50 years of civil engineering news

1972 – Tarbela dam – Pakistan

The 1972 collapse of irrigation and power tunnels on one of the world’s largest dams was caused by scour and poor design but was the first of several collapses that affected the project over the next three years.

1973 – Rio-Niteroi Bridge – Brazil

The 4,590t box girder deck sections created an 11km long link between Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi across Guanabara Bay. At the time it was the world’s longest unstayed steel box girder bridge.

1973 – Sydney Opera House completed – Australia

Concrete roof shells, formed of post-tensioned ribs created one the world’s most recognised modern day structures.

1974 – Kempten bridge collapse – Germany

The centre span of the road bridge collapsed as concrete was being poured due to failure of the A-frame falsework supports. Nine people died.

1976 – Teton Dam collapse, Idaho – United States

The 94m high earth embankment dam, completed in November 1975, suffered a catastrophic collapse on 5 June 1976 as the reservoir reached capacity. The resulting flood killed
11 people.

1977 – NatWest Tower – London 

The tower was London’s tallest building at 183m. Its complex 3,800t steel frame was hung from a concrete core.1977 – West Gate Bridge completed – Melbourne, Australia

John Holland Group completed the replacement 336m long, box girder West Gate Bridge after design errors and an unusual erection technique led to the collapse of the first during construction in 1970, killing 35 construction workers.

1978 – Sines Breakwater failure – Portugal

The largest deep water breakwater of its kind lost two third of its concrete armouring and the concrete superstructure failed in several places in a storm in February 1978. Construction and material errors, along with the scale of the storm were cited as causes of the failure.

1978 – Willow Island cooling tower collapse – West Virginia, United States

Fifty one men died when the under construction cooling tower collapsed as concrete pouring started before the previous pour had sufficiently cured. 

1979 – Rhine-Main-Danube canal failure – Nuremberg, Germany

Collapse of an under construction dam on the canal flooded the town of Katzwang, resulting in a 10m deep crater and flooding that washed away cars and houses. One person was killed. 

1980 – Almo viaduct collapse – Sweden 

A ship hit an unprotected twin tube pier on the Swedish bridge and the arch deck fell into the fjord. The incident led to tighter pier protection regulations.

1980 – Humber Bridge span dropped – Yorkshire/Lincolnshire

Three sections of deck were damaged during construction when a clamp securing a deck lifting gantry failed. The bridge eventually opened in 1981 after nine years of construction at a cost of £95M – three times more than the original estimate.

1982 – Thames Flood Barrier opens – London 

The 520m long barrier is still one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world, 40 years after its completion. It it protects a 125km² area of central London from tidal flooding.

1982 – Kielder Dam completion – Northumberland 

Completion of Northumbrian Water’s 1.1km long earthfill dam created Europe’s largest man made lake, covering 1,068ha.

1983 – Dinorwic power station – North Wales

The £425M pumped storage power station was Europe’s largest. It includes 4km of tunnels and several 180m long caverns.

1984 – Abbeystead explosion – Lancashire 

A methane explosion in an underground valve house for a water transfer aqueduct killed 16 visitors. The design had a gas venting pipe routed into the valve house. The investigation led to regulations changes on working in confined spaces.

1984 – Carsington Dam collapse – Derbyshire 

The upstream slope of Carsington Dam failed just before completion and the slip spread 500m across the 1,250m long earthfill dam. The collapse was attributed to the unusual boot shape of the clay core, which set up non-uniform strain through the dam that caused brittle failure of the foundation clay.

1985 – M25 completed – London 

Opening of the 195km M25 orbital motorway around London marked the end of 10 years of road building and has since been widened.

1986 – Chernobyl disaster – Ukraine 

Reactor design flaws and human error led to a core meltdown at the nuclear plant following safety testing. Two people were killed and two injured in the explosions that followed and a further 28 from the rescue operation died in the following months as a result of acute radiation syndrome.

1987 – Schoharie bridge failure – New York, United States

Foundation collapse led to the main span falling into the creek below, killing 10 motorists. The failure was attributed to scour under the concrete spread footings.

1988 – Green Bank Observatory telescope collapse – West Virginia, United States

The world’s largest radio telescope collapsed without warning and analysis revealed the caused to be a weak link in the design that, once failed, caused the whole structure to collapse.

