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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tees > Places > Places Features > The Transporter Bridge

Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge

The Transporter Bridge

The Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge is the best known landmark in Teesside. Its famous shape is visible from miles around Middlesbrough.

How does it work?

A moving car suspended from the bridge carries 600 people or nine vehicles across the Tees to Port Clarence in two and a half minutes.

Teesside has a world-renowned history as a centre of bridge-building.

The Transporter Bridge is a marvel of Edwardian engineering. Its foundation stone was laid in 1910.

Only 14 months later on the 17th October 1911 the bridge was opened by Prince Arthur of Connaught.

Transporter Bridge reflected in Tees

Transporter Bridge reflected in Tees

A day in the life of the Transporter Bridge

Every time I drive into Middlesbrough I always feel like I am greeted by the sight of the Transporter Bridge.

I’ve always wondered what a life in the day of someone working on the Transporter Bridge is like, and more importantly why it always seems to be closed.

So I went along to the Transporter to meet the team behind it and find out more. I was worried it might be closed as the weather was grey and overcast.

I arrived at the Middlesbrough south bank side. To my surprise the bridge was open. I stood for a while just watching the queue of cars drive onto the gondola and be transported across to Port Clarence. For a structure that is nearing its centenary celebrations in 2011 it’s in great working order.

It wasn’t long before I was pointed in the direction of Alan Murray, the Bridge Master. Since 1986, Alan has maintained the bridge and headed up a team of nine people. It is this team that is responsible for keeping the Transporter running eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. 

Alan told me how the team works in two hour shifts, changing their post at each stage. There is always one person in the control room at the top of the gondola operating the bridge, one conductor collecting the fares, and then a shore backup. What’s the shore backup I hear you say…

Alan explained, “The Shore Backup is primarily used for emergency power changeover; they are required to reinstate the power if it goes off in the Winch Room. They also need to phone the Harbour Master if there are any problems.”

I asked Alan to show me the control room. He took me to the building which houses the Winch Room. Removing the padlock he let me in, the first thing that hit me was the noise of the cables winding- it was immensely loud. It was amazing to see all the original winches working just as they did in 1911.

Through the background noise, Alan told me about the bridge. Did you know that it’s one ninth of a mile long and takes about ninety seconds to cross? He told me he sat down with a calculator one day and estimated that the cogs have covered about three quarters of a million miles since the bridge opened in 1911.

Paul operating Transporter Bridge

Paul operating Transporter Bridge

The cars were loaded on and it was time to depart. The size of the Transporter has always fascinated me, but until you climb the exceptionally steep steps up to the drivers’ cabin you cannot appreciate the sheer magnitude of the structure.

I was in awe as the cables began to wind and we started to move.

So, we get to the matter of what happens when the Transporter is closed. Is it just me, but almost every time I go to use the bridge it’s closed. 
I asked Alan why. He explained they need to close when carrying out essential maintenance, but also - now here’s the technical bit - if the direct head and tail winds are too high, they can not operate as it will damage the cables.

So who decides to close the bridge? Well, that’s the decision of the driver. Alan explained that there is a digital anemometer attached to the outside of the gondola which measures the speed of the wind. If this reaches thirty five miles per hour, the driver has to close the Transporter until the wind speed drops. 

How do we get to know that the bridge is closed? Well, that’s the responsibility of the team to alert the control room so that the free text alerts can be sent out and to put the boards out making drivers aware. Alan pointed out another way: I’d never noticed this but when the Transporter is closed there are two red lights which come on to show that the bridge is closed- so now we know we’ll never get caught out on our way home again.

last updated: 25/11/2008 at 15:13
created: 09/08/2007

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