Why bridges collapse

Read a civil engineering article about why bridges fall to practise and improve your reading skills.


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Reading text

Some of the biggest and most expensive transportation projects in the world have involved building bridges. Bridges are crucial links that carry cars, trucks and trains across bodies of water, mountain gorges or other roads. As a result, they are one of the most important aspects of civil engineering and are subject to intense scrutiny, especially when they collapse.

Bridge collapses can be tragic events, leading to loss of life and serious property damage. That's why bridge engineers, designers and builders must always take their jobs very seriously. The best way for them to prevent these accidents is to understand why bridges collapse in the first place. Understanding bridge collapses can lead to major changes in the design, construction and safety of future building projects. The following are main reasons why bridges fall.


Historically, more bridges were made of wood and were much more susceptible to fire. This was particularly true of old-fashioned train bridges, where the spark created by the steel wheels and steel tracks could sometimes cause a bridge to catch fire and burn to the ground.

During construction

A large number of bridge accidents occur during the construction of the bridge itself. These accidents are often due to an error made by the engineers, such as a miscalculation. The bridge collapses under its own weight, and this can be deadly for the workers on it at the time.


Earthquakes damage all structures, including bridges. Luckily, this kind of collapse is relatively infrequent, especially with modern bridges. Engineers have learned to design bridges in earthquake zones on areas that are much more resistant to movement.

By defect

Some bridge collapses are mysteries, and engineers only realise why after they conduct a complete investigation. In some cases, this could happen because inferior-quality material was used in the construction, or because of a defect in a key piece of the bridge. In other cases, the bridge was designed only to support a certain amount of weight and no more.

Boat or train crash

Both of these kinds of accidents are extremely rare, but boats and trains can cause a bridge to collapse for different reasons. With trains, it's the velocity of the impact that can bring a bridge down. With boats, it's the very large mass they have that can bring about the collapse, even if they are moving very slowly when it occurs.

The best way to avoid bridge failures is to plan for them. Modern technologies that can detect structural weakness, safer working environments and better designs can all help to reduce these terrible accidents.


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Average: 5 (2 votes)

Submitted by Finn Pete on Fri, 05/03/2021 - 14:24

We couldn’t find the grammatical explanation to fortify the preposition/postposition on this sentence: ”The accident was subject to a full investigation.” It sounds right for my ear, but somehow so does this: ”The accident was subject for full investigation.” Could someone explain the usage of the pre-/post positions in the quoted sentences and under which grammar rule it lands. And would the meaning change by change between to and for? Now I know, there is a missing indefenate article on the second one thinking, it might change which one should be used.

Hello Finn Pete,

I don't see any question of pre-/postposition in your example. It appears you are asking only about which preposition is appropriate here and I would say that the collocating preposition is 'to': be subject to...


You can talk about something being 'a subject for an investigation', but that has a different meaning: subject to investigation means dependent or conditional on an investigation, while a subject for an investigation means it is a topic for an investigation.



The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, thank you, we came into the same conclusion, that the object and subject changes by the preposition. But I couldn’t explain it thoroughly enough to my students to understand tripping myself on the way. Pete

Submitted by Ehsan on Sun, 17/01/2021 - 07:40

there are many bridges in my country which some of them are famous. I've seen some of them. they are: " Pole Kabli" means "Cable bridge" in Tabriz, the bridge on the Orumieh lake in the Orumieh, "Siose Pole" means "Thirty-three bridges" in the Isfahan, "Pole Moallag" means "Suspended bridge" in Ardabil, and etc.

Submitted by reem mohd on Tue, 08/12/2020 - 16:40

there are two bridges I know which are very famous and interesting. The "golden gate" in the US. I didn't really visit it but I've seen it on the internet, and it has a pretty design. Also, the "Tolerance bridge" in the UAE. I've been to this bridge cuz I live near to it. I really love its design which i think is unique and eye-catching.
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Submitted by danisep on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 23:36

I have heard about the golden gate but I don't know it in person. talking about the bridges collapse, I remember here in Colombia in 2018 when the Chirajara bridge fell in the middle of its construction killing the workers due a bad design. The government spent millions on that bridge which promised to resolve transport problems connecting one important city with the capital. Everybody was shocked how an important and huge structure just fell down in two seconds and how a bad administration and corruption don’t care to put people 's lives at risk.

Submitted by cittàutopica on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 12:18

Instead of answering the questions, I would prefer to remind a terrible collapse of the "Morandi" bridge, happened in my country, the fourteenth of August 2014. 43 people died and many people lost their homes. The reasons of the collapse still aren't verified.

Submitted by Bimble on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 23:02

I think the most famous bridge that I know is Tower bridge, located in London. I've been there in 2017 and was a great and rich experience. More than just see personally the bridge, I could understand a little bit more about its history. Definitely, I would go back and visit more places and bridges!
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Submitted by Hennadii on Tue, 27/10/2020 - 16:29

There are lots of bridges which deserve attention, Golden Bridge in San Francisco, Rialto Bridge in Venice or all those beautiful bridges in Paris. But today I would like to tell you about, probably, the most famous bridge in my city - Paton Bridge. It's obviously not the most beautiful bridge in the world and not the longest as well but it's world's first all-welded bridge, and we very proud about that fact. It was designed and constructed by our well-known engineer Evgeny Paton in 1953. This bridge consists of 264 identical blocks which are 29 metres in length each, held together by welding.
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