South Esk Viaduct

Location type


Name and dates

South Esk Viaduct (1881-)

Opened on the North British, Arbroath and Montrose Railway.


This is a single track 16 span girder viaduct crossing the northern of two channels from Montrose Basin, the southern of which has been infilled. The viaduct links Montrose, to the north, to Rossie Island.

The line was under construction as part of the North British Railway^s new East Coast route to Aberdeen when the then new Tay Bridge [1st], designed by Thomas Bouch collapsed in late December 1879.

Bouch was the engineer of this line. The viaduct replaces his viaduct of 30 spans - wrought iron girders and cast iron piers - which was essentially complete in late 1879. Following the collapse of the Tay Bridge various alterations were made under Bouch^s instructions.

The viaduct was then used during the line construction by the contractor. It was noted that the permanent way was displaced and on investigation some girders were not resting on their piers. Several piers were found to have sunk.

It was tested in December 1880 by the Board of Trade, inspected by Col. Yolland. The 24th pier from the south was loaded with around 110 tons of rails and a rolling load of 85 tons run over this section. After 36 hours the pier was found to have sunk over 2 inches. With the foundations in question further piers were tested in similar fashion and survived intact. A possible alteration to the foundations was considered.

It was observed that the contractor failed to place the piles in straight lines and ensure the columns were perpendicular. The use of cast iron columns, similar to those on the Tay Bridge, was of concern.

Col. Yolland concluded

As the result of my examination, I should therefore recommend that this viaduct should be reconstructed, and for a double line of railway, with the permanent way placed inside plate, lattice or bowstring girders, so as to obtain some security against a train or portion of a train bring hurled over the edge of the viaduct, if an accident occured on it, and that these girders should be supported on substantial piers not constructed of small and slight cast-iron columns.

The bridge was demolished and replaced with a new design by W. R. Galbraith. This featured Yolland^s substantial piers and large columns but is of a single track - probably due to the single track Rossie Viaduct just to the south.

The line opened in 1881 to goods and minerals and to passengers in 1883 (now without a route to the south there was no rush to open the line). The new Tay Bridge opened in 1887 and the East Coast Main Line in Scotland was completed with the Forth Bridge in 1890.

The viaduct has had major maintenance repairs, most recently £4.2M worth of repairs in 2017-8.


Scottish Wildlife Trust - Montrose Basin



External links

Canmore site record
NLS Collection OS map of 1892-1914
NLS Collection OS map of 1944-67


The Montrose & Bervie Railway: A Study of Transport in South-East Kincardineshire 1770-1966