The Tay Bridge Disaster – Short Story

This is an assignment I had to write for University, it is a fictional account of the horrific tragedy that did actually happen on the 28th December 1879 where a part of the Tay Rail Bridge collapsed while carrying a train full of people. You can read more about the disaster on its wiki page.


As the day rolls into night, as the children of Dundee cover their little ears from the roar that is rattling through the streets, the firth is fighting a losing battle.

 A vicious, yet historical, attack from air on water. Speed versus stability, force over matter. The gale force winds swipe down and take slice upon slice from the vulnerable surface, waves jump up and away in every direction in fear of the next round. Any boats that ventured out tonight would certainly be long gone, their passengers no more than a fond memory.

 The open water is nothing more than a victim of the storm, yet you will never see someone shed a single tear for it. It, after all, is nothing more than an inconvenience! Just take the the Tay bridge for instance, quite a sight to behold. The best of its kind, they say. A product of the firth, an emblem of mankind’s war against mother nature. Solid in the increasing gusts, not showing an ounce of fear for the invisible warrior, it is a king.

 If you were to travel through the water, although I certainly would not recommend doing that on a night like tonight, following the winding skeletal structure above you would would come to a little station. A train station and a bustling one at that.

 Now, if you were stuck out in such horrid weather all you would ever want was to be at home. The constant slaps when the wind blows are hardly endearing and more than enough to make you dream of your bed. As you see the headlights forcing their way through the raindrops, you would sigh a sigh of utmost relief, warmth is ever so close. As you step onto that carriage you would begin to feel your toes again, your hair will start to dry and may begin to resemble that of a poodle but you don’t care, you are drying and almost home.

 Unfortunately some aren’t so lucky, a poor young girl is shouting after the almighty engine. Begging for it come back, for her. Her tears, hot amongst the bitterly cold, mix in with the rain that is continuously pouring until she can see the train no more. Defeated and confused she wanders back under the shelter of the station, wondering whether there will be any more trains tonight.

 Two men are furiously trying to hold onto their hats and their humour, whilst they do their best to tinker with a sopping signal box. Unsure if the engine driver will even be able to see if the signals are working or not through their raindrop cover windows, they work as quick as their frozen fingers will allow. The train rumbles by, a whisper in the growl of the wind, showing it is time to head back. If you thought the weather was bad before, think again. The storm is no longer just a spot of bad weather, it is a brick wall between these men and shelter. The ever increasing wind is now an invisible foe, threatening to use these fully grown men as nothing more than a kite. On their hands and knees they begin to crawl, their limbs moving ever so slowly, fighting for their lives. Far from an amble walk in the park, their hats long gone; their heads an open target for the cold, bitter night air.

 When the red tail lights of the distant train, their only guide back to safety, disappear much sooner than anticipated they start to worry. If they swayed too much to the right they’d be swallowed up in the hungry firth, without the glow of the passing train they are teetering on the edge of life or death. A game they have no choice but to play, it is either that or becoming victims of the storm.

 ‘’John, you still there?’’ shouts Henry, his voice fighting with the wind.

 ‘’Pretty much!’’ John replies, there is a quiver of worry in his usually gruff voice. ‘’Where the heck is that train?’’

 The two men look up to where the train should be, their grimy hands the only shield for their eyes. The iron of the bridge is like an ice block, a slippery ice block and is the only way back to the station. As long as they can feel the cold metal beneath them and nothing else, they should make it back to safety before long.

 ‘’These bloody night shifts, I told you they’d be the death of us!’’ John laughs, a juxtaposition if you have ever seen one.

 The darkness is unlike anything these two friends have ever witnessed, not only is there the threat from the weather but also the crashing of the waves beneath. A mocking sound calling after them.

 On they go, the signal box only moments behind them. They are moving at an impossible snail’s pace, unable to make their aching bodies move faster.

 Then suddenly they see it, up ahead.

 The dark storm clouds part, revealing the most beautiful moon Henry and John had ever seen. An old welcomed friend in the suffocating darkness, the guide they have been wishing for, but like most reunions with things from the past they come bearing news. Of course you hope the news would be good, why would you wish otherwise? In this case the new found light shows they are closer to the station than they originally anticipated but in the same breath, nothing could prepare anyone for the sight before these two men.

 Their beloved Tay Bridge, the reason for them having a job, is missing a most vital instrument. The entire midsection of the strong, well crafted bridge is gone. Vanished, just where the men saw the trains red tails lights disappear. The moonlight has lit up the majority of the bustling firth but it is showing nothing more than expected.

 John and Henry look at one another, knowing. No bridge, no train, no passengers. A scream erupts from the train station, the men scurry harder against the still vicious wind in hope they will find the train and it’s inhabitants fine and safe.

 The scream rings louder and louder, significantly high pitched like a ringing alarm. When the hopeful men eventually come to the end of their short but difficult journey, they do not see the train nor hoards of paying passengers. A lone young woman, dressed in nothing more than her work clothes and a soaking thin shawl is staring after where the train should be. Her scream an echo in the back of the men’s minds, realisation sets in.

 The train and all those people on their way home after a day of festive celebrations, all gone. Official victims of the firth, which is no longer an inconvenience but a final resting place. Our beloved bridge, still unmistakably solid amidst the obvious disaster, no more than evidence mankind will never truly be able to overcome mother nature.

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