back to article Forth Bridge painters to down brushes in 2012

Painting on the Forth Rail Bridge is scheduled to end in 2012, concluding over 100 years of relentless brushwork which inspired the phrase "like painting the Forth Bridge", the BBC reports. Network Rail is set to end the century of endless slog by stumping £74m for a three-coat paint job similar to that used on oil rigs and …


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  1. Jon

    Damn shame, that

    This is one of the idiosyncracies that makes Britain Great. Why get rid of it for a generic paintjob? What next, sort the schools out? Mumble, mumble, I don't know, grr grr

  2. FlatSpot
    IT Angle

    Painters vs IT Costs

    "by stumping £74m for a three-coat paint job similar to that used on oil rigs and which will last for up to 40 years."

    So how much does it cost for a few guys, couple tins of paint and a brush? Surely not £74m over 40 years!

    Confused on the business case for this one! :S

  3. Liam O'Flaherty
    IT Angle

    Can I get some of that paint?

    Can they do that paint in Toyota code 8G2 so I can rid my 1992 Carina II of it's rust and slap some of it on her?

  4. Hollerith

    and in 2013...

    ...the pristine condition starts to deteriorate until the Forth Bridge is so rusted and dangerous that it's condemned and removed. Interesting solution.

  5. Snake Plissken

    Gravy train

    2.4 million man hours of paint and they still haven't finished. Bloody consultants.

    Mines the hi-vis jacket.

  6. jim


    £74m is only a 1000th of what the Labour Government have stolen from its tax payers to bung into Northern Rock.

  7. Mark Matheson

    A story of half-truths

    Unfortunately, it looks like Balfour Beattie are using the urban legend to advertise theirselves.

    It's totally untrue that the Forth bridge was painted continually. That would be a logistical nightmare.

    The frequency of the trains and the amount of safety equipment required to do such a job makes it a very slow process. But if they did do that, you would never see the bridge without tonnes and tonnes of scaffold hanging off of it.

    True, there may have been frequent patchwork over the years, but its first big paint job since the day it went up was in the early 90's.

    I know, I was there. I worked for the company that did that job.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    2.4 million hours...

    ...over 6 years? I'm pretty sure there's only 52,560 hours in six years. If your working day averages 8 hours, and you don't work on Sundays, then there's only around 15,000 working hours in six years. That means 2.4 million working hours is nearly 960 working years. So by my calculations they were at it for 842 years before the bridge was even completed! I _suppose_ they could have meant "man hours". In that case they had an average of just over 159 and four fifths of a person working on it at any one time...

  9. Mike Holden

    Is that "up to 40 years"

    in the same way that broadband is measured in "up to" units as well? Can we expect therefore that if the bridge is busy, it will be capped to maybe 2 years lifespan?

  10. John Donovan

    Tom Stoppard

    The powers that be should listen to Tom Stoppard's "Albert's Bridge" before embarking on such a strategy. It will avert disaster I tells ya.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Numbers of people

    2.4 million man-hours? That's 130-odd people working 8 hour days year-round...

  12. Hedley Phillips

    A lot of stripping, a lot of paint and and a lot of painting

    If anyone hasn't actually seen it. It is a damn big bridge.

  13. randomtask
    IT Angle


    Considering the Surface Area of the bridge is estimated at around 45 Acres I dont think that they would get very far with a few tins of paint and a solitary brush.

    There is obviously a business model for this!

  14. Tim


    What, only £1.85m per year, not taking into account inflation? It's easily more than that. More than five times as much, in fact. See

  15. Tawakalna

    three coats?

    ...I hope that the first is a proper undercoat this time, and that they prime the surface properly before they start. I'd have done it for £300, 20 Bensons and a cuppa char. I quoted for that Channel Tunnel too back in the 80s but got turned down, even though I gave them a discount on 2x 26mile RSJs.

  16. Bob

    @ Flatspot

    The 2.4million hours quoted in the post would have already cost somewhere in the region of £43m for labour alone and that was just for a period of 6 years. Another 34 on top of that plus inflation....well you do the math.

    I happen to know that a skilled tradesman (which im guessing they would be to work over a bridge...could you see a chav in his burberry hat hanging off the forth? you might want to but that's not the point) are charged at around £18 per hour...about 1/3 of which they actually get paid (if they're lucky).

    So financially it does make sense, perhaps the saving can help pay for Northern know until it folds and we have to bail it out with our taxes.

