Grand Forks Rail Bridge

Through Plate Girder Bridge over Red River of the North
East Grand Forks, Polk County, Minnesota
Grand Forks, Grand Forks, North Dakota

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Name Grand Forks Rail Bridge
Built By Great Northern Railway
Contractor (1918 Through Girders) Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee
Contractor (1924 Through Girders) American Bridge Company of New York
Contractor (Steel Stringers) Unknown
Currently Owned By BNSF Railway
Length 1056 Feet Total, 95 Foot Main Spans
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 30 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Through Plate Girder, Steel Stringer and Concrete Beam
Substructure Type Stone Masonry, Concrete, Steel and Timber Pile
Date Built 1918, 1924, 1956 and 2005
Traffic Count 7 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
BNSF Bridge Number 107.0
Significance Moderate Significance
Documentation Date July 2012
In 1875, the Red River Valley Railroad Company built a line from Crookston to Fisher. The line was extended to Grand Forks by 1879, connecting the cities of Crookston and Grand Forks. The railroad quickly became part of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, which became part of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba by 1882.
Then in 1888, the line was continued east from Crookston, through Erskine, to Fosston by the StPM&M. The StPM&M became part of the Great Northern in 1890.
At the same time, the Duluth and Winnipeg Railroad Company was building from Duluth to Deer River, on the other side of the state. The line was completed between the two cities, reaching Swan River and Grand Rapids in 1892. By 1900, the Eastern Railway of Minnesota opened the line between Deer River and Fosston, connecting Duluth to Grand Forks.
The new line was critical, as freight could be shipped from western Minnesota to Duluth, and placed on barges heading towards Michigan or other areas of the country.
The line crossed the Mississippi River in Ball Club and Bemidji. New lines were constructed from Cass Lake to Sauk Centre, connecting to another mainline, as well as several lines into the Iron Range.

Great Northern proceeded to operate the line from 1907 until its demise in 1970, when it merged with the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy to form the Burlington Northern.
Burlington Northern continued to operate the route as a main line. In 1996, BN merged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe to form BNSF Railway, the current owner of this route.

One of two railroad bridges between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, this structure is still active and the only bridge still remaining.
The first bridge was built at this location in 1879, and featured a wooden truss swing bridge. The swing span was again upgraded in 1885, before being replaced in 1896 by a light iron structure, likely built by the Edge Moor Bridge Works.

Historic Photo
Historic photo of the previous bridge

In 1902, the wooden approaches were rebuilt again with additional wooden trusses. By the early 1900s, it became desirable to eliminate wooden and combination trusses from active mainline use.
As a result, Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company was contracted to replace the two approach trusses in 1918 with new through girder spans. The light nature of the swing span, plus the removal of navigation requirements allowed the GN to replace that in 1924 with another pair of through girders.
For many years, the bridge consisted of five through girder spans, with the inner spans two being significantly longer. In addition, the bridge was approached by wooden trestle spans from both ends. By 1956, 10 new steel stringers would be built as part of the eastern (Minnesota) approach. In 2005, several modular concrete spans would be built as part of the North Dakota approach.
Since then, the bridge is largely unchanged. Currently, the bridge consists of seven modular concrete spans on the west end, followed by a 55-foot and an 85-foot through girder spans, a pair of 95-foot through girders, an 82-foot through girder and 10 steel stringer spans on the Minnesota approach. The bridge rests on stone, concrete, timber and steel pile substructures.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in fair to good condition, with the bridge being well maintained. The author believes the remaining wooden substructures will be replaced in the near future.

The author has ranked this bridge as being moderately significant, due to the mix of spans and large size.
The photo above is an overview. The photo below is one of several plaques on the through girder spans.

Red River of the North Railroad Bridges
Upstream NP Bridge #95
Downstream Memorial Park Rail Bridge
Detail photos


Source Type


Main Spans Build Date American Bridge Company plaque
Main Spans Contractor American Bridge Company plaque
Approach Girders Build Date Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company plaque
Approach Girders Contractor Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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