You are here

Why bridges collapse

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

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.

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.



Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


The tower bridge in london is the famous bridge which I want to visit. Its classy. I haven't visit it yet but I have seen it on sherlock holmes movie. The place where Blackwood died hanging on the bridge.

The Chirajara's bridge was a bridge located in one of the remotest areas of the Colombian plains which aimed to connect the place to the city and thus facilitate the mobilization between roads. In the midst of the process, in January the 15, 2018 a malfunction of a beam brought about the collapse of the building claiming the lives of 8 workers in the falling, unfortunately for the town, there hasn't been any economic project along those lines since then.

I think english understanding is difficult thing. But I can easily understand english in this site and solve interest developing in english through this site.

I don't know anything about the most famous bridges in the world, but the most wide-known bridge in my city is Leningradskii bridge. There is a memorial of memory about issues in Leningrad during the second World War on this bridge. It is average bridge that is approximately 500 meters length.

regarding to 1st paragraph :" ... they ... are subject to intense scrutiny", why shouldn't be "subjected to". What are the differences?
Thank you

Hello AliMir
'subjected to' is also correct here; both forms mean exactly the same thing. The way it is written in the article, 'subject' is an adjective, whereas in the form you suggest 'subjected' is a past participle in a passive form.
All the best
The LearnEnglish Team

I know London Bridge's Falling Down ♬ 
I ever visited it, but I remember London Tower more clearly.

A good article. In Task 1 question 3, the bridge material is not an incorrect choice. Contact between the wheels and the track is not, in itself, a reason for bridges to burn.

Hello Ken
Yes, you are right! We have just reworded the question and answer options to make it clearer.
Thanks very much for taking the time to point this out to us!
All the best
The LearnEnglish Team

Osmangazi Bridge in Turkey, toll is 42$ and it is 2,7km long.
Minimum wage is 370$ :)