Cost of Forth Bridge repairs may reach £280m

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The Independent Online

Painting the Forth Bridge, that never-ending task synonymous with monotonous toil, is proving an increasingly expensive occupation.

Engineers working to restore the 112-year-old structure to its former glory have found that the repairs could take twice as long and cost more than three times above the estimate.

Despite £10m being spent on the project this year, there are fears that upkeep of the bridge, completed in 1890 at the cost of £3m and 57 lives, could cost as much as £280m over the next 14 years.

After being awarded a six-year multimillion-pound maintenance contract in May to protect the world-famous landmark from the elements, experts from the construction company Balfour Beatty are still working out the extent of work needed.

The one-and-a-half mile bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry, nine miles west of Edinburgh, is owned by Railtrack, which is now part of the government-backed Network Rail.

A Network Rail spokesman admitted yesterday he did not know exactly how much it would cost or how long it would take to restore the bridge which handles up to 200 passenger and freight trains every day. "We are still waiting to hear anything formal from Balfour Beatty about any revised costs or time-scales," he said. "Part of the reason for the spiralling restoration costs is a backlog of work caused by the collapse of a previous maintenance contract with another firm two years ago."

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said engineers were not ready to put a figure on the cost the programme of repairs.

The bridge was built to carry two tracks of the North British Railway. The structure, with its three cantilever towers of 340ft each, was designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker.

The contract had originally been awarded to Sir Thomas Bouch but it was withdrawn after an earlier creation, the Tay Bridge, collapsed during a hurricane in 1879 killing 75 people. The disasterforced the proponents of the new project to change the design and produce the world's first all-steel long-span cantilever bridge, capable of withstanding wind forces six times greater than the Tay Bridge could bear.

Guggenheim architect to design Wearside bridge

The city of Sunderland has asked Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to design a bridge over the Wear.

Mr Gehry will be in Sunderland tomorrow to examine its plans and consider what would be his first big project in Britain. The city has been associated with ambitious bridge building since 1796, when the Wearmouth bridge became the longest single-span cast iron crossing in the world.

Sunderland urban regeneration company Arc acknowledged yesterday it had been impressed by the benefits of good bridge building espoused by Tyneside, its traditional rival. The "blinking eye" Gateshead Millennium Bridge across the river between Newcastle and Gateshead, which was designed by architects Eyre Wilkinson and secured architecture's Stirling prize this year, has done wonders for the North-east's image.

Tom Macartney, chief executive of Arc, said: "Getting a bridge designed by somebody like Frank Gehry is something of national significance."

He added: "[The Millennium bridge] provides an example of what it takes to regenerate an area."

The Guggenheim, which opened in 1997, has brought crowds and investment pouring into the Basque city, and has led Salford to describe its own successful Lowry Centre, on a former dockside wasteland, as the "Guggenheim of the North".

The idea of putting a fourth bridge across the Wear has been discussed since the mid-1970s but resurfaced two years ago when estimates showed that the volume of traffic heading in and out of the city centre could grow by 50 per cent by 2015. Gehry, whose only British project so far is a hospice in Dundee, will examine a site between the Castletown and Pallion districts.

Ian Herbert