Tay Bridge [1st]

Location type


Name and dates

Tay Bridge [1st] (1878-1879)

Note: text in square brackets is added for clarity and was not part of the location's name.

Opened on the Tay Bridge and Associated Lines (North British Railway).


This was the viaduct which collapsed in the Tay Bridge Disaster. It was a single track viaduct just under two miles long (3450 yds overall with 85 spans) which crossed the Firth of Tay between Dundee (north bank) and Wormit (south bank). The approaches, built for the bridge, were double track as far as the south signal box and the Riverside Drive girder at the north end.

The engineer for this viaduct was Thomas Bouch who was knighted for its construction.

An addition was made to the bridge after opening, a new bridge section from a junction on the bridge itself to the shore to carry the Newport Railway which ran east to Tayport.

The bridge collapsed during a cyclone on the 28th of December 1879 at 7.15 pm just as the 5.27 pm ex-Burntisland [1st] train crossed the High Girders, the middle portion where the track ran through the girders rather than on top. The navigable Tay passed underneath with a clearance of 88 ft headroom. Passengers from Edinburgh had started their journey at 4.15 pm, changing to the steamer at Granton Pier. There were no survivors. 79 people were on board, including driver David Mitchell.

Such was the scale of the disaster that there was a Court of Inquiry (Public Inquiry). In its aftermath Thomas Bouch, his design, the construction methods and his not accounting for wind pressure were held to blame.

The bridge was replaced with the present Tay Bridge in 1887.

The footings of the bridge's piers can still be seen, just downstream of the equivalent piers on the present bridge.

A beam from the bridge is at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The staff for the single track section over the bridge is at the Riverside Museum (Glasgow Transport Museum). This was found on the locomotive after the accident.



Nearby stations
Dundee Esplanade
Magdalen Green
Dundee West
Newport-on-Tay West
Dundee Ward Road
Ninewells Junction [Station]
Dundee Trades Lane
Dundee East
Newport-on-Tay East
St Fort
Offset at Back of Law
Tay Bridge
Tay Bridge South Junction [1st]
Tay Bridge South Junction
Buckingham Junction
Dundee West MPD
Dundee Central Junction
Wormit Goods
Dundee West Mineral Yard
Seabraes Engine Works
Dundee Tay Bridge Shed
Tay Bridge Minerals
Tay Bridge Goods
Dundee Signalling Centre
Wormit Signal Box
Esplanade Junction Signal Box
Location names in dark blue are on the same original line.

Harry Watts, diver

Henry ('Harry') Watts was one of several divers who worked to recover bodies and examine the debris following the Tay Bridge Disaster. Watts was a much respected very experienced diver based in Sunderland. during his long career he saved 36 people from drowning and was awarded medals and certificates.

Diving over three days he worked in the wreckage of the bridge, train and telegraph wires (from which he had a narrow escape) despite the very strong tidal currents and murky water.

'The second day we tried further down to see if we could get any of the bodies, but neither then nor afterwards did we find any. Those that were recovered were washed ashore or found with drags. But we kept on going down, though it was dreadfully heavy work, and disappointing too, owing to the state of the river and the difficulties of working amongst the huge heaps of stuff that lay at the bottom of the river. One day I came upon the engine of the train, but I dare not go in to search it, there were so many things to get entangled with.'

'Compared with his acts, military glory sinks into nothing. The hero who kills men is the hero of barbarism; the hero of civilisation saves the lives of his fellows.'
Andrew Carnegie

Gallows Humour

The locomotive, NBR Drummond 4-4-0 No 224, was retrieved from the seabed after the accident and brought to shore at Tayport. Restored and put back into traffic it was unofficially named 'The Diver'.

After scrapping metal from the locomotive was used to make a letterbox for the station house at Dalhousie. This is now at the museum at Bellingham (North Tyne).

News items

27/09/2021The Signalman review: Profound exploration of disaster is grippingly raw [The Times]
24/09/2021Feel your spine tingle with The Signalman at Perth Theatre [Daily Record]
26/08/2021How Forth Bridge and Tay Bridge disaster are linked by engineer Thomas Bouch [The Courier]


An Illustrated History of Tayside's Railways