This crossing is in fact the second crossing of the Firth of Tay. The first was completed in 1878 and in June Queen Victoria crossed and awarded Sir Thomas Bouch with a knighthood for his achievement on 26th June 1869 at Windsor Castle. The first bridge was a single track lattice work and its design for wind resistance was its downfall.
On 28th December 1879 at 7:15pm the bridge collapsed just as a train carrying 75 people was crossing. All of the passengers perished in the disaster. A strong storm blew down the Tay estuary and literally pushed the structure over and into the icy waters coming in from the North Sea.
The locomotive that plunged into the Tay was later recovered and despite it being dropped it went onto be used.
The design of the bridge did take into consideration the effects of wind but Bouche failed to implement the appropriate modifications. The collapse sent waves of shock through the country not least of all the Victorian Emgineers.It was found that there was a whole catalogue of errors in the design. Bouch passed away on 30th October 1880 and was disgraced as an engineer. Bouch was buried in Dean Cemetary in Edinburgh.
As a result of this catastrophe all future bridges had to be able to withstand a 273.4 kgf/m2 (52 pounds per foot) wind loading.
The replacement bridge design was agreed in July 1881 with the first foundation stone being laid on 6th July 1883. The resulting bridge contained 3 million rivets, 25 million kg (25,000 t) of steel, 70 million kg (70,000 t) of concrete and 10 million bricks weighing 37 million kg (37,000 t) and met all the safety regulations. Sadly it was reported that 14 workers perished in the construction. The bridge designed by W. H. Barlows was officially opened on 20th June 1887 with no ceremony.
In 2003, Tay Rail Bridge underwent a refurbishment that earned a British Construction Industry Civil Engineering Award. Costing £21 million the works revealed that there was about 1 million kg (1,000 t) of bird droppings which was removed by hand and packed into 25kg bags. Hundreds of thousands of rivets were replaced. Today the Grade 1 listed structure is run by Network Rail who continue to maintain this amazing structure.