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Nostalgia & History > Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge

Date: 11/09/10 12:07
Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: Thomas

Most people know something about UPRR's first railroad bridge across the Missouri River. After all, it was the bridge for the first transcontinental railroad. But not many realize that Omaha has another railbridge, a double-swing bridge, a few miles north of the UPRR bridge. This ICRR bridge has some superlatives of it's own, and, for me, has a bit of mystery as well regarding when the spans were built.

Here is some Web info and also some pics...


I have a few questions...

The attached postcard claims both spans to be the longest draw spans in the world. I wonder...

1. ...if this bridge STILL takes the prize for longest swing spans?

2. ...if any other double-swing bridges were built in the U.S.?

The Bridge Hunter website has a particularly interesting entry...

"The Iowa swing span of the East Omaha Bridge was built in 1893. It is of wraught iron. The Nebraska swing span was built in 1904. This span is of steel."

This must have been a single swing bridge before 1904. I wonder...

3. ...does anyone here have pics of this bridge before the 2nd span was built?

BTW, both spans appear to to be able to swing ...each even has it's own bridge keeper's shack.


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 11/09/10 12:15 by Thomas.

Date: 11/09/10 13:18
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: Afbombers

I take it by the signs of the overgrown weeds that this bridge is no longer used?

Date: 11/09/10 13:29
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: rob_l

Interesting. Compare the water level in the postcard to the water level in the aerial photo.

I will speculate that the channel of the river shifted from the IA side over to the NE side, and that's why they put in a second swing span. When did Carter Lake become Carter Lake? Was that around the turn of the century too?

The ground-level shot makes it look like the approach spans were built for double track. Were the swing spans built to accommodate double track too? If so, seems pretty grandiose.

Best regards,

Rob L.

Date: 11/09/10 13:31
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: QU25C

Afbombers Wrote:
> I take it by the signs of the overgrown weeds that
> this bridge is no longer used?

No they use the UP rather then fixing it.

Date: 11/09/10 13:59
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: Waybiller

When did the IC stop using this?

Date: 11/10/10 09:36
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: mopac1978

Waybiller Wrote:
> When did the IC stop using this?

The best we can figure out here among Omaha area railfans is that it was last used sometime in the early 2000's, perhaps 2001 or so. The swing mechanism portion of the bridge has long been damaged and vandalized to the extent that when the bridge was being used, it was necessary to winch it open from the Iowa side shore using a cable at the beginning of the river navigation season and then winched closed again in the fall for the railroad to use. During navigation season the IC/ICG/CCP/IC/CN et al used the UP bridge and trackage rights to reach their industries in North Omaha, a practice which is now done year-round as the bridge photos now show.

The Missouri River is only navigable as far as Sioux City, IA, and only open late spring to early fall (a HUGE waste of taxpayer money, IMHO, insofar as the tonnages shipped on the upper Missouri are quite low and dropping each year). Gavins Point dam, built a few miles upstream from Sioux City effectively stops navigation having no locks, and the Corps manages water releases such that there is only a modest shipping season on the upper Missouri. Even at that, I believe the river channel is only maintained to 9' (I'm no barge expert here) which further reduces the carrying capacity of any barge tow. In some of the recent drought-plagued years, the water levels behind the dam were low enough that the Corps didn't have much water to release and had to shorten up the shipping season even more; I believe a couple of years it was only 3 or 4 months long.

But back to the postcard photo vs the aerial photo. Prior to all of the Corps improvements there was a huge problem with flooding on the Missouri River at Omaha/Council Bluffs. The river valley is quite wide above and below Omaha, causing a natural choke point that resulted in devastating flooding, the last time in the early 1950's. The resulting levee building and channelization of the river resulted in half of the Iowa span spanning nothing but dry land. With the controlled releases from Gavins Point dam, there isn't a whole lot of fluctuation in river levels at Omaha as there once was.

Date: 11/10/10 12:08
Re: Omaha's "Other" Missouri River Railroad Bridge
Author: rehunn

Thomas, that's a very nice presentation, excellent work.

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