East Omaha Swing Bridge

Historic Double Swing Bridge over Missouri River
Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa
Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name East Omaha Swing Bridge
Built By (Iowa Span) Omaha Bridge and Terminal Railway Company
Built By (Nebraska Span) Illinois Central Railroad
Contractor (Iowa Span Superstructure) Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Contractor (Iowa Span Substructure) Sooysmith & Co. of New York
Contractor (Nebraska Span Superstructure) American Bridge Company of New York
Contractor (Nebraska Span Substructure) Foundation Company of New York
Chief Engineer (Nebraska Span) Waddell & Hedrick of Kansas City
Currently Owned By Canadian National Railway
Length 1,625 Feet Total, 520 Foot Swing Spans
Width 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Type Swing Bridge and Through Girder
Date Built 1893, Expanded 1903-04
Traffic Count 0 Trains/Day (Bridge is Closed)
Current Status Closed, Future Uncertain
CN Bridge Number 514.4
Significance National Significance
Documentation Date October 2015 and May 2017
In 1898, the Fort Dodge and Omaha Railroad began construction of a new line, linking a Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad (Illinois Central) line at Tara, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska.

This new line would be completed in a staggering 208 days, opening in early 1899. The line was owned by the D&SC (which was a subsidiary of Illinois Central).
The line was also the most significant branch off the D&SC mainline through Iowa.

The new line connected mainly rural areas, and crossed into Omaha on a swing bridge over the Missouri River.
This bridge was leased from the Omaha Bridge and Terminal Railway Company.

When completed, the line was regarded as a mainline, connecting Nebraska to Chicago. East of Tara, the line connected Waterloo, Dubuque and Chicago.

By 1947, the IC fully absorbed any remains of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad. IC became the sole operator and proprietor of this line.
In 1972, the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio merged with IC to form the Illinois Central Gulf.

In 1985, operations of the ICG western division (west from Chicago) was spun off into the Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad.
By 1996, the railroad was repurchased by Illinois Central. Canadian National Railway purchased Illinois Central in 1999, and continues to operate the line as the Omaha Subdivision.

Of the many significant railroad bridges in the Midwest, this unique structure is by far one of the unusual. It is by far the most significant and historic railroad bridge in Nebraska, and likely also the most significant in Iowa.
When first completed in the current configuration in 1904, the bridge was the largest swing bridge in the world, until 1915. It also is known as being one of the only structures to contain a pair of swing spans back to back.
However, the downgrading and disuse of the bridge has left the future in question for this beautiful structure. Because it is considered a "navigation hazard" for the seemingly few barges that venture this far upstream, the United States Coast Guard has been calling for its removal for many years.
This blatant lack of respect and completely unnecessary destructive attitude creates a threatening environment for the Omaha areas most significant bridge and landmark. Fortunately, Omaha and Council Bluffs seem to understand the significance of this structure.

When first built in 1893, this bridge was part of the Omaha Bridge and Terminal Railway Company, which provided an interchange point between Council Bluffs with railroads heading east, and Omaha; with railroads heading west.
The original structure featured a single, 520' long pin connected swing span, with a pair of 7 panel, Baltimore Through Trusses meeting at a pivot point. It was approached by through trusses originally.
When the Illinois Central entered Omaha in 1899, it began using the bridge; and purchased the Omaha Bridge and Terminal Railway in 1902.
As early as 1895, a major issue was noted with the site in which the bridge was built. When first built, the navigation channel was closer to the current Iowa side, under the Iowa Swing Span.
However, within the first decade of existence, the river dramatically change course at this bridge. By 1902, it had shifted nearly 300 feet, under the Nebraska approach spans.
To solve this, the Illinois Central hired American Bridge Company to dramatically reconstruct this crossing. Waddell & Hedrick Engineering Company was hired to design a solution.
The solution required massive reconstructions. First, the through truss approach spans would be replaced with a second swing span, of identical dimensions. A new girder approach would be constructed on the Omaha bank.
The final product was the largest swing bridge in the world. Two back to back swing spans, each of 520 foot pin connected construction graced the main channel. In Nebraska, 8 through girder spans created a sweeping curve approach to the bridge. Iowa had one through girder approach.
The bridge was completed in 1904. The main spans rested on stone substructures, while the new approaches were constructed of concrete substructures.

Historic Photo
Historic Photo
Before and after addition of the second span

Throughout the next 80 years, the river remained stable and the bridge remained operational. In the 1970s, the Iowa span was damaged by a fire. As a result, it was parked in open position and must be moved by a bulldozer connected to chains.
In addition, the bridge closed to traffic in 1980. It was kept as a backup, in case the Union Pacific Bridge ever endured a problem.
Presently, the Iowa span has been parked in open position for many years without any movement. This is the original 1893 span. The 1903 Nebraska span is parked in closed position.
Access to the bridge is far easier on the Council Bluffs side. A trail leads right next to the bridge, and provides great views.
However, the Omaha side is much harder to access. Because Freedom Park has been closed for so long, access from there has not been restored. However, it is hoped in 2016 that Freedom Park will finally reopen.

The Coast Guard is also calling for removal of this structure. However, you can help preserve this structure. Call your local leaders and let them know this landmark is important to the area, and should not be removed.
It is hoped that this Highly Significant bridge can be preserved at all costs. The double swing bridge design is exceedingly rare. It is even more rare for the spans to be back to back. This occurred at one other spot in Nebraska/Iowa. The Sioux City Combination Bridge also included this design.
One great solution would involve restoring the bridge and opening it to pedestrian traffic. This would connect the popular trails on the Iowa side with the riverfront attractions in development along the Nebraska side.

Historic Photo
Historic photo of the bridge

The bridge had four builders plaques at one time, however only 3 exist. The largest one on the 1893 span was removed at some point.
These plaques cite Phoenix Bridge Company for the superstructure in Iowa, Sooysmith & Company for the substructures in Iowa; and Waddell & Hedrick along with American Bridge Company for the reconstruction in 1903.

The author has ranked this bridge as being Nationally Significant due to the uncommon design of the structure and extremely historic nature of the bridge.
The photo above is an overview from the Iowa side, with the swing spans present. The photo below is a an overview of one of the plaques.

Missouri River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Blair Rail Bridge
Downstream Omaha Rail Bridge

These Pictures Start at varying points in the Series
Detail Photos from October, 2015


Source Type


Iowa Span Build Date Illinois Central 1973 Iowa Division track profile
Iowa Span Contractors Dual plaques on Iowa span
Nebraska Span Build Date Illinois Central 1973 Iowa Division track profile
Nebraska Span Contractor Waddell & Hedrick plaque on Nebraska span
Nebraska Span Engineer Waddell & Hedrick plaque on Nebraska span
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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