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‘A perfect storm’ — Forth Bridge closure recalled a year on

Mark Arndt reflects on the events of a year ago.
Mark Arndt reflects on the events of a year ago.

Last year’s closure of the Forth Road Bridge has been described as almost the “perfect storm”.

Taking stock of the closure, described in parliament as an event of national significance, was Mark Arndt, Amey’s account director for the Forth Bridges.

A routine inspection of the 52-year-old bridge had uncovered a crack in one of the truss end links, a critical element supporting the deck.

Exactly a year on, Mark told The Courier how the call informing him of the find sparked a truly extraordinary few weeks in the lives of all those who look after the bridge.

Tasked with finding a temporary and permanent solution, they also had to keep the east of Scotland from grinding to a halt.

Three days later, came the unbelievable, unimginable news — the bridge was closed.

“I do not think any one of us will forget being in that meeting room,” said Mark.

“This was the most serious defect identified on the bridge.”

Indeed, if the truss end link – and there are eight of them in total — were to fail completely it could have meant the deck would have dropped by around 500 to 600mm.

Staff, who are now on the third and final phase of the permanent strengthening work, had always managed to get traffic moving within 24 hours, so they moved into unchartered territory when the bridge was closed.

There were huge professional challenges ahead for the team, which has received the Greatest Contribution to Scotland honour from the Saltire Civil Engineering awards, to solve the crisis.

Located in one of the most inhospitable areas of the bridge, there was also the appalling weather to contend with – the east coast was battered by storms.

And it was the run up to Christmas.

Then, said Mark, there was the obvious political focus, and economic impact — not to mention the media camped out in their car park.

“It was almost like a perfect storm,” he added.

With Christmas all but cancelled, the team came up with a plan quickly, which was important to give the public confidence, Mark said.

“Yes, there were going to be challenges and pressure but we did have a structured plan identified within 36 to 48 hours.

“It was a big enough challenge to focus on one area which was broken, but we were tackling eight.”

In fact the work, including strengthening work and installing some of the most high tech monitoring sensors in the world, took three weeks.

“It would usually take 12 to 18 months,” Mark said.

“Looking back I still don’t know how we did it.”

Doomsayers predicated the bridge would never reopen, so Mark said it was particularly satisfying to prove the critics wrong.

Also endearing was the way the public backed the team, with negativity turning positive.

People dropped boxes of sweets off, and guys popping into local shops were patted on the back, he revealed.

“We never expected that but it turned full circle, they realised the effort.”

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