A royal commission was established soon after the collapse of the bridge to investigate the cause. The report, tabled in parliament in 1971, detailed a number of factors that contributed to the bridge’s failure.
The commission was appointed to inquire into and report on ‘the circumstances surrounding and the cause or causes direct and indirect of the failure on the 15th day of October, 1970, of the steel span between piers 10 and 11 of the bridge known as “West Gate Bridge”’ and ‘to inquire and report upon whether any aspect of the design of the steel span between piers 10 and 11 is inadequate or undesirable’.
The commission sat for 80 days and heard evidence from 52 witnesses, under oath and subject to examination and cross-examination. Among the 319 exhibits received in evidence were correspondence, legal documents, plans, drawings and photographs.
The document is comprehensive and thorough. It was widely circulated and its conclusions were noted by building and designing companies around the world. Bridges of similar design in Britain and Europe were temporarily closed and tested for safety. Design and construction methods were fully reconsidered by the West Gate Bridge Authority before work began again in 1972.
The commission was careful to examine the role each party played in the tragedy. It concluded:
‘The disaster which occurred … and the tragedy of the 35 deaths was utterly unnecessary. That it should have been allowed to happen was inexcusable. There was no sudden onslaught of natural forces, no unexpected failure of new or untested material.
The reasons for the collapse are to be found in the acts and omissions of those entrusted with building a bridge of a new and highly sophisticated design.
The various companies who supplied the materials used were not shown to be in any way at fault, and must be held blameless. However, among those engaged upon the design and construction of the steel spans there were mistakes, miscalculations, errors of judgement, failure of communication and sheer inefficiency. In greater or less degree, the Authority itself, the designers, the contractors, even the labour engaged in the work, must all take some part of the blame.’
(Report of Royal Commission into the failure of West Gate Bridge, VPRS 2591/P0, unit 14)
|Other material relating to bridge collapses in Victoria:Report of Royal Commission into the Failure of Kings Bridge, 1963|