  17. Craig
    Thumb Up

    Yahoo on the ball

    Nice to see that Yahoo ran the story but with a picture of the Forth Road Bridge

  18. Trevor

    hang on a minute

    If they have been painting for 100 years but the paint only lasts 40 years then the paint at one end of the bridge should have had the next repaint started 60 years ago surely?

    If the bridge is 100 miles long and it took you a year to do a mile you'd only get 40 miles in before you had to start painting the first mile again.

    So you get a second team in who start at the beginning and the first team does the next 40 miles.

    The first team is now at 80 miles and the second team is at 40 so you need a third team to start the first mile again.

    Now it gets tricky see because the first team can do the last 20 miles and the first 20 miles and the second team is at 80 and the third is at 40

    I'll just get my coat and go now....

  19. Tony

    @Painters vs IT Costs

    Actually it's not quite as simple as "a few guys, couple tins of paint and a brush". You have to remember, the bridge is over water, it's a long way up and the wind blows right up yer kilt! It's a real swine if you climb all the way out and then realise you to need to take a p***

    As someone who has travelled over the road bridge a few times, I can assure you that anyone who is crazy enough to climb up and paint those things earns their pay.

    There is a huge surface area (I estimate 6.0 sq Kilometre for 1 coat and at 30sq m per tin around 200,000 tins, but I could be miles out). I doubt that there is any single component small enough to be painted with a single tin of paint.

    You can't just apply with a brush - the wind would blast it off before the paint had dried. Apart from that, it rains occasionally!

  20. Mike

    What a surprise

    A Balfour Beatty project taking 100 years and several millions of pounds to finish.

    Wow, they're improving...

  21. Seán


    Bridge painting opinions. Is there nothing the internet cannot provide

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Well, if it's anything like the usual with these civil engineering contractors, it'll be done in 2020, cost 10x the original quote and three bolts will be missing at the end of it - resulting total collapse whilst a passenger train is crossing... Of course it'll all be the fault of the little cheese sandwich eating foreman whose name no-one will be able to remember.

    Paris 'cos she's wondering what happend to the first, second and third bridges!

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Standard Units

    Only 53 "Ambitions"

  24. Ian Ferguson

    Re: Amazing

    Furthermore, Seán, there are continuously updated webcams pointed at a variety of interesting struts and joins, so the three-layer paint process can be inspected online by the public as the sunlight-accelerated solidification process gets underway. I hear it's fascinating.

    Train-spotting has nothing on this.

  25. William Clark
    Thumb Up

    There was a programme about it

    Sorry to be boring, but there was a programme about it a while back and this time the process of repainting is much more than just painting over the top. Sections of the bridge are carefully sealed against the elements, old paint is shot blasted to bare metal and the metal is primed asap with a decent (etching?) primer with corrosion protection - I was told once by a shotblaster (person) that bare steel starts to oxidise quickly once being exposed to air and getting the primer on asap is important.

    The primer is cheked with some sort of handheld scanning device to ensure it has coated/stuck/taken properly to the metal else it gets blasted off and they start again that area again.

    Hopefully this will last or they can build a new one in stainless (if there is that much chromium around...)

  26. Barry Rueger

    Wow - That's some bridge!

    I wasn't too impressed by the discussion til I saw a picture of this beast.


  27. Alan Gregson


    It takes so long because you get to the top of ladder, splash a bit of paint about then your can's empty, so you have climb back down to the bottom, pop round to B & Q, but they clean out of that shade, so you have to start again with a different colour.

    I tell you, it's like painting the forth bridge this is...

  28. heystoopid
    Paris Hilton

    So in 2103

    So in 2013 , the Brits will have to create a new song about a non London bridge 'all falling down' !

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    @Mark Matheson


    It's totally untrue that the Forth bridge was painted continually. That would be a logistical nightmare.

    The frequency of the trains and the amount of safety equipment required to do such a job makes it a very slow process. But if they did do that, you would never see the bridge without tonnes and tonnes of scaffold hanging off of it.


    Have you seen the Fourth bridge over the last few years? It is totally (well, not quite) covered in scaf. It's not like the 'good old days' when you didn't have the H&S.

    I have family in St Queensferry, when visiting, you could often see workers going in and out of the little hut thing in, if memory serves the 1st cantalevered bit. I am pretty sure that they were stripping and painting it constantly up until the early 90s when the trains were privatised - I seem to remember a Blue Peter all about its painting probably Peter Duncan.

    It seems like a good idea to have it painted once in every long time, but I can't help thinking that Balfour Beaty wouldn't be the company that I got to do the work... *metronet* *cough*

  30. Chris C

    2.4 million hours? Really?

