The River Tay
is the longest river
, running east into the North Sea
near the port
. The main line railway
runs up the east coast of Scotland from Edinburgh
and through Fife
, then must cross the Tay
to reach Dundee
. In February 1878
, a bridge across the Tay was completed, designed by Thomas Bouch, and opened on May 31 the same year. It was 88 feet (27 metres) above the water and nearly 2 miles long: at the time the longest bridge in the world
On December 28, 1879 the bridge was buffeted by a force 10-11 gale. At around 7.15 pm, the central spans of the bridge collapsed into the river. A train was crossing at the time, with 75 people in its 6 carriages. They all perished. A Court of Inquiry found that the bridge was woefully under-designed for the weather in the Firth of Tay, but was unable to decide if Sir Thomas Bouch was to blame.
As a final cruel twist, the tragedy was immortalised by William McGonagall, often called the worst poet of all time, in his poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster"; see under William McGonagall.
The collapse of the bridge did, however have some good effects, leading to massive overcompensation in the enormously solid design of the steel cantilevered Forth Bridge. A new lower bridge was built across the Tay a few years later, using some of the iron from the old bridge, and you will still cross it today if you travel into Dundee by rail from Edinburgh and South-East Scotland.
Reference: T J Martin, "The Tay Bridge Disaster". http://www.tts1.demon.co.uk/tay.html, viewed 2001-11-06.