Celebrating 200 years of civil engineering in Scotland

We all take for granted the roads, bridges and buildings we use every day.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 31st August 2018, 8:50 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 3:05 am

But as the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in Scotland celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, the organisation is keen to open our eyes to the innovations its unsung heroes have helped to design, create and continue to maintain.

So a list of 200 projects and people has been established to do just that.

Top of the list here in Scotland is the first ever president of ICE, Thomas Telford, who is often referred to as the colossus of roads.

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The three bridges...across the River Forth at Queensferry are also on the top 200 list. (Pic: Ian Rutherford)

In 1801, after a career mostly designing and building bridges and canals, engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned by the government to improve road travel in his native Scotland.

This massive project lasted 20 years and included 920 miles (1480km) of new roads, as well as 1000 new bridges, improvements to canals and 32 new churches.

Telford’s work on improving the road from Glasgow to Carlisle (now the A74) was described as a ‘model for future engineers’.

And many have gone on to follow in his footsteps.

The world's only fully rotating boat lift in Falkirk was an obvious contender for the list and has duly been included. (Pic: Scott Louden)

For other projects being celebrated here in Scotland as part of the ICE bicentenary are marvels in their own right.

They include the Forties Oil Field, Edinburgh Sewers, Borders Railway, Caledonian Canal, Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, the Titan Crane in Glasgow, Tay Bridges, Glasgow’s water supply from Loch Katrine, the Forth Bridges and the Falkirk Wheel, as well as hydroelectric power and the M8, M73 and M74 motorway improvements.

For Sara Thiam, ICE Scotland regional director, the bicentenary is the perfect time to celebrate Scotland’s unsung heroes – while also selling civil engineering as a potential career.

She said: “Thomas Telford’s influence on the infrastructure on which we still depend is immeasurable, which is why he has been included in our 200 people and projects.

Construction on the Borders Railway started in April 2013 and rebuilding the 31 mile single-track route saw seven new stations and 42 new bridges being created over the course of two years. (Pic: Scott Louden)

“The whole ethos of our bicentenary year is to share with the public how civil engineers have transformed their lives.

“It’s the stuff we all take for granted – the roads we travel on, the bridges we cross, how we get water to our homes and sewage out of them and public buildings.

“All have been designed, created and maintained by civil engineers.

“But they tend to be a shy bunch so it’s our job to shout about their achievements!”

Civil engineers have been responsible for some of the biggest projects ever undertaken in Scotland.

But their job is far from done – in future, they will be asked to help solve issues such as flooding, coastal erosion and energy usage.

Which is why, in the Year of Young People, Sara and the team at ICE are also keen to entice a new generation to consider civil engineering as a potential career.

She said: “A recent survey found that only 45 per cent of adults and 35 per cent of young people could tell you what a civil engineer does.

“We want to encourage young people to see civil engineering as a creative and rewarding career.

“The portraits of our past presidents, which adorn the walls of our headquarters, don’t reflect the diversity of today’s population.

“Everyone uses transport, energy and water so it’s important that those designing, building and looking after it reflect the population as a whole.

“To achieve that, we need to change people’s perceptions about what an engineer is and does and show young people what an inspiring career it can be.

“So while it’s only appropriate to celebrate past greats like Telford, in future we hope the walls of our headquarters will look slightly more diverse!”

To find out more, visit https://www.ice.org.uk/what-is-civil-engineering/what-do-civil-engineers-do.

Celebration of amazing feats of engineering in Scotland

Forties Oil Field

The Forties oil field is the largest in the North Sea, 110 miles east of Aberdeen. It first produced oil in 1975 and, by 1978, the field was providing the UK with about a fifth of its annual oil needs. Production peaked at 500,000 barrels a day.

Caledonian Canal

Scotland’s longest inland waterway runs from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east. Work started on the 97km canal in 1804. When it was finished in 1822 the scheme was 12 years over schedule and about £425,000 over budget

Telford’s Roads

In 1801, Thomas Telford was commissioned by the government to improve road travel in his native Scotland. This massive project lasted 20 years and included 920 miles (1480km) of new roads.

Ninewells Hospital

When it opened in 1974 in Dundee it was the first new teaching hospital to be built in the UK since the 19th century. First proposed in 1949, building work only started in 1964. It was officially opened by the Queen Mother in 1974.

Tay Bridges

The Tay is the longest river in Scotland and the seventh longest in the UK. It’s crossed by four bridges, of which the best known are probably the Tay rail and road bridges.

Forth Bridges

The 2467m long Forth Bridge was completed in 1890. The iconic railway crossing is used by 200 trains a day and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Forth Road Bridge was the biggest long-span suspension bridge outside the US when it opened in 1964. It is 2.5km long.

The Queensferry Crossing is the longest bridge of its type in the world. It was completed in 2017. At 210m, its bridge towers are the highest in the UK.

Falkirk Wheel

The only fully rotating boat lift in the world, the wheel was built as part of the £85.4 million Millennium Link project to reunite the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. The canals had previously been linked by a staircase of 11 locks which took nearly a day to pass through.

Edinburgh Sewers

Starting in 1864, an interceptor sewer was built to connect to earlier systems and carry waste to the river Forth. In 1889 engineers built an even deeper sewer.

Titan Crane

The Titan was designed and built by engineer Adam Hunter, who previously worked on the Forth Bridge construction. At the time it was the biggest crane of its type ever built. At 161ft (49m) tall, it weighed around 800 tonnes and had a lifting capacity of 160 tonnes.


One of our largest infrastructure projects, improvements to the M8, M73 and M74 motorways completed the missing link in the central belt’s motorway network.

Borders Railway

Construction started in April 2013 and rebuilding the 31 mile single-track route saw workers build seven new stations and 42 new bridges over two years.