    Being from the US, I'm ignorant of this bridge, so please forgive me. But I still think I can reasonably question the accuracy of those numbers. 2.4 million hours over six years? A typical full-time job is considered eight hours per day, five days per week. Giving two weeks vacation, that's 2,000 hours per year per person.

    2,400,000 man-hours / 6 years = 400,000 man-hours per year

    400,000 man-hours per year / 2,000 hours per year per person = 200 people

    Are they actually saying that for the past six years, they've had 200 people working on this full-time (40 hours per week)? Call me ignorant or call me crazy, but I can't imagine that for a bridge of any size. And if they really did have 200 people working on it full-time, I would hope it would have been finished within those six years (which it obviously wasn't).

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh and another thing...

    It's the bloody Fourth Bridge. There is no structure named the Fourth Rail Bridge. Why would they have called it the Fourth Rail bridge when that was the only bridge over it at this point at that time?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not "the internet", "The Register"!

    Where else, in the same place, can you find such a small group of people with such a broad range of ersatz expertise ranging from the environment, through IT, over astro physics, under civil engineering, around automotive engineering, up on through fine arts, between the legs of sociology, round the corner past international politics, straight on by economics and with a fly by Gary Glitter?

    Well yes, around every tea-urn in Britain at 11am, and huddled together by the main bar just before closing time, and in little thoughtful clusters in the stadium at half-time , but apart from there, where??

    Ok, up by the allotment on a warm sunday afternoon, and every frosty morning down by the Piccadilly line among the train counting anoraks, and just about everywhere on the internet that allows anonymity without a character-limit and inside Jeremy Clarkson's skull... but apart from there, where? Nowhere, thats where!

    Of course, except for...

  33. Duncan Hothersall

    @ Fraser

    I'm sure your family in St Queensferry can see the Fourth Bridge from their house, but this story is about the Forth Bridge, which is more easily seen from South Queensferry. :-)

  34. Martin Budden

    Same here...

    We are re-painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge the same way. Yes it's a massive job.

  35. Doug


    "It's the bloody Fourth Bridge."

    No it's not - it's the bloody Forth Bridge!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    "It's the bloody Fourth Bridge. There is no structure named the Fourth Rail Bridge. Why would they have called it the Fourth Rail bridge when that was the only bridge over it at this point at that time?"

    Um - not being from there...


    I would say that there are both a 'rail' and a 'road' bridge...

    PH because I think that even she speaks English...

  37. John
    Thumb Up

    Victorian Antiques

    They don't make 'em to last like that anymore. If you haven't seen the bridge, I suggest you make the trip. Amazing!

  38. Big Pete
    Paris Hilton

    So how does that work

    It takes 100 years to paint, but the paint only lasts for 40 years?.

    Paris, because she's had a brush with the law.

  39. Dave Edmondston

    @George Schultz

    It's more usually called 'The Forth Bridge' locally.

    Remember from 1890 till the mid-sixties it was the only bridge at this point - if you wanted to get your car across, you used the ferry...!

    The only time here (Edinburgh and Fife) it's referred to as 'The Forth Rail Bridge' is on traffic reports, when they have to differentiate between the two.

    Here's one of my pics of the bridge, showing how long even the support viaducts are...;topic=8143.0;attach=2875;image

  40. dervheid

    Putting it into perspective...

    for our American cousins. When a new gas loading terminal was being built on the Forth near to the bridge back in the early eighties, one yank "engineer" was apparently giving the standard "We built this, we built that, bigger, better yadda, yadda, yadda" speech to some of the locals. One large Fifer, puts his arm around the yank and pointing at the Forth Bridge says "See that, well WE built that while you were still fighting the f**king indians!" Bragging session OVER!

    The big difference in the paint job this time, unlike the last 'high-tech' paint job, is that they're taking the structure (cast iron) back to bare metal, not just slapping it over 100 years worth of 'red lead' paint. When they did that, back in the 90's (correct me if I'm wrong Mark M!), they sealed in all the moisture and the bridge started rotting under the paint, with some fairly large bits falling off!!

    As for the 'lifespan' of this latest paint job, I'll just wait and see.

    One question though, is the 20 years being measured from when the first sections were completed, or the last, as there'll be about a 10 year period between the two?

    Mine is the "Craig & Rose" red one!

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yep, Forth, not fourth, my goof, late night internet not condusive to bothering to ignore the Firefox spellchecker when it's obviously wrong.