1989 – Hard hats become compulsory – UK

New regulations made wearing of safety helmets compulsory on construction sites in a “long awaited move” by the government to reduce the high injury and death rate in the industry.

1989 – Inverness rail bridge failure

Scour undermined the central pier of a 127 year old masonry bridge over the River Ness causing a progressive collapse.

1991 – QEII bridge opens – Kent/Essex

Opened in October 1991, the Queen Elizabeth II bridge was the first to be built at an entirely new location along the River Thames for more than 50 years. It was also the longest single span bridge in Europe at over 2,872m long.

1994 – Heathrow Express Collapse – London

Collapse of the sprayed concrete lining for railway station tunnels built using the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) resulted from poor monitoring and management of the work. The incident led to a review of NATM and temporary ban of its use in soft ground.

1994 – Channel Tunnel opens – UK/France 

Construction of the £10bn tunnel below the English Channel was lauded as the UK’s most successful construction project in NCE’s 25th anniversary edition.

1996 – Second Severn Crossing opens – Wales/England

Completion of the £350M cable stayed bridge provides a higher capacity road crossing of the Severn Estuary for the M4. The original Severn Bridge now serves local traffic.

1996 - Koror-Babeldaob Bridge collapse – Palau 

The Koror-Babeldaob Bridge catastrophically collapsed three months after reinforcement and resurfacing work to correct a midspan sag that was attributed to creep. Experts believe the redesign hastened the collapse but did not cause the weakening of the Babeldaob side that triggered the shear failure.

1997 – Tsing Ma Bridge opens – Hong Kong

The 2,132m long suspension bridge between Hong Kong’s New Territories and Lantau Island was the world’s longest combined road and rail crossing when it opened.

1999 – Jubilee Line Extension completed – London 

NATM tunnelling methods were used on the Jubilee Line Extension and work was delayed while the technique was investigated following the Heathrow Express collapse. The large stations marked a step change in design following the 1987 King’s Cross fire.

1999 – Mont Blanc tunnel fire – France/Italy

The fire in the 11.6km long Mont Blanc road tunnel killed 40 people. Operators were heavily criticised for failing to provide an adequate smoke extraction system or emergency evacuation routes.

2000 – Øresund Bridge opens – Denmark/Sweden

The cable stayed bridge is the longest road and rail bridge in Europe at nearly 8km. It connects to a 4km long immersed tunnel as part of the link between Sweden and Denmark.

2000 – Millennium Bridge opens and becames known as the “wobbly bridge” – London

The steel suspension Millennium Bridge became known as the “wobbly bridge” when it first opened as it swayed when pedestrians walked in step with each other. It was later retrofitted
with dampers. 

2001 – Leaning Tower of Pisa stabilised – Italy

Work completed in 2001 by an international team of experts, including Imperial College geotechnics professor John Burland, straightened the tower’s famous lean by 380mm.

2001 – 9/11 – New York, United States

The World Trade Center towers suffered progressive collapse on 11 September as a result of structural column damage and intense fires caused by passenger aircraft crashing into them in a terrorist attack. 

2002 – Falkirk Wheel opens – Scotland 

The world’s first rotating bridge lift opened to raise and lower canal boats 34m between the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, reconnecting the waterways.

2004 – Millau Viaduct opens – France 

The record breaking 2.5km long structure was designed by French bridge engineer Michel Virlogeux and architect Sir Norman Foster. It carries the A75 autoroute 247m above the Millau Valley floor.

2004 – Nicoll Highway collapse – Singapore 

Inadequate temporary works and design and construction errors resulted in the collapse of Singapore’s deepest ever cut and cover tunnel during construction for a new metro line, killing four workers.


2005 – Hurricane Katrina – New Orleans, United States

The category 5 hurricane caused over 1,800 deaths with many attributed to flaws in flood protection in New Orleans where some flood levees (embankments) collapsed. The incident led to a review of levee design.

2005 – Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse – UK

The precast concrete arch tunnel collapsed onto the Chiltern Railway line during backfilling above the structure to create an oversite development plot for a supermarket.

2005 – Buncefield fire – Hemel Hempstead 

Safety valve failures at the Buncefield Oil Depot caused the biggest peacetime explosion in Europe, injuring 43 people. Surrounding buildings were extensively damaged and the M1 was closed.

