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Scotland confident about Forth Road Bridge plan as ScotRail scrambles for extra trains

Scottish transport minister Derek MacKay is set to make a statement to Parliament today (8 December) after the Forth Road Bridge was closed due to defective steelwork, triggering gridlock in parts of the country’s rail network and forcing ScotRail to scramble for available trains elsewhere in the UK.

The bridge was shut down on 4 December by the Scottish Government Resilience Committee after engineers discovered a fault in the bridge steelwork on 1 December.

According to Traffic Scotland, there was a failure of the inner link support beam to the north-east tower truss end link, after which the government shut down the southbound carriageway.

But two days later, after robust structural inspection, engineers identified significant overstress and a likely crack in the remaining outer link support beam. The bridge will remain closed until after the new year.

At the time, MacKay said: “Every effort is being made to open the bridge as quickly as possible, but safety is the main priority. However, these works are weather-dependent, given the height and location of the bridge. We are aware of the potential economic impact, for strategic traffic in the east of Scotland and on people living in local communities.

“This is an unprecedented challenge in the maintenance of the Forth Road Bridge. On balance following advice from engineers and independent experts, the full closure is essential for the safety of the travelling public and to prevent further damage to the structure of the bridge.”

Although bridge operators from Amey put an inspection team in place to look into the defects, which seems to have occurred in only the past few weeks, the Scottish Government had to order thousands of additional transport services to mitigate the impact.


Extra services and economic impact

Saying the closure was a “matter of national significance”, ScotRail has so far added 6,500 more seats on trains to and from Fife each weekday.

This was done by bringing in extra trains from other parts of the UK and taking trains from their refurbishment programme that could be removed “without holding up the improvements” – such as wi-fi and power sockets.

The operator also looked at other parts of the rail network to identify services that could be shuffled around to ease the congestion in Fife, although it claims that was the last thing it did in order to avoid impacting services elsewhere.

Train services into Glasgow Queen St, Dundee, Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh were also affected by the road bridge’s closure.

Rail union RMT, however, said the said the sudden closure of the bridge served to expose a “severe shortage of capacity” on ScotRail.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “The sudden and enforced closure of the Forth [Road] Bridge has seriously exposed the chronic lack of spare rolling stock and capacity on ScotRail, with the company now advising people not to use their services and to stay at home.

“It is a ludicrous state of affairs when the main rail service is tipped into complete meltdown because of passengers seeking an alternative way of completing their journey. This situation calls for an immediate review of the capacity and fleet stock on ScotRail so that passengers are not confronted with this kind of chaotic situation in the future.”

As well as introducing more rail and bus services, Scottish ministers have asked the UK government to relax the HGV drivers’ hourly limits as a result of closures, which could be introduced this week.

The country’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, will chair a meeting with business leaders and other representatives to discuss what more can be done to support the economy during the bridge’s closure.

PA-24978160Left to right: First minister Nicola Sturgeon, director of Amey Gordon Allen and Forth Road Bridge senior engineers talk as Sturgeon arrives at the Traffoc Scotland control room

Despite the turmoil, Scotland’s government said the investigation and testing works are progressing well, with repair works starting next week once the design has been finalised and an access platform has been put in place.

Speaking from the Traffic Scotland control centre this morning after overseeing operations, MacKay said: “I believe our comprehensive travel plan has been effective, but will be subject to constant monitoring, review and adaptation. We recognise many people are travelling earlier, therefore an early morning train will be added to the timetable by ScotRail, along with 8,000 extra seats.

“I appreciate many commuters and businesses are facing longer journeys, queues, disruption and delays, and are generally being inconvenienced by the necessary closure. I have to stress that without this closure at this time, it’s highly likely we would need to eventually close the bridge for a much longer period.”

Traffic Scotland has also created a dedicated website to help passengers find essential travel information until the bridge is reopened at an unspecified date in the new year.

It is estimated that around 70,000 vehicles using the 51-year-old bridge every day, meaning there were 11-mile rush hour tailbacks on Friday after the first full day of its closure.

A £1.4bn replacement road bridge, Queensferry Crossing, is being built alongside the Forth Road Bridge and is expected to open later in 2016.


(All images c. Andrew Milligan/PA Images)


David Cook   08/12/2015 at 18:48

The Union comment that this highlights a severe shortage of rolling stock on Scotrail is rather unfair. No railway company can be reasonably expected to keep loads of rolling stock sitting idle waiting for a major road bridge to fail and everybody suddenly wanting to travel by the train. Indeed, When British Railways were running passenger services they did have loads of siding full of trains which was one of the reasons they made such massive losses and ended up with the Beeching cuts, there was just no way they could see how to run the railways as efficiently as possible. What Scotrail are doing, pulling stock back from refurbishment, and contacting other TOC's for any spare stock, is a realistic solution to what will (hopefully) be a short term problem. Rather than having a dig, the Unions need to work with Scotrail to use this as an chance to win over some long term passengers from the roads. Opportunities like this do not come along every day......

Cliff Kilshaw   09/12/2015 at 08:40

I totally disagree - the railways are run on a shoe string when it comes to riling stock, which is why we have cancellations due to train failures or staff sickness. There should be stand-by stock and staff to man them to provide a service when extra demand or failures require it but this would eat into the profits of the Toc's who at the end of the day are only interested in the 'bottom line'.

Neil Palmer   10/12/2015 at 00:40

And the TOC's can't run extra services without government approval because they ultimately already have total financial control. The cost of keeping extra rolling stock around would reduce franchise payments to government. The railways are, for all intents & purposes, already nationalised.

Jerry Alderson   11/12/2015 at 12:43

Individual TOCs cannot be expected to have spare resources when the DfT (Scottish Government in this case) demand every penny in premium payments (or reduced subsidy). However, the RDG/ROSCOs ought to set-up a small national pool of 'go anywhere' trains that can be sent to the areas of greatest need. Had this existed then Abellio Greater Anglia passengers on the Felixstowe and Sudbury lines (amongst others) would not have been bustituted when the service was temporarily abandoned by AGA from 11th to 23rd November. In addition there could be a pool of emergency train drivers who would have access to fast-learning route knowledge and driver simulation tools allowing them to be deployed within 48 hours. In the age of TomTom, ATO and the like, one might wonder why route knowldge is still an issue, but I appreciate that railway route knowledge requires a very detailed understanding of the characteristics of a route in order to, for example, stop a train precisely at a platform whilst keeping to the timetable.

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