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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 09:07 GMT
MP seeks bridge repair assurances
The Forth Bridge - safe for future generations?
Urgently needed repairs to the Forth Rail Bridge could be undermined by the uncertain future of Railtrack and possible delays in World Heritage listing, Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell has warned.

The MP, a tireless campaigner for bridge maintenance, is to write to Transport Minister Stephen Byers to ask what arrangements are being made to keep the bridge in good order.

The Government has previously said the maintenance of the bridge is a commercial matter for Railtrack.

However, with the company going into administration, Mr Dalyell wants to know how long it will be before a full repair schedule is resumed on the bridge which links Edinburgh to Fife and the north east of Scotland.

Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell
Tam Dalyell: Tireless campaigner

Mr Dalyell, who has previously raised the problem in the Westminster parliament, said he had seen for himself the deterioration of the structure.

He said: "I have been given a tour of the bridge and the problem is, that dirt that gets into nooks and crannies, creating decay."

"In addition, little holes have been drilled in the structure, for the lights illuminating it, and that is where rust starts."

The MP fears that delays caused by the Railtrack hiatus, will lead to further rusting and make future repairs more costly.

World heritage site

Railtrack said it was designing a maintenance plan for the bridge, with contractors Balfour Beattie.

But bridge preservation campaigners will be looking to ensure that the organisation which takes over from Railtrack, will actually implement that plan.

Meanwhile, it seems that a hoped for boost for the preservation of the bridge may be too far in the future, to put pressure on the Government to act.

The structure is waiting in the wings, on a list of sites to be granted World Heritage Status.

Wide bridge
One of the engineering wonders of the world
However, the recent designation of New Lanark as a World Heritage site, may be the last for some time to come, north of the border.

The bridge was placed on Unesco's 'tentative' list, by the British Government, in 1999 alongside New Lanark and 23 other UK locations

But Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has decided to limit the number of sites any country can nominate, to one a year from 2002, so the bridge may have to wait a while.

Built in the 1880's by Benjamin Baker, the structure has long been regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the world.

Engineering feat

The revolutionary cantilever design at first shocked the Victorians, still nervous after the Tay Bridge collapse.

But eventually the bridge came to be a source of national pride.

At the height of construction 4,500 workers from a dozen countries worked to build it.

It was the first cantilever bridge and the first large steel bridge.

The selection of the bridge for tentative inclusion as a world heritage site marks a shift away from cathedrals and medieval cities, towards natural and industrial sites, by the Unesco heritage panel.

See also:

29 Feb 00 | Scotland
Forth Bridge contract ends
23 Nov 99 | Scotland
40m bridge facelift derailed
21 Aug 98 | UK
On track for protection
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