Thomas Bouch

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Sir Thomas Bouch (pronounced /ˈbaʊtʃ/) (25 February 1822 – 30 October 1880) was a British railway engineer in Victorian Britain.

He was born in Thursby, Cumberland, England and lived in Edinburgh. He helped develop the caisson and the roll-on/roll-off train ferry. He worked initially for the North British Railway and helped design parts of Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He set up as an independent consultant, during which time he built a rail line to St Andrews in Fife. The railway suffered numerous mishaps owing to poor quality engineering, such as the use of old rail lines. He also built a number of railway bridges, at Belah and Deepdale on an important cross-Pennines route (now defunct), but which survived until the Beeching Axe in the 1960s. His negligence led to the Tay Bridge Disaster, which destroyed his reputation shortly before his death.


Tay Bridge

He designed the first Tay Rail Bridge whilst working for the Edinburgh and Northern Railway. Queen Victoria travelled over it at the official opening in 1878, and she awarded him a knighthood in recognition of his achievement in 1879. The bridge collapsed on 28 December 1879 when it was hit by strong side winds. A train was travelling over it at the time, and 75 people died.

The subsequent public inquiry revealed that the railway company sacrificed safety and durability to save costs. Sloppy working practices such as poor smelting and the re-use of girders dropped into the estuary during construction were factors in the bridge's collapse.

The inquiry concluded that the bridge was "badly designed, badly built, and badly maintained". All of the high girders section fell during the accident, and analysis of the archives has shown that the design of cast iron columns with integral lugs holding the tie bars was a critical mistake. The lugs were composed of cast iron, which is brittle under tension. Many other bridges had been built to a similar design using cast iron columns and wrought iron tie bars, but none used this design detail. Gustave Eiffel built many such bridges in France in the 1860s, some surviving and still carrying railway traffic.

As the engineer, Thomas Bouch was blamed for the collapse of the Tay bridge, his assistant Charles Meik, having merely left an impression that he "was aptly named", implying that he had no great influence over the design and construction.

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