Having recently been forced to close the Queensferry Crossing for two days, the transport secretary for Scotland, Michael Matheson announced ice sensors would soon be installed on the bridge. Serving as a link between Edinburgh and Fife the bridge became the center of a pollical firestorm after falling ice from the cables caused damage to at least eight vehicles.
Speaking in Holyrood, Matheson announced that a five-point plan will be enforced to keep an eye on the bridge throughout the winter months.
The closest thing we have to ice-monitoring equipment on the bridge is a pair of binoculars. The tech exists but it hasn’t been fitted yet.
Alex Cole Hamilton, MSP
One potential failsafe should the Queensferry Crossing be forced to closed again is granting all access to the Forth Road Bridge which is usually reserved as a dedicated public transport corridor. Matheson will hold a technical briefing on the 24th February for members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and MSPs. According to Matheson, the briefing is to, “Inform them of the circumstances of the closure, our developing understanding of why this happened and how we plan to respond to these challenges.”
A Difficult Task
The recent closure of the crossing was the first since its opening in August 2017.
Initial learning from the events of 10 February has resulted in a five-point plan being put in place to further enhance monitoring and gather increased intelligence from the observations.
Michael Matheson, Transport Secretary for Scotland
While the primary approach to monitoring will still rely on visual evidence where the condition of the bridge is concerned, Matheson stated, “This will be assisted by the installation of ice sensors in the coming months.”
Another priority of Matheson and his team is to use the technical briefing as an opportunity to strengthen communication between local authorities and parliament after Fife council revealed they had not been consulted over the closure. The bridge closure could cause severe disruption for commuters traveling between Fife and Edinburgh as well as impacting local Fife businesses reliant on deliveries coming over the crossing.
After assessments were carried out during the closure, transport officials cited unusually, particular conditions caused the snow and ice to form on the cables. The combination of humidity, wind direction, and temperature made predicting the potential hazards a difficult task. Thus, visual monitoring is not suitable for making safety precautions in heavy winter conditions and more information is needed to carefully assess the bridge when freezing temperatures hit.
The Benefits of Ice Sensors
Typically, Scotland is known for experiencing freezing and severe winters and engineers working on the construction of the Queensferry Crossing had previously recommended sophisticated monitoring equipment to forecast ice formation that could lead to disruptions on the bridge. Ice sensors can be useful as they can provide real-time and precise measurement of icing on cables and feedback the necessary data that constitutes whether ice formation poses a public risk.
Current ice sensor technologies are capable of distinguishing between water and ice in freezing conditions which also would give those monitoring the Queensferry Crossover the time to take effective action to plan and prevent any future closures. Another major benefit of installing the ice sensors on the crossing is that it could keep maintenance costs low as early detection and action would prevent corrosion and significant damage to the cables.
It is clear that even when safety measures are taken, closure of this megastructure causes significant disorder to other areas of public life. This is why plans concerning using the Forth Road Bridge as a contingency will be discussed further in the coming months. Transport Scotland recently announced, “We will investigate the feasibility of reopening the Forth Road Bridge to general traffic under emergency circumstances, once the remaining works are complete and the contraflow is removed.”
The £1.35bn megastructure that spans the Forth won the 2019 Rics Award for Infrastructure cementing its place as a modern engineering marvel. In the coming months it will see further improvements from the installation of the ice sensors, ultimately preventing any further incidents related to ice falling from the cables.