Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Exposure: Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct with Jacobite steam train
The Jacobite steam train puffs across the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Robert McAlpine, later to be Sir Robert, left school at age ten and started in the coal mines. By age 16 he was an apprentice bricklayer. At 22 he struck off on his own. Within five years, he owned two brickyards and employed more than 1,000 men.

His first railway construction project ended badly. He had no technical expertise. Litigation and remedial work on the railway almost ended his business.

But McAlpine was undeterred. He took on further railway projects and learned the craft. By 1897, aged 50 years, he began work on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Though he had started his career with bricks, he moved confidently into concrete construction, earning the nickname "Concrete Bob." Nevertheless, even with his hard-earned experience, many doubted whether a viaduct of this size could be made solely from concrete. And, they tutted, it would be unsurpassingly ugly if it did stand.

Up to that point, the longest concrete bridge ever built was less than 44 yards long. Concrete Bob built his viaduct with 21 equal arches, each 15 meters wide, for a total of more than 344 yards.

The viaduct was completed within 14 months. By 1901 the West Highland Railway had daily steam train service. The railway now best known as the Hogwarts Express is oft voted one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is its undisputed highlight. Had it been built with bricks or stone, it would no longer be in use. When the railway opened in 1901 the brochure described the viaduct thusly:

                  Many authorities on matters of taste, declared when this viaduct was first proposed, that it
                  would prove a monstrosity, sufficient in ugliness to take away all the charm and beauty of
                  the scene. Few would endorse this opinion now.

Glenfinnan Viaduct as view from the train
The Glenfinnan Viaduct viewed from the train.

Jacobite Steam Train 


For more about the Jacobite steam train journey which the Glenfinnan Viaduct serves, see here:

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