Des Moines Red Bridge

Pratt Through Truss Bridge over Des Moines River
Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa

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Name Des Moines Red Bridge
Built By Des Moines Union Railway
Contractor (Trusses) Detroit Bridge & Iron Works of Detroit
Contractor (West Girder) Des Moines Bridge & Iron Works of Des Moines
Contractor (East Girder) Stupp Bros. Bridge & Iron Company of St. Louis
Currently Owned By City of Des Moines
Length 527 Feet Total, 155 Foot Main Spans
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt Through Truss and Girder
Substructure Type Steel Caisson and Concrete
Date Built Opened 1891, Rebuilt 1905 and 1945, Raised 2017
Traffic Count 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
Current Status Rails to Trails
Significance Regional Significance
Documentation Date September 2015 and September 2017
The Des Moines Union Railway was incorporated in 1886 as a jointly owned union railroad between the Wabash St. Louis and Pacific Railroad, which reached Des Moines in 1882; and the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific (Milwaukee Road) which reached Des Moines in 1882 as well.
It was owned 50/50 between the two railroads. Along with serving the Wabash and Milwaukee Road, it would later serve the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy along with the Chicago Great Western.
The line started at the huge junction near the capitol, where two Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific lines, the Wabash line, a Chicago Great Western line, a Chicago Burlington and Quincy as well as a Minneapolis & St Louis line crossed. It would then follow the Rock Island line west.
It crossed the Des Moines River just upstream from the Rock Island, went through downtown and entered a large yard area, where it could interchange with the CB&Q, M&STL, Milwaukee Road as well as the Rock Island.
The Milwaukee Road and Rock Island left this yard, going west.
There was a spur from this yard to the Chicago Great Western Bell Ave Yard. It had to cross the Raccoon River.
Ideally this was a highly successful railroad. And it was, throughout the first half of the 20th century.

The Wabash Railroad was swallowed up by the Norfolk and Western Railway on October 16th 1964. The N&W technically was leasing the Wabash.

The Wabash was fully destroyed in the fall of 1991, when the N&W purchased the railroad outright.

Although the N&W and the Southern Railroad had affiliations since 1982, they were completely merged in 1997, forming Norfolk Southern.
The N&W had complete control of the DMU since 1985, when the Milwaukee Road was having problems of their own.
The Milwaukee Road sold off their line into Des Moines in 1983 to the Chicago Northwestern, which later sold it to the Iowa Interstate Railroad, who had purchased much of the Rock Island line across Iowa from Council Bluffs, IA to Rock Island, IL in 1984.
They sold off their half of the Des Moines Union Railway to Norfolk Western in 1985. Both the CB&Q and M&STL lines over the Des Moines River were removed in the 1970's.

When the Norfolk Southern was created, much of the DMU tracks were abandoned. The bridge over the Des Moines River was specifically abandoned.
Today, while the DMU still exists on paper, most of the trackage is now gone. Portions are now a trail, including the large bridge across the Des Moines River.

Located in the heart of Des Moines, the appropriately named Red Bridge has long been a staple of the Des Moines riverfront.
The first bridge here was a timber bridge. That bridge was renewed in 1891 by a three span, 6-panel pin connected Pratt Through Truss, set onto steel caisson piers.
The first significant alteration of the bridge came in 1905, when the Des Moines Bridge & Iron Works designed a 67 foot long deck girder span for the west end, as well as a new concrete abutment.
During the 1930s, various plans were made to replace the bridge with a double track girder bridge. However, these plans never came to fruition.
On December 20th, 1944; a train load shifted, destroying the easternmost truss span. This span was replaced with trestle, while a permanent solution could be found. The following summer, a 78 foot long through plate girder span was installed, fabricated by Stupp Brothers Bridge & Iron Company. A short 25 foot long stringer span was also added to the east end. These spans sat on timber piles. It is unknown where this span came from, but plans provided for this bridge strongly indicate it may be a secondhand span.
During 1948-49, the west end of the bridge was again extended with a concrete span, to cross Riverside Drive. This span was expanded again in the 1950s.
Due to the low clearance nature of the bridge, the laced heel bracings on the portal were replaced by the angle bracing in 1987.

When the bridge was abandoned in 1996, it was decided to save the bridge for pedestrian usage. The first phase was to remove the railroad ties and sandblast the lead paint from the bridge.
The second phase of rehabilitation involved replacing the west end over Riverside Drive. By 2004, the bridge would be nearly finished, and open to pedestrians. The original west approach was replaced by a new steel stringer span.
Further work came in 2012, when the west end of the bridge was again reconstructed and raised. Another raise occurred in 2017, when the east end of the bridge was rebuilt with new concrete substructures.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in excellent condition, and should survive for generations to come.

The author has rated the bridge as being regionally significant, due to the historic nature of the trusses.
The photo above is an overview. The photo below shows truss bracings. These photos were taken in 2015, prior to the reconstruction of the bridge; and 2017, after the reconstruction.

Des Moines River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Birdland Park Railroad Bridge
Downstream IAIS Des Moines River Bridge

Detail Photos


Source Type


Build Date Intensive Level Historical and Architectural Survey: HADB No. 77-192
Contractor Missing Detroit Bridge & Iron Works plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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