MSPs have been told that the fault that led to the closure of the Forth Road Bridge could only have been detected if hi-tech structural monitoring had been in place.

An independent engineering consultant said yesterday a pin which had stopped working had caused the crack which led to the shutdown of the bridge for almost three weeks in December.

At the opening of the inquiry into the closure Richard Hornby, of engineering consulting firm Arup, said there were no displayed signs of distress and nothing in the inspection regime for the bridge which would have determined the fault. The pin could have been seized for a number of years and only lasted so long because of the quality of the steel, Hornby said. He agreed with John Russell, operations manager for bridge operator Amey, who said only structural health monitoring could have “perhaps picked it up sooner”.

Hornby said bridge operators would have had to have structural health monitoring to detect the problem.

Russell told the committee that, since 2001, the failed section was inspected 23 times and there was no fault found, adding: “My opinion would be if we have structural health monitoring on the bridge, that would be the way forward. If we had had that, it perhaps may have been picked up – perhaps.”

The committee heard the latest monitoring technology will be used on the new Queensferry Crossing and is in place on some sections of the Forth Road Bridge, but installing it on the entire structure would cost millions of pounds.

Several witnesses told MSPs a decision by previous operator Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) not to proceed with a £15 million truss end link replacement project in 2010 had been “reasonable” and “proportionate”.