Network Rail, which owns the 2,467m-long bridge, has unveiled plans for two concepts to provide access for the bridge – a visitor centre and viewing platform.
The plans are still in development stage, and a Network Rail spokesman says a tender for the design elements is likely to launch around spring next year.
Edinburgh-based WT Architects has created the initial designs and images for the project.
The visitor centre will feature education and exhibition facilities, food offers and shops, with visitors accessing it from a step-free ramp to two lifts on the eastern side of the bridge.
The viewing platform would be accessed by a lift in North Queensferry, with a smaller base used for guided visitor walks to the top of the south tower in South Queensferry.
Both sites are already in ‘semi-industrial use’ use by Network Rail, according to a company spokesmen, who says it is ‘quite confident in terms of what we can do’ with the site.
David Simpson, route managing director, Network Rail Scotland, says, ‘After ten years spent restoring the bridge to its full glory, and in advance of the application for World Heritage listing, these plans will offer the public the chance to visit the bridge and see it “close-up” for the first time.’
He adds, ‘Any infrastructure on the bridge will be less visible than the existing scaffold platform and all building designs will be of premium quality. The bridge remains a key part of Scotland’s railway infrastructure, linking Edinburgh with Fife and the north, and carrying over 200 trains per day.’
Network Rail will now spend the next four or five months talking with community groups and the relevant authorities in the area to finalise the proposals.
Network Rail estimates the two concepts would cost £12-15million to deliver. Any profits from the two facilities would be reinvested into the upkeep of the bridge.
The company also says the experience is expected to generate or secure between 220 and 430 full time jobs.
It is hoped that the plans will be ‘at least partially realised by 2015’, according to Network Rail, to coincide with the bridge’s 125th anniversary.