Senior engineers at the Forth Road Bridge should be able to close the crossing “without delay” if there is an emergency, without having to get permission from Scottish ministers, a Holyrood committee has suggested.
MSPs on the Infrastructure Committee also urged the Scottish Government to consider if there should be a “clearer and more immediate decision-making procedure” for handling emergency events on the bridge.
They made the call as they published their inquiry report into the closure of the Forth Road Bridge last December after a crack was found in part of the structure.
As a result, the crossing was closed to all traffic for almost three weeks in December, with heavy goods vehicles only allowed back on it in February.
The report highlighted a five-hour delay between bridge operators Amey recommending the bridge be shut and the decision by ministers to close it, adding that while “this delay did not present any danger to users” the MSPs felt there is a “lack of clarity as to who is ultimately responsible for closing the Forth Road Bridge and what protocol exists for making such decisions”.
The committee said it “considers that, in circumstances in which senior engineers in the operating company reach a view that the Forth Road Bridge needs to be closed on public safety or other emergency grounds, it should be possible for closure to be implemented by senior engineers without delay, under the terms of the operating company’s incident response plan, without a requirement to seek authority from Transport Scotland or Scottish ministers”.
Ministers have been urged to confirm “who is ultimately responsible for making a decision to close the bridge and provide details of the protocol” for this.
The committee concluded the crack in one of the truss end links on the crossing “could not have been foreseen”, with the report noting there are “no other examples of a similar failure occurring on suspension bridges elsewhere in the world which might have informed engineers and led to enhanced checking of the pins”.
A decision was made in December 2011 to “re-prioritise” work to address concerns about the truss end link mechanisms, the report said, adding this was a “direct consequence” of a reduction in the grant for capital work on the bridge.
MSPs also said the decision to build a new crossing “had an influence on decisions to re-prioritise certain capital projects” by the previous operators, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta).
A majority of the committee considered the decision to defer the proposed work on the truss end links was “an appropriate course of action on the basis of both the prevailing financial circumstances and the engineering advice available at the time”.
Committee convener Jim Eadie said all those who had given evidence to the committee “were of the view that the defect which caused the closure of the bridge could not have been foreseen”.
Mr Eadie said: “The committee is of the view that Feta dealt with the challenge of re-prioritising its capital proposals in a professional and responsible manner.”