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Forth Bridge Painters Call it a Century

Friday, December 9, 2011

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The world’s single most endless job has ended—and early, yet.

After 10 years, painters have laid down their brushes at Scotland’s legendary Forth Bridge, ending a paint job that took more than 1,500 painters (including up to 400 in one day); more than 64,000 gallons of paint; and 4,000 tons of scaffolding.

 Forth Bridge

 Josh von Staudach / Wikimedia Commons

 The bridge was freed from the last of its 4,000 tons of scaffolding only last month.

The $152 million job also included installation of 1,040 lights, with about 44,000 yards of cabling, and painting all 6.5 million rivets on the 1.5-mile railway cantilever bridge.

The last of the scaffolding was removed last month, leaving Scotland’s most famous landmark unencumbered for the first time in a decade and all 43 acres of its surface agleam in glorious Forth Bridge Red.

The job was due to end by Dec. 31, but owner Network Rail Scotland declared it finished on Friday (Dec. 9).

Painting a Cliché

Painting the bridge in the 21st century took three years longer than building it did in the 19th. The project even entered the lexicon: “Like painting the Forth Bridge” became a metaphor for an endless task.

 Forth Bridge

 Network Rail

Painters will not be reporting to the Forth Bridge on Monday (Dec. 12) for the first time in a decade.

(The saying was not totally fair or accurate, as it turned out. A 2004 New Civil Engineer report said the repainting of the bridge did not—as widely believed—immediately start over once it was completed. But the bridge did have a permanent maintenance crew, and the saying stuck.)

The bridge was Britain’s first steel bridge and, until 1917, had the longest single cantilever span in the world. It is still No. 2, after the Quebec Bridge.

The structure contains 53,000 tons of steel. The piers contain 120,000 cubic yards of concrete and masonry and are faced with granite two feet thick.

Coatings Kudos

The bridge’s 3 million passengers a year can thank advances in coatings technology for the job’s end.

Network Rail Scotland says the bridge’s new triple coat of glass flake epoxy will provide a virtually impenetrable layer to protect the Forth for a generation.

"Since 1890, [the bridge] has been a working monument to the genius of British railway engineering, said David Simpson, of Network Rail Scotland. “Over the last decade, the bridge has been restored to its original condition, and its new paint will preserve the steelwork for decades to come.”

Simpson said the new paint system “has been used in the past on North Sea oil rigs. We expect it to last in excess of 20 years, but we will be back from time to time to maintain the most exposed sections of the structure."

The railway said “a small team of specialists and engineers will continue to monitor and maintain the bridge.”

‘Legacy and Testament’

Contractor Balfour Beatty Regional Civil Engineering completed the task of blasting away ancient paint, then repairing the steelwork underneath, and applying the new coats.

In some cases, painters had to dangle 150 feet above the Firth of Forth in extreme conditions to access hard-to-reach areas.

"Balfour Beatty is delighted to have played such a significant part in the restoration of the iconic Forth Bridge over the last 10 years,” said managing director Marshall Scott.

The company’s role in the restoration “will remain as part of a legacy and a testament to the skills and expertise of those who built this much treasured structure more than a century ago," Scott said.

A photo gallery by STV shows the final few months of the job.

Metaphor Mission

UK media reported the project’s end with enthusiasm, and the public cheered the news, but wags immediately began a search for a new metaphor to describe a never-ending process.

Among the candidates Tweeted to The Telegraph’s James Orr: “Shaving a Wookie” — a reference to the “famously furry” Star Wars character.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Industrial Contractors; Painters; Protective coatings; Scaffolding; Surface preparation

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/12/2011, 10:22 AM)

The painting is no more "finished" or "unfinished" on the Forth bridge than it ever was. There was a maintenance crew performing paint touchup before this project, there continues to be a maintenance crew performing paint touchup after this project.


Comment from Ron Cros, (12/12/2011, 1:06 PM)

Tom, I believe the initial job, the one contracted for is complete. It is always a never ending cycle for maintenance.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/13/2011, 8:08 AM)

Ron, absolutely. The contracted job is complete, but the "legend" of the never-ending painting was (mistakenly or not) referring to the maintenance crew anyway.


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