Sir Thomas Bouch


1822 - 1880

Engineer. Born in Cumbria (England), Bouch spent much of his life in Edinburgh. Along with Thomas Grainger (1794 - 1852), he was responsible for designing the world's first train ferry, the paddle-steamer Leviathan, which was built by Robert Napier (1791 - 1876) and ran between Granton and Burntisland. Bouch gained a reputation for building railways at minimal cost, which appealed to the railway companies and opened less valuable routes in the years following the initial boom in railway construction. Bouch achieved this by using single-track lines rather than double, timber bridges rather than iron, increasing the spacing between sleepers and using second-hand rails. Although capital costs were reduced, maintenance costs inevitably increased. He designed the first railway crossing from Edinburgh to Fife (which was never built) and, infamously, the railway bridge across the River Tay, which collapsed in a storm in 1879, just months after it opened and Bouch was knigthed by Queen Victoria. His design was blamed for this disaster and Bouch was disgraced, although corner-cutting by contractors in an attempt to save money, sloppy working practices and poor maintenance were significant contributory factors.

He designed the first viaduct across Bilston Glen in Midlothian (1873) and his Ferryden Viaduct (1879) near Montrose is still used, but the associated South Esk Viaduct (1880) failed extensive testing following the collapse of the Tay Bridge and was immediately redesigned. Bouch also designed a pleasure pier at Portobello, which was demolished in 1917, the Leven Railway in Fife and the South Suburban Railway in Edinburgh.

His reputation destroyed by the Inquiry into the Tay Bridge Disaster, he retired a broken man to his country home near Moffat, where he died. Bouch is buried in Edinburgh's Dean Cemetery.


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