Why bridges collapse

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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Profile picture for user Libra23

Submitted by Libra23 on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 17:21


I know the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Tower Bridge in London, Brooklyn Bridge in New York and Ponte Vecchio in Florence. 

For me, a bridge is not only a building made for a better mobility among two places, it has a  deeper meaning inside itself: it’s like a connection that bring people to a (better) future, because the bridge links two far sides. The human effort (physical and intellectual) behind it’s relevant, and I like the idea that when we walk or drive on a bridge (short or long, it doesn’t matter) we are going towards a better future, and the builders wanted right that.

Profile picture for user Andrea.Sanchez

Submitted by Andrea.Sanchez on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 05:45


Hello! My name is Andrea and I'm from Mexico.

I only know of one famous bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I've never been there and I actually know it for not very good reasons; I remember I was listening to the news and they mentioned that a lot of suicides happen on the Golden Gate Bridge. Also, I once saw a black and white photo that took the moment when a man jumps off the bridge.

Submitted by aleseb3110 on Wed, 31/01/2024 - 15:16


I am from Equator, a latin-american country and here there are a lot of famous bridges. For example, I can mention the National Unity bridge which connects the cities of Duran and Guayaquil. It was inaugurated in 1970 and it supposed and advent for Guayaquil's economy development. Another very famous bridge is the one that conects Guayaquil to Santay island. A well known incident occured in 2018 where a ship collided with the bridge destroying the biggest part of it's structure. It was due a neglicting conduct of the captain who made a miscalculation in his navigation and impacted the bridge. Fortunately, there weren't loss lives but it put out of action the tourism in the Island.

Submitted by betelf on Tue, 24/10/2023 - 18:38


I know the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. It connects the European and Asian continents, so it's very famous, and I have visited it many times before.

Submitted by jmajo on Fri, 13/10/2023 - 13:48


I don’t know any famous bridges but I’d love to visit some of them someday.

Thanks for the lesson.
Great site!

Submitted by natanjesuss on Sat, 24/06/2023 - 16:37


The most famous bridges I know are Ponte Estaiada in Sao Paulo, Brookling and Manhattan Bridges both in New York City, Lodon Bridge in London and the beautifull Golden Gate Bridge above the Baia San Francisco in California.

Submitted by jonatasteixeira on Wed, 10/05/2023 - 21:24


The most famous bridges that I know are: Tower Bridge, Ponte Estaiada, Tacoma Narrows Bridge (that collapsed because the frequency of wind's sound), Rio-Niteroi Bridge, Golden Gate, Puente de la Mujer, Manhatam Bridge.

Submitted by andy6770 on Thu, 23/03/2023 - 01:38


The most famous bridges are The London bridge, Brookyn bridge, Australian harbour bridge, Rialto bridge in Venecia, Women's bridge in Buenos Aires. I have visited only two of them.

Submitted by Sanja on Tue, 14/02/2023 - 07:06


I saw the bridge across the river Sava in Belgrade. It is not very big bridge like many in the world but it is very important for Belgrade and whole country. It connects old and new part of the city. Thousends cars, buses and trucks pass it every day. Also, there were many collapsed bridges in my country due to bombing in the end of last century

Submitted by Andrew Thomasam on Mon, 24/10/2022 - 03:40


I think the most of bridges in my country are used inferior quality of construction materials. So the bridge collapse often cause in my country.