By 1875, a swing bridge had been built across by the Missouri River at Atchison; and was operated by four railroads, one being the ATSF. A rail line connecting to Rushville, Missouri was completed by 1898.
By 1895, the railroad would be reorganized as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. At this time, the ATSF purchased several lines throughout the midwest and the Great Plains states.
The ATSF continued to operate this as a mainline, and was a dual owner of the bridge after 1900 with Union Pacific. In Topeka, the railroad connected to several railroads, including several ATSF lines heading in every direction.
As a desperate move to trim unnecessary lines, the ATSF sold a 40 mile segment of line between Topeka and Parnell to a newly created shortline, called the Topeka & Parnell. In addition, flooding in 1993 required the abandonment of track between Rushville and Winthrop, Kansas.
By late 1993, the T&P was too far bankrupt to continue to operate the line. As a result; the line would be abandoned.
Despite having a great network of lines to move freight and passengers across the western half of the United States; the ATSF fell flat. After several attempted mergers, it would finally merge with the thriving Burlington Northern Railroad to form BNSF Railway in 1996.
Today, Union Pacific owns the Missouri River bridge jointly with BNSF. In addition, Union Pacific operates the spur to Parnell as an industrial lead.
This beautiful Through Truss swing bridge crosses the Missouri River at Atchison, parallel to US-59. It is jointly owned and operated by BNSF and Union Pacific.
The main span of the bridge is a swing span, which features two leafs of Pratt Through Truss, each with 6 panels and pinned connections.
These spans are joined together over a pivot point; set onto a round concrete pier. A basic beam portal bracing is included on the swing span.
On the east side, the bridge is approached by three Pratt Through Truss spans. These are each 225 Feet in length, and contained pinned connections; as well as 9 panels. These each contain a lattice type portal bracing.
On the west end, a pair of small deck girder spans approach the swing span, which were added in 1915. The entire bridge is set on stone substructures, with the exception of the west approach. Piers #1, 2 and the west abutment are constructed of a steel and concrete design.
The bridge appears to have been built by American Bridge Company; as a missing plaque on the east approach indicates. However, it is possible that this bridge also had one or more other contractors to help with the various stages of construction.
Due to the limited use, this bridge sees an uncertain future. Crossing a navigable waterway makes for a tough situation; and if Union Pacific ever decided to stop using the structure, the Army Corps of Engineers would likely require the historic structure to be removed.
Presently, this bridge is used solely for turning trains around. The track on the Missouri side has since been embargoed.
Despite this, there are limited examples of rail-trail projects reusing former movable bridges. One of such examples is a planned project in Boonville, Missouri. It is hoped that when abandoned, this bridge can be kept in use as a pedestrian trail.
The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant; due to the limited number of remaining crossings of the Missouri River which are historic in nature. An upstream crossing at Rulo was replaced in the 1970s, while the bridges at Leavenworth were removed as well.
Fortunately, this bridge appears to be in sound condition; namely with the trusses demonstrating a high level of integrity.
The photo above is an overview from the Missouri side of the river. The photo below is a detail of the main swing span. These photos were taken in September 2016, on a cloudy morning. The author hopes to return for better photos soon.
|Upstream||St. Joseph Swing Bridge|
|Downstream||Rock Island Bridge|