Topeka Rail Bridge (East)

Through Truss Bridge over Kansas River
Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas

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Name Topeka Rail Bridge (East)
Built By Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
Contractor American Bridge Company of New York
Currently Owned By BNSF Railway
Length 1,010 Feet Total, 150 Foot Spans
Width 1 Trains
Height Above Ground 40 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt, Warren and Baltimore Through Truss, Through Girder and I-Beam
Substructure Type Concrete
Date Built 1909, Rebuilt 1952 and 1964
Traffic Count 4 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
BNSF Bridge Number 49.63
Significance Regional Significance
Documentation Date September 2016
In 1872, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built a 50 mile line between Atchison and Topeka, connecting two of the namesake cities.
By 1875, a swing bridge had been built across by the Missouri River at Atchison; and was operated by four railroads, one being the ATSF. A rail line connecting to Rushville, Missouri was completed by 1898.

By 1895, the railroad would be reorganized as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. At this time, the ATSF purchased several lines throughout the midwest and the Great Plains states.
The ATSF continued to operate this as a mainline, and was a dual owner of the bridge after 1900 with Union Pacific. In Topeka, the railroad connected to several railroads, including several ATSF lines heading in every direction.

As a desperate move to trim unnecessary lines, the ATSF sold a 40 mile segment of line between Topeka and Parnell to a newly created shortline, called the Topeka & Parnell. In addition, flooding in 1993 required the abandonment of track between Rushville and Winthrop, Kansas.
By late 1993, the T&P was too far bankrupt to continue to operate the line. As a result; the line would be abandoned.
Despite having a great network of lines to move freight and passengers across the western half of the United States; the ATSF fell flat. After several attempted mergers, it would finally merge with the thriving Burlington Northern Railroad to form BNSF Railway in 1996.
Today, Union Pacific owns the Missouri River bridge jointly with BNSF. In addition, Union Pacific operates the spur to Parnell as an industrial lead.

This massive through truss bridge is the eastern of the two bridges in Topeka. The Western Bridge still exists, and is located on the other side of Topeka Boulevard.
This bridge features a mishmash of information, including six truss spans and a pair of approach spans.
The original bridge here was an 1880s truss bridge, which was original to the line. Unfortunately, the Kansas (Kaw) River is very notorious for flooding. In 1903, the original truss bridge was knocked out.
As a result, the Santa Fe built a temporary bridge until a permanent solution could be addressed.
By 1909, American Bridge Company would be contracted to build a new structure of a much more permanent nature. This new bridge featured five spans of 7-panel, pin connected Pratt Through Trusses; with through girder spans approaching on either side,

In July of 1951; floods along the Kansas River created a massive amount of flooding and damage throughout the region. As a result, both railroad bridges over the Kansas River at Topeka lost spans. The Santa Fe bridge lost two center spans.
The destroyed spans, #2 and #3 continue to sit at the bottom of the Kansas River.
In response, the Santa Fe would bring in some temporary spans. A permanent fix was still required.

In early 1952, two trusses were brought in to replace the collapsed spans. The new Span #2 was a 6 panel, riveted Baltimore Through Truss built in 1952 by American Bridge Company.
The new span #3 was a 6-panel Pratt Through Truss with pinned connections, common of the Santa Fe. This span was reportedly also built 1909, and was moved to this location from an unknown location.
While the author does not yet know of the original location of the new Span #3, it will be hard to track down. The design is the most common truss design on the ATSF system.
The final alterations to the bridge were made in 1964. A short I-Beam span now serves as a jump span on the south girder approach; and a 6-panel riveted Warren Through Truss of 140 feet was added on the north end. In addition, the substructures were completely replaced.
While the truss was moved here in 1964, the plaque reads 1952, suggesting it may have been the original repair to the bridge in 1952. The bridge book the author used as a source does not give a clear indication.
These alterations were made due to the addition of levees to protect the city of Topeka.

The current configuration of the bridge, from south to north is as follows:
1-25' I-Beam Span (Added 1964)
1-75' Through Girder Span crossing River Road(Built 1909)
1-7 panel, pin connected Pratt Through Truss (Built 1909)
1-6 panel, riveted Baltimore Through Truss (Built 1952)
1-6 panel, pin connected Pratt Through Truss (Built Ca. 1940, Relocated Here 1968)
2-7 panel, pin connected Pratt Through Trusses (Built 1909)
1-6 panel, riveted Warren Through Truss (Built 1952, Added 1964)
The bridge rests on entirely concrete substructures, which have been modified since the original construction of the bridge.

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant due to the addition of the relocated spans and other additional spans, which makes this bridge quite the mish-mash of information.
The remains of the spans lost in 1951 can still be seen in the river today. The photo above is an overview. The photo below is an example of the portal bracing on Span #1.

Kansas River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Topeka Rail Bridge (W)
Downstream Lawrence Rail Bridge

These Pictures Start at varying points in the Series

Detail Photos from September, 2016


Source Type


Build Dates Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway 1984 Bridge Book
Contractor American Bridge Company Plaques
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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