Memoria histórica y fracasos de la ingeniería

George Santayana, el poeta y filósofo hispano-estadounidense, advirtió una vez que "quienes no recuerdan el pasado están condenados a repetirlo". Así es en particular en la esfera de la construcción de puentes, en la que en los 150 últimos años ha habido fracasos espectaculares a intervalos sorprendentemente regulares.

En 1847, el primer fallo en la red británica de ferrocarriles en expansión ocurrió en Chester (Inglaterra). El puente sobre el Dee, cuyo diseño en hierro forjado seguía el uso común en aquella época, se desplomó bajo el peso de un tren, a consecuencia de lo cual murieron todos los pasajeros. La investigación posterior reveló que la estructura, la más larga de su clase, llevó, sencillamente, demasiado lejos los límites de la ingeniería de puentes para ferrocarriles.

En 1879, el puente más largo del mundo se extendía sobre el río Tay en Dundee (Escocia). La estructura, compuesta de muchos arcos pequeños, no entrañaba concepciones del diseño radicalmente nuevas y parecía ser una simple aplicación de una tecnología de eficacia probada. Sin embargo, se subestimó gravísimamente la fuerza del viento y la factura fue muy deficiente. A consecuencia de ello, el puente sobre el Tay, vulnerable en caso de vendaval, resultó arrancado de sus soportes.

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