The Broader Picture: For the lack of some paint

THESE photographs of the Forth Bridge, which were taken a fortnight ago, demonstrate one certainty and one possibility. The certainty is that the various heirs and successors of British Railways are very short of cash. The possibility is that this lack of cash is shortening the life of the most famous steel structure in Britain and arguably (always remembering the Eiffel Tower) in the world.

The phrase 'like painting the Forth Bridge', meaning an endless task, should have been struck out of the language in February 1993, when the bridge's owners (then British Rail) decided that continuous painting of the bridge would stop after 103 years because the costs of Scotland's railways had to be cut by a fifth. The painting has never been for decorative purposes.

Paint preserves steel from exposure to air, in this case the particularly corrosive salt-flecked air of the Forth estuary, and therefore from strength-sapping rust. During construction in the 1880s, the bridge's builders were quite particular. Every piece of its 55,000 tonnes of steel was first scraped and brushed free of any rust it might have acquired in transit from the rolling mills of Swansea and Glasgow, then coated in linseed oil 'as hot as possible'. Once erected, the external faces received two coats of red lead paint followed by two coats of oxide of iron paint.

Repainting each piece every four years was considered an imperative; gangs of men did nothing else.

None the less, British Rail decided last year that the bridge could afford to take what it described as 'a maintenance holiday' for a year. In the words of a British Rail director: 'For a single year this is not too serious, except that it stores up the problem for a higher spend in the future.' A year passed but continuous painting did not resume. A new argument emerged: continuous painting was unnecessary. In the words of Paul Prescott, director of Railtrack (Scotland), writing in August to reassure anxious readers of the Scotsman: 'We have changed to a more modern method involving shot-blasting the metal and applying five coats of paint, which is now expected to last from 20 to 25 years.'

Perhaps, therefore, the passengers in the thousand trains a week that still use the bridge have nothing to worry about. Perhaps the millions of people who think of it as the Victorian age's most breathtaking piece of engineering need not fret. I wonder, though. I have seen the Forth Bridge at close quarters several times a year over the past 45 years; for a dozen of those years I grew up beside it and played on summer days actually beneath it, under the north cantilever on the Fife shore. These pictures are of that particular steel. It has never looked so shabby or corroded before, and there are, it seems, no plans to repaint it in the near future.

When I was a boy in the 1950s, the Forth Bridge was simply (but wonderfully) the best connection between eastern Scotland and the south. Trains filled with coal, fish, cattle, linoleum, people, rattled across it through every hour, day and night. Then the road bridge came. Now there are plans for a second road bridge. The railway bridge, meanwhile, has been floodlit since its centenary, listed as a Grade B structure, nominated as a World Heritage Site. Freight trains are few. Perhaps the bridge is destined to preach the finite life of steel, to become the Ozymandias of rust.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album