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Editorial (1864-10-31)

PMP

The Tay Bridge. Dundee Courier, Monday 31 October 1864, p.2 col.4 (pdf image)

(Published Oct 31 1864)
An editorial expressing concerns about the proposed Tay Bridge at Dundee, and generally favourable to Matthew’s alternative scheme for a bridge near Newburgh. The editors are concerned that assurances (reported in their “contemporary”, the Dundee Advertiser) from the railway companies that they will defer to local opinion in all matters appear too good to be true. The editorial then refers to Matthew’s letter published in the same issue of the newspaper as follows:

To-day we publish a letter from our neighbour, Mr PATRICK MATTHEW, of Gourdie Hill, a part of which indicates his character for foresight and sagacity. Before the Dundee and Perth line was formed, he advocated the construction of a bridge at Newburgh or some point in its vicinity; and we recommend his reasons for still preferring that locality to our readers. We are inclined to think with him that the place he indicates would be more suitable, so far as railway traffic is concerned, and certainly the operations there would be much less costly.

The editorial notes that a footbridge connecting Dundee to Fife would suffice if a rail bridge proved too technically challenging, and ends by referring back to a previous plan in 1848 for a rail viaduct through Dundee, which was rejected because insufficient assurances were given regarding its possible negative impact, and the Dundee Harbour Trustees objected to it.

Full text follows.

THE TAY BRIDGE

Our contemporary, in a note appended to an ill-mannered abusive anonymous letter of rather a suspicious character, attempts to justify the PROVOST, Bailie YEAMAN, and the DEAN of GUILD, for the part they took at the meeting in the Town Hall in the following fashion:—

[On inquiry, we learn that the large Railway Companies promoting the Bridge wish to carry the Town Council and Harbour Trustees, as representing the Town, along with them in everything they do; that they are ready to adopt and carry out every suggestion for the public emanating from those bodies, and to avoid everything that could create objection or difficulty; and, particularly, that they frankly admit the Town’s rights in the solum, and will respect them as they have never been respected by any other Railway Company. With such assurances, the Provost, Bailie Yeaman, and Dean of Guild would have been very unwise had they withheld their countenance from a proposal calculated to confer such benefits on the community.— Ed. D. A.]

The assurances which are said to have been given to the gentlemen referred to are stated in so very general a way, that, except as to the solum, we are unable to make out what they mean. It is very easy to say that the great Railway Companies, promoting the scheme, are ready to carry out “every suggestion” that maybe made by our public bodies, and “to avoid everything that could create objection and difficulty;” but such magnificently sweeping assertions are calculated to excite some doubt as to their authenticity. They strain over much our faculties of belief, and excite doubt by their want of all limit. If we had been told that the Companies would do a great deal to avoid opposition, and secure the success of their plan, we might have credited it; but “everything” is a little too much. We want something a trifle more specific than that, and more likely. If the Provost, Bailie YEAMAN, and the DEAN of GUILD have trusted to a verbal promise of that indefinite character, we must persist in thinking their action both unwise and improper. Besides, if such assurances were to be given, why were they not given publicly? They might have been stated at the meeting instead of being made so privately that it was requisite for our contemporary to make “inquiry” before he became aware of them. If the Railway Companies are really ready — not to adopt “every suggestion,” and do “everything,” that would be expecting too much — but to enter into reasonable engagements, why are they not put specifically, and in writing, so that the public may know what they have to rely upon, instead of in the shape of misty verbal general promises of such an exaggerated kind that they are obviously valueless? Even if such an engagement were offered, it would be the duty of our Municipal authorities to examine it, and hold themselves free to see it enforced, and their placing themselves in the position of promoters is not favourable for that.

To-day we publish a letter from our neighbour, Mr PATRICK MATTHEW, of Gourdie Hill, a part of which indicates his character for foresight and sagacity. Before the Dundee and Perth line was formed, he advocated the construction of a bridge at Newburgh or some point in its vicinity; and we recommend his reasons for still preferring that locality to our readers. We are inclined to think with him that the place he indicates would be more suitable, so far as railway traffic is concerned, and certainly the operations there would be much less costly. But we want direct communication with Fife, and especially a footpath. Mr MATTHEW cannot be expected to feel our local needs as we do, and naturally takes a more general view of the case. We should be content with something less than the very best possible railway route, if the second best were to give us a footway. Our inquiries have led us to the conclusion that if the project is to be popular, the footpath must be added. Our contemporary, who can by inquiry find out what private assurances have been made to public men, to prompt them to public action, is silent on that point, and his silence is ominous. We fear a specific assurance as to that has not been given to the officials on “the Provisional Committee.”

With respect to cost, Mr MATTHEW is very confident that Mr BOUCH’s estimate is very much below the mark. We did not care to pit our unprofessional ideas against those of a trained Engineer expressing himself in the most positive manner, but we thought the figures very small when compared with the magnitude of the work. We are confirmed in that what appears to be gross miscalculation in another part of the estimate. When in 1848 it was proposed to carry the railway on arches through the town, it was intended to provide something like £300,000 for that purpose. Mr BOUCH puts it at £100,000. The “lattice girder” method may have made bridges less expensive, but prosperity has made Dundee property more valuable. Good judges lean to the opinion that the cost of the line through the town alone would equal if not exceed the whole sum calculated on by Mr BOUCH for the bridge and the railway works, on both sides of the river.

The mention of what took place in 1848 leads us to say that the Council, the Harbour Trustees, and all the public bodies, then resisted the proposal for a viaduct, and that Sir DAVID BAXTER gave strong evidence against it before the Admiralty Commissioner. To-day the Harbour Trustees meet, and, as we suppose the matter will brought before them, we shall see what course they are inclined to take now. We judge that they will not place themselves on “the Provisional Committee.” It is more probable they will appoint a Committee of Inquiry to examine the effect likely to be produced on the Harbour. Two points their attention will of course be directed to. One is the action of such a bridge upon the current; the other, the possibility of the viaduct obstructing the traffic to the Harbour. The Town Council ought also, it seems to us, to appoint a Committee of Inquiry, and not be content with general assurances like those which in 1848 were insufficient to induce their predecessors to abstain from opposition.

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