Iowa City Rail Bridge

Deck Plate Girder over Iowa River
Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa

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Name Iowa City Rail Bridge
Built By Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad
Contractor American Bridge Company of Chicago (Lassig Branch)
Contractor American Bridge Company of New York
Currently Owned By Iowa Interstate Railroad
Length 642 Feet Total, 80 Foot Largest Span
Width 1 Track, Piers Built for 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 35 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Deck Plate Girder and Trestle
Substructure Type Concrete and Timber Pile
Date Built 1901
Traffic Count 6 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
IAIS Bridge Number 6 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Significance Moderate Significance
Documentation Date September 2017
In 1852, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad began construction of a 40 mile route from Chicago to the nearby city of Joliet.
With the first segment completed, the railroad continued constructing another 119 miles of track to Geneseo. By 1854, the remaining portions of track were constructed into Rock Island, Illinois; located on the Mississippi River.

The first bridge across the Mississippi River would be built connecting Davenport to Rock Island in 1856. After a fire and collapse later that year, the bridge was rebuilt and would begin carrying traffic into Iowa.
Later in 1856, the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad would begin construction on a pair of main lines in Iowa. One route went towards Missouri, while the other continued on the straight west trajectory.
The first 55 miles on the western mainline saw the connection of Davenport and Iowa City by the end of 1856. Another 31 miles to Marengo would be completed by the end of 1862.

These two railroads would become part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad in 1866. The Rock Island later saw the completion of the route to Nebraska.

As traffic continued to build on the line, it was continuously upgraded. The route through Illinois was double tracked in the 1890s, and the route to Iowa City was double tracked by 1900.
However, this double track proved unnecessary and was removed in the 1930s. Because of the Rock Island Railroads poor management, the railroad oftentimes found itself in financial trouble; despite having a solid core of routes.
Between World War II and 1980, the railroad saw even harder economic downturns. Failed mergers and poor money management led to the inevitable downfall of the railroad.
By 1980, the railroad was officially bankrupt for the final time. Trustees saw the liquidation of the railroad, which sold off and abandoned many lines.

However, as this was the core main line of the Rock Island, it saw a positive future. After an earlier railroad failed in the early 1980s, the Iowa Interstate Railroad was formed in late 1984 to operate over track between Ottawa, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska.
Since its original forming, the IAIS has turned a once dead mainline into a thriving alternative to Interstate 80. Today, this segment is known as the 1st Subdivision.

Perhaps the most prominent bridge in Iowa City is the large deck girder bridge crossing the Iowa River as well as US-6.
Built in 1901, this 8 span deck girder bridge sits high above the Iowa River on concrete substructures.
Replacing a four span deck truss, the current bridge once featured double tracks for the important Chicago-Des Moines mainline.
Both the Lassig Branch and New York plant of the American Bridge Company contributed to the construction of the bridge.
However, the second track would eventually be removed during or before the 1930s. It is very likely that those eight spans ended up serving on other structures.
On the east end, there is a three span approach serving as a jump span. Built of wooden trestles, it is possible this was installed as a result of a change of height of the bridge.
Overall, the bridge remains in relatively good condition. However, several components of the bridge; mainly the substructures are beginning to show signs of fatigue.

The author has ranked this bridge as being moderately significant, due to the large scale size of the bridge and the older age.
The photo above is an overview.

Iowa River Railroad Bridges
Upstream CIC Iowa River Bridge (North)
Downstream CIC Iowa River Bridge (South)


Source Type


Build Date Date stamp
Contractor American Bridge Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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