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Painting the Forth Bridge

'Painting the Forth Bridge' is a popular saying used to describe a task that is never completed. The expression is based on the idea that since its opening in 1890, the Forth Bridge, one of Scotland's most recognisable landmarks, has been in a continual state of refurbishment owing to its vast size and the intricacies of its structure.

While this is technically not entirely true, it does give an idea of the huge dimensions involved in a bridge which spans the Firth of Forth, the broad estuary north of Edinburgh that lies between the Scottish capital and the county of Fife to the North.
At over 2,500 metres in length, made out of 53,000 tonnes of steel held together by 6.5 million rivets and supported by 92,000 cubic metres of concrete and masonry on both sides, it is one of the great feats of engineering of the late 19th century, a high point in public infrastructure projects in the British Isles. For almost 30 years, the Forth Bridge was the longest cantilever bridge in the world, only surpassed by the Quebec Bridge in 1917.

In 2002, a major course of refurbishment began which ended in December 2011. Unlike previous maintenance efforts, this 9 year process involved blasting all preceding layers of older paint off first, conducting necessary repairs on steel structures and then repainting the entire structure using 230,000 square metres of paint which is expected to last for between 25 and 40 years.

Kieran Dodds was commissioned by Network Rail, the owners of the bridge, and Balfour Beatty, the company tasked with its maintenance, to photograph the final stages of the process and document the work carried out by some of the 1,600 people involved in completing the most comprehensive overhaul of the bridge in its history.During his days - and numerous nights - on the scaffolds and work platforms attached to the bridge in all weathers, Kieran met a number of the workers who gave him their very own, candid insights into the work required to accomplish this feat.

Willie Waddell, abseiler

'At the top members, its about 350ft. It wakes you up in the morning, its a buzz. Sometimes your better no thinking when you are going off the top! .... There's been a few guys who have come to work on the bridge but walked straight back off when they saw it close up. These big rufty (tough) scaffolders cannae handle it.'

Gordon 'Gudge' Hunter, rope access coordinator

'I've been here pretty much since the start. It take a lot of bottle and nerves of steel and the ability to do the job at the end of the rope. I'm really sorry to see the back of it and now we have to walk away and leave it. Its been a huge part of our lives, over half my working life Ive been here.

John Quinn, 61 sprayer/painter

I've been spraying for 30 years but only recently on the bridge. A lot of people think you have to wear a harness but you don't..... The paint soaks through everything so the overalls hang off you with grit, paint and sweat, its not what everyone would do but its good.'

In 2011, the British government nominated the bridge to be included in the register of UNESCO's world heritage sites. A decision is expected by 2015.
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