Topeka Rail Bridge (West)

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

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Name Topeka Rail Bridge (West)
Built By Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway
Contractor Unknown
Currently Owned By Union Pacific Railroad
Length 915 Feet Total, 152 Foot Spans
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 10 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Warren Through Truss
Substructure Type Concrete
Date Built 1903 and 1951
Traffic Count 20 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
UP Bridge Number 89.20
Significance Regional Significance
Documentation Date September 2016 and December 2019
In 1886, the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway began construction on a long railroad which would connect Oklahoma to Missouri.
The first portion of construction started in 1886, when a 43 mile segment of line was built from Elwood, Kansas to Horton, Kansas.
This line would be continued in 1887 to Herington, Kansas. This line would go through the Kansas capitol of Topeka, and connect to several other railroads. In addition, the route used the Union Pacific (former Kansas Pacific) mainline between Topeka and Kansas City to reach Kansas City.
This new cross-Kansas mainline would be extended to Oklahoma the next year, and open opportunities for expansion to places such as Manhattan and Salina.

By 1891, the railroad became a part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway. This line was instrumental in becoming a part of the Rock Island's mainline to the south.
In addition, major yard operations occurred in Armourdale, Kansas after 1903. In 1905, a new bridge was built across the Kansas River at this location.

Because of the high significance of this corridor, many parts of it were double tracked. This included track from Paxico to McFarland in 1917, track around Topeka in 1919, track from Topeka to Paxico in 1923, from Alta Vista to Herington in 1925 and from Alta Vista to Paxico in 1927.
The CRIP would be reorganized as the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad in 1947. The Rock Island oftentimes had major financial issues, and many of the lines saw significant deterioration.
The Rock Island would go bankrupt in 1980, and the St. Louis Southwestern Railway would purchase a half interest in the line in 1980, and purchase the other half in 1982. Around this same time, the Kansas City operations ceased and the Kansas River Bridge was abandoned.
Despite this, the second mainline was significantly removed in 1981, and the trackage between Elwood and Topeka would be removed the same year.

The SSW would be completely merged into the Southern Pacific Company in 1992, before being completely merged into Union Pacific in 1996.
Today, the Topeka-Herington segment of this line is owned and operated as a Union Pacific mainline; and is known as the Topeka Subdivision. Union Pacific continues to operate into Kansas City, as part of the Kansas Subdivision.

This massive through truss bridge is the western of the two bridges in Topeka. The Eastern Bridge still exists, and is located on the other side of Topeka Boulevard.
The bridge features six very similar spans. However, there are some very fundamental differences in these spans.
The original bridge here was an 1880s quadrangular 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 Rock Island rebuilt the span with a series of new spans. 6 new spans were built onto concrete piers. These spans were 6-panel, pin connected Warren Through Trusses, featuring a standardized design for the Rock Island.
These spans remained intact, until 1951. The northern three spans of this bridge would be destroyed in a July flood. These spans still sit at the bottom of the Kansas River.
In response, the Rock Island would bring in some temporary spans, which would be destroyed later that fall. A permanent fix required bringing in three new spans.

These new spans were identical to the old ones in many ways, but were still different in terms of technical design. These new spans featured riveted connections instead of the old pinned connection type design. Otherwise, these spans were identical to the old ones in nearly every way.
These spans were likely relocated from another location, and built originally in the mid to late 1900s.
One plausible theory for the original location of these spans is at Brighton, Iowa. These spans were removed shortly after 1945 and could have been kept as spare parts.
The most recent alteration of the bridge was the addition of the flood jacks after the 1951 flood. These have only been used a handful of times, most recently in 1993.
Since the flood, the bridge has seen no other structural alterations.

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant due to the addition of the relocated spans and flood jacks, which make this bridge highly unique.
The remains of the spans lost in 1951 can still be seen in the river today. The photo above is an overview. I hope to get back to this bridge for some more detailed photos in the near future.

Kansas River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Headwaters at Confluence of Republican and Big Blue Rivers
Downstream Topeka Rail Bridge (E)


Source Type


Build Dates Based on previous flood and 1951 flood
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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