St. Joseph Swing Bridge

Through Truss Swing Bridge over Missouri River
St. Joseph, Buchanan County, Missouri
Elwood, Doniphan County, Kansas

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name St. Joseph Swing Bridge
Built By Union Pacific Railroad
Contractor American Bridge Company of New York
Currently Owned By Union Pacific Railroad
Length 1,505 Feet Total; 465 Foot Swing Span
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Warren Through Truss, Pennsylvania Through Truss and Deck Girder
Substructure Type Concrete
Date Built 1906
Traffic Count 6 Trains/Week (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
UP Bridge Number 0.44
Significance Regional Significance
In 1857, the Marysville or Palmetto & Roseport Railroad built a line from Elwood, Kansas to Troy, Kansas. This railroad became a part of the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad.
By 1872, the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad would complete a line between Troy and Hastings, Nebraska. This new line went through several towns, including Hiawatha and Marysville in Kansas; as well as Fairbury in Nebraska.

In 1870, the St. Joseph Bridge Building Company completed a line across the Missouri River into the terminal city of St. Joseph, Missouri. This bridge allowed for a continuous rail line between St. Joseph and Nebraska.
By 1876, the Kansas and Nebraska Railway of Kansas was created to take over operations of the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad. By 1877, this became a part of the St. Joseph and Western Railroad.

The St. Joseph and Western Railroad operated this trackage until 1885, when it became a part of the St. Joseph and Grand Island Railway. At the same time; the bridge across the Missouri River became a part of the StJ&GI.

The Union Pacific Railroad was formed in 1897, and controlled the St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad.
Union Pacific operated the existing line from Marysville, Kansas to St. Joseph until 1989; when it sold the line to Railtex and operated it as the Northeast Kansas and Missouri Railroad.

By 1998, Union Pacific bought back the line; interested in operating from Marysville to Hiawatha. However, the Hiawatha to Elwood segment would be abandoned by 1999.

Today, Union Pacific operates the line in two segments: from Hastings to Hiawatha and from Elwood to St. Joseph. It is operated as the Hiawatha Subdivision and the St. Joseph Industrial Lead.

This massive bridge crosses the Missouri River at St. Joseph, Missouri. It carries a Union Pacific spur across the river, and is used quite sparingly.
The main span of the bridge is a swing span, which features two leafs of Subdivided Warren Through Truss, each containing 6 panels and riveted connections.
These spans are joined together over a pivot point; set onto a round concrete pier.
On the west side, the bridge is approached by three Pennsylvania Through Truss spans; with pinned connections. The two closest to the river are 298 feet in length, while the western span is 295 feet in length. All three of these spans feature 12 panels.
The substructures for these spans are built of concrete. In addition, the east side contains a pair of deck girder spans; one at 60 feet and one at 80 feet.

The bridge appears to have been built by American Bridge Company; as a missing plaque on the west approach indicates. However, it is possible that this bridge also had one or more other contractors to help with the various stages of construction.
Due to the limited use, this bridge sees an uncertain future. Crossing a navigable waterway makes for a tough situation; and if Union Pacific ever decided to stop using the structure, the Army Corps of Engineers would likely require the historic structure to be removed.
Despite this, there are limited examples of rail-trail projects reusing former movable bridges. One of such examples is a planned project in Boonville, Missouri. It is hoped that when abandoned, this bridge can be kept in use as a pedestrian trail.

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant; due to the limited number of remaining crossings of the Missouri River which are historic in nature. The upstream crossing at Rulo was replaced in the 1970s, while the bridges at Leavenworth were removed as well.
Fortunately, this bridge appears to be in sound condition; namely with the trusses demonstrating a high level of integrity.
The photo above is an overview from the Missouri side of the river. The photo below is a detail of the main swing span. These photos were taken in September 2016, on a cloudy morning. The author hopes to return for better photos soon.

Missouri River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Rulo Rail Bridge
Downstream Atchison Swing Bridge

These Pictures Start at varying points in the Series

Detail Photos from September, 2016


Source Type


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

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