2007 – New Wembley Stadium opens – London 

Construction on the new Wembley Stadium with its iconic arch was completed by Multiplex in time for the 2007 FA Cup Final, although it was originally planned to host the 2005 match.

2007 – I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse – Minneapolis, United States

The eight lane steel truss bridge suffered a catastrophic failure during a rush hour, killing 13 people. The cause was the weight of traffic combined with a flawed design which included a too-thin gusset plate that ripped along a line of rivets.

2008 – Heathrow T5 opens – London 

The 35M passengers a year capacity terminal, architecturally designed by Richard Rogers Partnership with structural engineering by Arup and Mott MacDonald, was opened by the Queen.

2009 - Lakanal House fire – London 

Six people were killed and 26 were injured when fire broke out at the 14 storey residential building which had been identified at being at risk from fire spreading between flats in 1999.

2012 – Olympic Stadium opens – London

The stadium was designed by Buro Happold and built by Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty as the centrepiece of the 2012 London Olympics. It is now known as the London Stadium and is the home of West Ham United Football Club.

2012 – Hurricane Sandy flooding – New York, United States

Between the Caribbean and Canada, 233 people were killed by the storm. The worst infrastructure damage was in New York where streets, tunnels and subway lines were flooded and power cut.

2013 – Hatfield Colliery landslide – Yorkshire

A landslip of a spoil heap at Hatfield Colliery caused severe damage to
railway lines resulting in a two month closure of the railway between Doncaster and Goole.

2013 – The Shard opens – London 

The 72 storey building is the tallest in the UK at 309.6m high. It was architecturally designed by Renzo Piano with structural designer WSP. Mace was the contractor.

2014 – Dawlish sea wall collapse – Devon 

Shipping containers were stacked up to bridge the breach in the seawall at Dawlish which undermined the railway. Investigations were launched into an alternative rail route into the South West.

2015 - Scorciavacche viaduct collapse – Sicily, Italy

A section of the new viaduct collapsed days after opening after the contractor noticed signs of “subsidence”. The structure later partially collapsed due to earthworks failures.

2015 – Storm Desmond – Cumbria

The storm caused significant destruction in Cumbria with hundreds of bridges damaged, including Pooley Bridge which was swept away and took five years to rebuild with the UK’s first stainless steel bridge. More than 350km of roads were also damaged.

2016 – Didcot Power Station collapse – Didcot, Oxfordshire

Three people died when a 10 storey section of Didcot Power Station collapsed during demolition work.

2016 – Vivekananda flyover collapse – Kolkata, India

Inadequate structural stability of the steel composite bridge during construction is thought to have triggered its collapse onto a road below, killing 26 people.

2017 – Queensferry Crossing opens – Scotland 

The 2.7km long cable stayed road bridge took traffic from the M90 over the Firth of Forth and allowed the old Forth Road Bridge, which had cable strength issues, to be used for local traffic only.

2017 – Grenfell Tower fire – London 

Combustible cladding with air gaps installed during refurbishment caused the fire in the high rise residential building to rapidly spread, killing 72 people. The incident is still the subject of an inquiry but has led to widespread cladding checks and a new Building Safety Bill.

2018 – Florida International University bridge collapse – Florida, United States

Design failures and poor construction management triggered the collapse of a 53m section of the footbridge deck onto live traffic despite clear warnings that the structure was in distress. Six were killed and 10 injured.

2018 – Polcevera viaduct collapse – Genoa, Italy 

Failure to address maintenance issues created by the design of the road bridge resulted in deck collapse, killing 43 and injuring a further 16. 

2019 – Toddbrook reservoir spillway failure – Whaley Bridge, England

Heavy rainfall caused the reservoir to overtop and resulted in scour behind the concrete spillway leading to fears the whole dam could collapse. A review resulted in all raised reservoirs having to create flood plans.

2020 – Carmont derailment – Stonehaven, Scotland

Unapproved design changes to a drain constructed by Carillion combined with extreme rainfall caused a washout that derailed the train, killing three people.

2021 – Mexico City metro bridge collapse – Mexico 

Poor quality welding and missing stud connections caused the bridge to collapse, killing 26 people. Investigations have revealed further flaws in the construction of the metro which has been dogged by claims of corruption.

2022 – Crossrail completed – London

Crossrail’s central tunnelled section is due to open its doors to passengers in this month – three and a half years after the original planned December 2018 opening date.

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