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Quebec Bridge Collapse Essay

When the federal authorities in Canada decided to expand the railway network in the country, the Quebec Bridge was a part of the plan. The initial plan for the bridge was drawn in the early 1900s. The bridge was built to provide a reliable passage across the Saint Lawrence River.

Prior the construction of the bridge, the only way to cross the river was by the use of a ferry. The river was a major barrier to transport due to its breadth. While there were no major flaws in the initial design of the bridge, changes to the initial plan resulted to the eventual collapse of the bridge (Manitoba 2).

The engineer who designed the bridge added some to length to it, and failed to account for the extra dimensions in the calculation of the stress limit for the bridge. The person in charge of the bridge construction ignored several warnings of faults developing in the bridge since the construction had gone too far to stop without dire financial consequences (Wilson 52).

When it became apparent that the bridge would be lost, the engineer in charge tried to contact his senior, and both engineers issued a warning message to stop the construction (Manitoba 4). However, the message from the engineers arrived at the construction site a while after the collapse of the bridge.

Problems Affecting Construction

Construction of the bridge went on for three years from 1904 to 1907, when the engineers noticed that flaws were appearing in the girders supporting the bridge. At first, it did not occur to the chief engineer that the bridge structure was failing (Wilson 24). Consequently, he took action on the new development after the bridge’s situation had deteriorated beyond salvation.

Eventually, the bridge claimed the lives seventy-five of the eighty-six workers working on the bridge when it collapsed. An attempt to reconstruct the bridge was successful, but at a cost of another 13 lives of workers who were killed when the middle span fell into the river below while being hoisted into position.

Analysis of the Bridge Construction

The construction of the bridge cost more that it had been planned due to the initial failures. By the time the bridge was commissioned, the total cost stood at 25 million Canadian dollars. In addition, the bridge cost 88 lives of the workers killed during the ill-fated construction missions.

Finally, the bridge was fully constructed at more than twice the initial budget projection. Since engineering flaws were the cause of the collapse and the delayed completion of the bridge, little could have been done to ensure that the cost of the bridge fell within the budget.

The only thing that could have checked the cost of the construction was application of flawless engineering design and assessment. However, at the time of the construction of Quebec Bridge, architectural technology was not advanced to such a level to monitor the construction properly (Åkesson 54).

Apart from the inflated cost of the bridge, time was another setback for the construction of the bridge. The bridge, which was scheduled to be completed in 1907, was finally completed in 1917, ten years behind schedule. The collapse of the bridge in 1907 caused the major delay, while the second failure in1916 caused a minor delay.

In the overall assessment of the engineering project, it can be concluded that the performance of the engineers was poor (Holgate 12). While they were knowledgeable enough to steer the project in the right direction, they neglected clues and indications that the project was slowly developing into a major catastrophe.

This led to the first collapse of the bridge while it was almost complete. The initial plan for the construction of the bridge was changed and the engineers did not account for the additional weight and length of the bridge.

One of the major problems that affected this project was the lack of proper calculations to determine the final dead weight of the bridge (Holgate et al 18). The tension and compression forces on each of the girders had to be determined to assess whether the structure could hold its weight, and that of the people and vehicles using it.

The engineer overseeing the project did not review the new plan and design for the project carefully (Nava 3). This resulted in the oversight that saw the construction of a flawed bridge turn into a disaster.

The Role of Systems Engineering

Systems engineering can be used to assess the physical viability of such a project. Using systems engineering, the construction can be analyzed to determine its ability to meet the requirements. The theoretical estimates of the capabilities and the limits of the bridge can be determined by a systems engineer (Sheard 40).

If the project had employed a systems engineer to design the bridge and determine the requirements that were necessary for construction of a robust and flawless structure, the disasters that followed could have been avoided. A systems engineer could have determined the fine mathematical details of the whole structure and made proper estimates for the construction of the bridge (Sheard 31).


This project was one of the few of its kind at the time. The failure of the project proved that inadequate theoretical analysis of any engineering work of a significant scale could brew disaster. The importance of observing procedures and giving prompt response to emerging issues is also highlighted by the account of the Quebec Bridge construction.

Works Cited

Åkesson, B.. Understanding bridge collapses. London: Taylor & Francis, 2008. Print.

Holgate, Henry, and C. C. Schneider. Quebec Bridge inquiry report. Ottawa: S.E. Dawson, 1908. Print.

Manitoba, Free. “An Engineer’s Aspect: The Quebec Bridge Collapse of August 29, 1907.” An Engineer’s Aspect. Version 1. Factual TV, 5 Apr. 2011. Web.

Nava, Ahalika. “Mcmaster.” The Collapse of Quebec Bridge. Version 1. Mcmaster, 8 May 2011. Web.

Sheard, Sarah. “Twelve System Engineering Roles.” Annual International Symposium 45.5 (2008): 21-45. Print.

Wilson, Allan R.. Collapse of the first Quebec Bridge. Manchester: University of Manchester, 2007. Print.

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"Quebec Bridge Collapse." IvyPanda, 15 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/quebec-bridge-collapse-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. "Quebec Bridge Collapse." December 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/quebec-bridge-collapse-essay/.


IvyPanda. "Quebec Bridge Collapse." December 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/quebec-bridge-collapse-essay/.


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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Quebec Bridge Collapse'. 15 December.

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