THE role of Transport Scotland in the run-up to the Forth Bridge crisis will come under the spotlight in the days to come, not least because the nation’s transport quango only took over the management of the bridge earlier this year.

The National can reveal that two decisions in particular will come under scrutiny – Transport Scotland’s decision in June to switch the maintenance of the 50-year-old bridge to private contractor Amey, and a much earlier decision not to fund the replacement of an expansion joint at the North Tower just above the failed steelwork.

Respected engineer John Carson, the former director of maintenance for Network Rail who lives near the bridge and who led the team that built the Skye Bridge, is concerned about the expansion or movement joint.

Expansion joints allow for the movement of the bridge structure. Movements on a suspension bridge occur as a result of expansion and contraction of the deck and cables from temperature effects and in response to vehicle and wind loading.

Carson said: “It is a very serious and very unusual failure of the steelwork, and I just wonder if it is related to the movement joint which sits just above that girder.

“I don’t know for a fact that there is an association, but they have resisted renewing that joint for years now.

“If the movement joint wasn’t working properly, that would certainly put stress on the end of that girder.”

According to Transport Scotland’s 2007 report on the condition of the bridge, “there is evidence of deterioration of the main expansion joints located either side of the main towers and it is expected that these will be replaced in 2008/09”.

But no such replacement occurred. Instead, as a report co-authored by former Bridgemaster Barry Colford explained, the announcement of the Forth Replacement Crossing in 2009 – it will open next year – led to a decision to not replace the expansion joints, saving Transport Scotland millions.

The other decision which may come under scrutiny was the decision to replace Colford and other senior people charged with maintaining the bridge by Amey.

Some staff of the former Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) did transfer to Amey, but at least two senior engineers did not.

Politicians are already asking questions. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and Fife MSP Willie Rennie called on Transport Scotland to publish its bridge inspection regime following the closure.

He said: “I do not doubt the commitment and skill of the engineers working on the bridge but if things were missed, we need to know about it. This starts with the publication of the inspection regime.”

The National asked Transport Scotland for its views on these matters but no reply had been received as we went to press.

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