Rhodesia 1905 Opening Of Victoria Falls Bridge

2/03/2012     The Rhodesias

Rhodesia 1905 Opening Of Victoria Falls Bridge
In July 1905, a set of six stamps was produced by Waterlow, in order to commemorate the Visit of the British Association and the opening of the Victoria Falls Bridge.

The bridge was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes who wanted the 'spray of the falls over the train carriages', even though he never visited the falls and died before construction of the bridge began. It was designed by George Anthony Hobson of the consultants Sir Douglas Fox and Partners. Not as is often stated, Sir Ralph Freeman; he was the engineer who contributed to the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The bridge was constructed by The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, and took just fourteen months to build and was completed in 1905. At the time of the design of the Victoria Falls Bridge, Freeman was an assistant in the firm who were responsible for calculating stresses; quite an important feat in those pre-computer days! On 12th September 1905, the bridge was officially opened by Professor George Darwin. He was the President of the British Association (now Royal Society), and was also the son of the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin.

The American Society of Civil Engineers lists the bridge as a Historical Civil Engineering Landmark. Constructed from steel, the bridge is 198 metres (650 ft) long, with a main arch spanning 156.5 metres (513.5 ft), at a height of 128 metres (420 ft) above the lower water mark of the river in the gorge below. It carries a road, railway and footway. The bridge is the only rail link between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and one of only three road links between the two countries.

The Victoria Falls Bridge did not bring the first train or the first railway to Zambia. In order to quickly push on with construction of the railway north, Cecil Rhodes insisted that the Livingstone to Kalomo line be laid before the bridge was finished. A locomotive was then conveyed in pieces across the gorge, by the temporary cableway used for construction of the bridge. The locomotive was re-assembled and entered service months before the bridge was complete.

For more than fifty years, the bridge was crossed regularly by passenger trains, as part of the principal route between the then Northern Rhodesia, Southern Africa and Europe. Freight trains carried mainly copper ore (later, copper ingots), timber out of Zambia, and coal into the country.

The age of the bridge and maintenance problems have led to periodical traffic restrictions. Trains cross at less than walking pace and trucks were limited to 30 tonnes, thus necessitating heavier trucks to make a long diversion via the Kazungula Ferry or Chirundu Bridge. After repairs in 2006, the limit was raised, but more fundamental rehabilitation or construction of a new bridge has been discussed.

During the Rhodesian UDA crisis and the Bush War, the bridge was frequently closed (and regular passenger services have not successfully resumed). In 1975, the bridge was the site of unsuccessful peace talks. The parties met in a train carriage poised above the gorge for nine and a half hours. In 1980, freight and road services resumed, and have continued without interruption except for essential maintenance. Today, the Victoria Falls Bridge is the location for a 111 metres (364 ft) bungee jump. In this connection, it is often erroneously referred to as the 'Livingstone Bridge'.

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