The Tees Transporter Bridge as it is correctly known (or simply the Transporter or Tranny) is the furthest downstream bridge across the River Tees, England. It connects Middlesbrough on the south bank to Port Clarence on the north bank. It is a transporter bridge, carrying a travelling ‘car’ or ‘gondola’ suspended from the bridge, across the river in 90 seconds. The gondola can carry 200 people, 9 cars or 6 cars and one minibus. It carries the A178 road from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool.
Following a 1907 Act of Parliament the bridge was built at a cost of £68,026 6s 8d by Sir William Arrol & Co. of Glasgow between 1910 and 1911 to replace an earlier steam ferry. A transporter bridge was chosen because Parliament ruled that the new scheme of crossing the river had to avoid affecting the river navigation. The opening ceremony on the 17 October 1911 was performed by Prince Arthur of Connaught. The first person to fall off the bridge fell at the opening ceremony; the man (Arthur Darwin) was a relative of John Darwin from Seaton Carew of canoeing fame.
The Tees Transporter Bridge has an overall length (including cantilevers) of 851 feet (259 m), leaving a span between the centres of the towers of 580 feet (180 m), the beam of the bridge being carried at a height of 160 feet (49 m) above the road. This combined with an overall height of 225 feet (69 m), makes this bridge the second largest example remaining in the world; the largest being the bridge across the River Usk, at Newport in South Wales.
During World War Two the superstructure of the bridge was hit by a bomb. In 1953, the gondola got stuck half-way. While it was stuck, gale force winds lashed water to within inches of it.
In 1974, the comedy actor Terry Scott, travelling between his hotel in Middlesbrough and a performance at the Billingham Forum, mistook the bridge for a regular toll crossing and drove his car off the end of the roadway, landing in the safety netting beneath.
In December 1993, the bridge was awarded the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ highest honour, The Heritage Plaque, for engineering excellence, in recognition of the Council’s efforts in keeping the bridge in good working order. Its historical importance was also recognised in 1985 by its listing as a Grade II* Listed Building and its prominence as a local landmark was further enhanced in 1993 by the installation of flood lights that operate during the winter months.
It has featured in films and TV programmes including Billy Elliot, The Fast Show, Spender and Steel River Blues. In the millennium celebrations of 2000, fireworks were fired from its length. The storyline of the third series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, saw the bridge dismantled to be sold to and re-erected in the USA. The local council received calls from people worried that the bridge was really being pulled down, with the BBC adding a disclaimer on the end of the final episode of the series stating that ‘The Transporter Bridge remains in Middlesbrough’.
The Transporter Bridge has a safety announcement, and until recently, it was a southern voice. Middlesbrough council decided it was time to change the voice, and held a competition for the new voice. The competition was won by a Middlesbrough man, Brian Hall, who was one of the last few finalists in the competition for thespeaking clock in 2006.
The bridge is currently owned by Middlesbrough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council. Middlesbrough council has control of the day-to-day operations and maintenance.