Nelson Rail Bridge

Quadrangular Through Truss Bridge over Rock River
Nelson, Lee County, Illinois

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name Nelson Rail Bridge
Built By Chicago & North Western Railway
Contractor Lassig Bridge & Iron Works of Chicago
Currently Owned By Union Pacific Railroad
Length 730 Feet Total, 150 Foot Largest Span
Width 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Quadrangular Lattice Through Truss
Substructure Type Stone Masonry
Date Built 1889, Rebuilt 1926
Traffic Count 75 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
UP Bridge Number 105.68
C&NW Bridge Number 203
Significance High Significance
Documentation Date March 2015
In 1855 the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad started a project to build from the Chicago Union Station to the mining town of Galena in far Northwest Illinois. This attempt was thwarted as the Illinois Central got to the town first.
The line was instead built to the Mississippi River at Fulton. The Mississippi River was a major barrier for any railroad at the time. Earlier that year the Rock Island Railroad had started the bridge across the Mississippi in Rock Island.
The railroad used a ferry for many years to cross the Mississippi River.
The line was built across the river in 1865 and completed into Clinton. The Iowa & Nebraska Railroad continued building west from Clinton in 1856 and it was completed to Omaha in 1867.

The line was instrumental in the connection to the west coast. It was part of the transcontinental railroad.

It eventually became a part of the Chicago & Northwestern System.
In 1884, the C&NW undertook a major project to double track the line. It was double tracked as far as Sterling in 1898, and Omaha by 1901.

The C&NW operated this as a mainline. The Geneva Subdivision, as it was known extended from Clinton, Iowa to Chicago.
In 1995, the Union Pacific purchased the C&NW. They continue to operate this line with a steady traffic base as their Geneva Subdivision.

This through truss bridge crosses the Rock River between Sterling and Nelson, Illinois.
Originally built in 1889, the bridge was constructed with five riveted Quadrangular Through Truss spans, set onto stone substructures.
Major modification came in 1926 when the trusses were strengthened with new members and floor beams. Further work was done in the 1980s to allow for taller stack train cars, likely in preparation for the Global Two Intermodal Yard.
While the Quadrangular Through Truss is not an uncommon design on the Chicago & North Western, very few 19th Century spans remain on active double track lines. Most of these remaining date to the late 1890s, although this bridge is a decade older. As a result, this is one of the more historic trusses on active railroads in the area.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in fair condition. This is a significant structure, and has been rebuilt considerably since original construction. The original portal bracing on this structure consisted of a pedimented style with a flat top.

Historic Photo
Historic photo of the bridge, via Library of Congress

The author has ranked the bridge as being highly significant, due to the large scale design of an 1880s truss carrying a considerable amount of traffic currently.
The photo above is an overview.

Rock River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Dixon Rail Bridge
Downstream Rock Falls Rail Bridge


Source Type


Build Date Chicago & North Western Railway Historical Society Archives
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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