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If you're in a few parts of the world, this video will be old news to you. But everyone
else: welcome to Wales, and what may be the strangest bridge you've ever seen.
This is the Newport Transporter Bridge, one of only a handful of transporter bridges still
working anywhere in the world. And you'll notice something odd, if you're down at ground
level: there isn't actually much of a bridge here. Up top, there is, for maintenance and
for scared tourists to climb over, but there's no continuous roadway. Instead, it's like
an aerial ferry: there is one bit of bridge that gets hauled across, back and forth, on
huge cables suspended here at the top.
Which raises the question: why not just use a ferry? Well, the river Usk, here, is part
of the Severn Estuary, which has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world. So at low
tide, this is mostly mud flats: a regular ferry won't reach anywhere close to the shore.
But a bridge here has some very difficult design requirements.
Firstly, the ships that came through 100 years ago, when this was built, were huge, so the
bridge has to be at least this tall. But the river banks are low, so in order to get enough
height with a traditional bridge, you'd have to build it miles long. Which is much more
expensive, particularly a century ago, and also you'd have to end up destroying a good
part of Newport.
You could use a swing bridge or a lifting bridge - but that would need supports in the
middle of the deep, wide river. Expensive. Plus, the fast, dangerous currents here mean
that ships are going to have trouble not crashing into them.
So you can't have a traditional bridge, you can't have a ferry: but you can have this.
It's a weird hybrid, 100 years old -- and that 100 years is the clue as to why they're
not built any more. Because in that 100 years, technology has moved on in a lot of ways.
First, we can now build long, deep tunnels, go under the river instead of over it, and
not have to worry about demolishing anything on the way, and second: we've got cars and
buses now, not horses and carts. The five-mile diversion that this bridge stopped isn't nearly
as much a problem any more: you just drive round it. But despite that: this bridge is
an icon of Newport, and of Wales. It's a tourist attraction, for very, very confident tourists.
And the toll's only a pound. So it will be here for perhaps another century or two to come.