Drochaid na Coingheil
|Location Map ( geo)|
Originally built as a railway bridge, it took many years to convince the Caledonian Railway Company to allow motorists to use the bridge, and then they imposed a toll. Today, it is toll free and the railway is long gone.
Built in 1903, the bridge was the second longest girder bridge in the world, after the Forth Bridge. Due to the relatively short-lived popularity of such structures, I believe that it still holds that title! It was built for the Ballachulish branch of the Callander and Oban Railway, a nominally independent railway line operated by the Caledonian Railway. It crosses the A85 and the mouth of Loch Etive, above the falls of Lora, where a ferry had previously operated when the tide allowed. Another ferry, which lasted much longer, crossed the loch to the east on the B845.
In the first instance, cars were transported by train, being loaded onto trucks and made to wait for the occasional train that crossed the bridge. Then, a specially adapted charabanc crossed on the railway tracks. Finally, common sense prevailed, and before WW2 cars were permitted to drive across the bridge. I have seen several photos of the bridge at that time, some seem to show road and railway side by side, while others suggest the bridge has been resurfaced so that the rails were like tram tracks set into the road. Certainly, according to an early (c.1939) copy of 'The AA Road Book of Scotland', the road ran alongside the railway line. There was, inevitably, a small toll, which was an astronomical 10s in 1937. By 1963 this had dropped to 4-6s, based on the vehicles horsepower. Before the war there was an additional charge of 2s to get the operator out of bed between 10pm and 7am, and you had to book such a journey, but by the 1960s the bridge was open 24hours, except when a train was crossing.
This situation continued until the railway line was closed in March 1966, when the bridge was given over solely to road traffic, and the tolls lifted as soon as the tracks had been removed. It is not clear whether the traffic lights remained in situ, or if there was a period when the bridge was two way. Whilst, in theory at least, the bridge is wide enough for two CARS (the narrower ones of a bygone era) to pass, commercial vehicles wouldn't have been able to pass each other. In addition, due to the metal superstructure of the bridge, a height limit of 4.2m/12'9" is signposted on the bridge.
Since the closure of the railway, the bridge has been S1 and traffic-light controlled, with extensive new link roads having been built on either side. This has made the bridge approaches much straighter, partly using the former trackbed, and allowed the road to become part of the A828, which formerly stopped short in North Connel. There is a pavement along the western side of the span.
A few miles up Loch Etive, another crossing operated between Bonawe and Taynuilt on the B845. This was operated by the quarry company, carrying other traffic at discretion. In 1963 cars were charged 5s for a service that took 5 minutes. The ferry could only carry 4 cars at a time, and had a very limited service - 8am-5pm mon-fri and 8am-12noon on Saturdays. The service ceased around the time that the Connel bridge became a free road bridge.
Height Restriction Warnings
In July 2009 Automatic Height Limit warning signs were installed on the A85 and A828 either side of the bridge. These comprise solar/wind powered posts on either side of the road with twin motion detectors set a little lower than the bridge clearance. This allows the units to firstly gauge the height of the vehicle, and secondly detect direction of travel, thereby only flashing the warnings to appropriate vehicles.
The warning messages are as follows (I think!):
- A828 S/bound: Overheight Vehicle Turn Back.
- A85 S/bound: A828 Overheight Vehicle no left turn.
- A85 N/bound: A828 Overheight Vehicle stay on A85.
The Height restriction is 13'9" or 4.2m.