priority as a result of the altered focus.

The infrastructure body said in 2016 it would not submit a planning application until it had secured money for the project.

Network Rail has kept on ice even more ambitious plans for a glass visitor centre and lifts at the northern end of the bridge, which would take people to a viewing area at the top of the north cantilever.

But it said such “longer-term plans” were still “under development”.

Network Rail had hoped to open at least one of the schemes, estimated to cost a total of £15 million, in time for the bridge’s 125th anniversary in 2015.

The bridge is A-listed and has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations cultural body Unesco.

Network Rail said: “This internationally acclaimed structure is considered one of the most ambitious and successful engineering achievements of the 19th century.”

Alan Ross, Network Rail Scotland’s director of engineering and asset management, said: “The Forth Bridge is an engineering icon.

“The plans we have submitted to deliver a bridge walk experience will offer a unique and memorable visit to one of Scotland’s most loved structures.

“From the engineering genius behind its design, to the historical accounts of its construction and its crucial role in Scotland’s operational railway, the bridge really is a national treasure and there is real appetite to take these plans forward.”

A “bridge walk hub” would be created at a former works compound west of the crossing’s piers, north of Dalmeny station.

“They will then move in to a changing area to receive safety clothing and harnesses.

“Accompanied by a guide, groups of around 15 walkers will then exit onto the roof of the building to climb up a ramp to an upper level and then onto the bridge itself.

“Walkers will wear a harness which will be attached to a continuous running safety line starting at the foot of the access ramp.

“The bridge walk will commence at the first steel span at the south end of the bridge.

“Existing access infrastructure on the bridge is to be utilised, and new sections added where required, in order to create a continuous safe access route to the top of the south cantilever.

“Bridge walkers will then return to the Reception Hub where they will gather in an internal room for a debriefing.”

Bridge walks could potentially be extended end-to-end if the initial scheme proves popular.