1985 to be exact, my wife and I made a sightseeing excursion to the UK for some sightseeing. (That was “in the days before Mandy.”) We had a fabulous time. One of the places we enjoyed visiting was Edinburgh, Scotland. And we got there from London by – you guessed it – British Rail!
Our visit to Edinburgh was on board what is called a diesel-multiple-unit passenger train. There are several cars, each equipped with a small diesel engine turning a generator, which powers its own electric traction motors. And as many of these as necessary can be coupled together (multiple units) to provide a train of the required length.
The advantage of such a type of equipment for the vacationer is the ability to “see very clearly the track and scenery in front of you.” That’s because the operating cab (complete with engineer – or driver in the UK) is located at the end of the lead car, where the steps are traditionally located! And there is at least one door window into the passenger compartment – sometimes many more than that.
Guess where we sat?
But the gorgeous view made our efforts worthwhile. Now for a bit of history about the photogenic bridge just ahead…
It’s a cantilever railway bridge across the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, approximately 9 miles west of central Edinburgh. It’s considered a Scottish symbol, having been voted Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder in 2016, and yes, it is impressive. It was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. It is sometimes referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge (to distinguish it from the adjacent Forth Road Bridge), although this has never been its official name.
Construction of the bridge began in 1882 and it was opened on 4 March 1890 by the Duke of Rothesay, the future Edward VII. The bridge carries the Edinburgh–Aberdeen line across the Forth between the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, and has a total length of 8,094 feet (2,467 m). When it opened it had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world. That record remained until 1919, when the Quebec Bridge in Canada was completed. It continues to be the world’s second-longest single cantilever span, with a span of 1,709 feet (521 m).
The bridge has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour for high-speed trains and diesel multiple units, 40 miles per hour for ordinary passenger trains and 30 miles per hour for freight trains. The route availability code is RA8, but freight trains above a certain size must not pass each other on the bridge. Up to 190–200 trains per day crossed the bridge in 2006.
In 1882 the National British Railways were given powers to purchase the bridge, which it never exercised. In 1923, the bridge was still jointly owned by the same four railways, and so it became jointly owned by these companies’ successors, the London Midland and Scottish Railway (30%) and the London and North Eastern Railway (70%). The Forth Bridge Railway Company was named in the Transport Act 1947 as one of the bodies to be nationalized and so became part of British Railways on 1 January 1948. Under the Act, Forth Bridge shareholders would receive £109 of British Transport stock for each £100 of Forth Bridge Debenture stock; and £104 17s 6d of British Transport stock for each £100 of Forth Bridge Ordinary stock.The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure are now owned by Network Rail.
As you can see, this bridge is a beauty – an absolute engineering marvel, in addition to being very dated-looking. It may well be prettier than some famous bridges here in the USA (our Golden Gate, New River Gorge, or Mackinac Straits bridges.)