    @George Schultz - The victorian one with the rail lines over it is known as the Forth Bridge, as it was the only bridge there until the 60s (if memory serves) the other one with the road over it is known as the Road bridge. No matter what wikipedia, that bastion of truth, says, it is the Forth Bridge.

  42. Darren

    Will this be like the 70s

    This reminds me of when employees of British Layland all had Maxi Orange bathrooms!!

    Will the employees painting the bridge all have 40 year proof painted houses??


  43. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The Return Of The Black Lamp

    I feel every day we slip into an era of mindless squabbles over cash. When the Luddites where in the factories and smashed those darn machines, making weaving the first job to take away manual labor. Then years later motor companies really ditch massive numbers of workers in favor of robots to carry out the work. Now many workers who spend decades of whats become a national tradition now put out by wonder paint. I agree mechanical weaving has made better clothes, and robots do build better cars, which are safer etc. But its the same old same old one day your employer pats you on the back and says good job and then feels notes in his pocket, tomorrow that same employer pats you on the back and says "good job but i have to let you go". How soon will it be before we live in a totally automated world. Visions of 1984 that film of The Final BIG BROTHER spring to mind. EEEeeeekk

    PS take Big Brothers (the CH4 show) and Princess Nikki, now you see how manual labor is an extra hassle for some folk...

  44. Anonymous Coward

    Read before you write

    I think people should think before they comment, 160 workers, working at approx 15,000 hours over 6 years does infact equal 2.4 million man hours. So please do pull your heads out of the clouds and do the math.

  45. Mark Roome
    Thumb Up

    Re: Dave Edmondston

    That, sir, is a great photograph.

    Well done that man.

  46. Dave Edmondston

    @Mark Roome

    Cheers Mark!

  47. Chris Hunt

    Hang on...

    The paint relies upon a "sunlight-accelerated solidification process".

    In Scotland.

    Isn't there a rather fundamental flaw in this plan?

  48. David Greaves
    Gates Horns

    re: Can I get some of that paint?

    @Liam O'Flaherty


    They make it but won't retail it. It would screw up the DIY paint business model.

  49. Waldo

    Network Rail - maintenance hit?

    From what I remember of recent history, N.R. are not exactlyTHE best at maintenance are they....

    Better check thats not Dulux emulsion hadn't we boys :-)

    Memo to self: Dont travel beyong Edinburgh by rail, or else take life jacket.......

  50. Bob C

    Shrink wrap, I tell ya!

    Just wrap the whole damn thing in plastic and apply heat. Turns it into a nice water proof tunnel plus the tension of the plastic will strengthen the bridge and keep any pieces from falling off.

    Hey! At least let me get my coat before you rush me out the door!

  51. Matthew Weekes

    it's like...

    Auntie looking for alternative phrases to replace "it's like painting the Forth Bridge". My suggestion of "It's like detoxing the Winehouse" didn't make it to print.

  52. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Dave Edmondston re: bridge differentiation.

    Sorry, I still don't get it. You mean that there are people up there dumb enough to listen to traffic reports and assume that the radio's talking about a four mile tailback due to a lorry fire on the rail bridge? Or that the 4:15 express has been delayed by the wrong sort of leaves on the road bridge?

    And you allow some of these people to drive cars?

    (Note to self, never drive in Scotland, it's way too sodding dangerous.)

  53. Slaine

    rail vs road

    the river Forth (not Fourth) has it's estuary north of Edinburgh and leads inland providing the southern aquatic boundary to the Kingdom of Fife (the northern boundary being provided by the equally wet river Tay - referred to within trivial Pursuit as being "England's Longest Salmon River" for some strange reason).

    In the same way as the "first world war" was never called the "first" but initially "the great war" whilst the second world war was always named the "second", the "first bridge" over the river Forth was called "The Forth Bridge". It happened to be a rail bridge, built deliberately over specification unlike the first Tay Bridge which had this nasty urge to drop itself and a train into the river one very windy night.

    The second bridge over the river Forth could not also be called the "Forth Bridge, that would be confusing, nor indeed could it be called the "Third" or "Fifth" as the estuary is named "Forth", not the bridge named "fourth". Since it happened to be a Road Bridge - the name stuck.

    Interestingly, it is the Road Bridge that is scheduled to fall down long before the paint on the Forth Bridge stops working. But since we will likely all be on the other side of the 3rd world war by then and throwing sticks at one another the need for either crossing is a mute point.

    Note to self... get back to Fife ASAP!

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