Canal Street railroad bridge

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Canal Street railroad bridge
2014-05-25 7356x4904 chicago pennsylvania railroad bridge.jpg
Southbound Amtrak train crossing the South Branch Chicago River
Coordinates 41°51′20.3″N87°38′13.2″W / 41.855639°N 87.637000°W / 41.855639; -87.637000 Coordinates: 41°51′20.3″N87°38′13.2″W / 41.855639°N 87.637000°W / 41.855639; -87.637000
Crosses Chicago River
Locale Chicago
Official namePennsylvania Railroad, Canal Street Railroad Bridge
Heritage status Chicago Landmark
Design vertical-lift bridge
Longest span272.8 feet (83.1 m) [1]
Designer Waddell & Harrington
Construction startSeptember 4, 1913 [2]
Construction endJuly 30, 1914 [2]

The Canal Street railroad bridge (or Pennsylvania Railroad bridge) is a vertical-lift bridge across the south branch of the Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois. It was designated a Chicago Landmark on December 12, 2007. [3]

Vertical-lift bridge movable bridge in which a span rises vertically while remaining parallel with the deck

A vertical-lift bridge or just lift bridge is a type of movable bridge in which a span rises vertically while remaining parallel with the deck.

Chicago River System of rivers and canals running through the city of Chicago

The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals with a combined length of 156 miles (251 km) that runs through the city of Chicago, including its center. Though not especially long, the river is notable because it is one of the reasons for Chicago's geographic importance: the related Chicago Portage is a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.



The present bridge was constructed for the Pennsylvania Railroad to replace a two-track swing bridge at the same location. The necessity to allow both continued use of the swing bridge and unimpeded river traffic during building work complicated construction of the bridge. The chosen solution was to construct the bridge in the raised position above the old bridge, then demolish the old bridge once construction was completed. The bridge was designed by Waddell & Harrington, and fabricated and erected by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. [2]

Pennsylvania Railroad Former American Class I railroad

The Pennsylvania Railroad was an American Class I railroad that was established in 1846 and was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was so named because it was established in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Swing bridge movable bridge that has a vertical locating pin and support ring about which the turning span can pivot horizontally

A swing bridge is a movable bridge that has as its primary structural support a vertical locating pin and support ring, usually at or near to its center of gravity, about which the turning span can then pivot horizontally as shown in the animated illustration to the right. Small swing bridges as found over canals may be pivoted only at one end, opening as would a gate, but require substantial underground structure to support the pivot.

Waddell & Harrington

Waddell & Harrington was an American engineering company that designed bridges from 1907 to 1915. It was formed in 1907 as a partnership of John Alexander Low Waddell (1854–1938) and John Lyle Harrington (1868–1942) and was based in Kansas City, Missouri, but had offices in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The company designed more than 30 vertical-lift bridges for highways and railroads.

Construction of the south tower began on September 4, 1913. When the two 185-foot (56 m) towers were completed, falsework for the main span was constructed in a fan shape that allowed the main span to be constructed in the raised position 130 feet (40 m) above the river. The bridge was built from steel and metal. [4]

Falsework Temporary structures used in construction site

Falsework consists of temporary structures used in construction to support a permanent structure until its construction is sufficiently advanced to support itself. For arches, this is specifically called centering. Falsework includes temporary support structures for formwork used to mold concrete in the construction of buildings, bridges, and elevated roadways.


The bridge carries two railroad tracks across the Chicago River at an angle of about 40 degrees to the center line of the river. Upon completion, the main span could be raised 111 feet (34 m) in about 45 seconds. [2] By 1916, each day the bridge was crossed by about 300 trains, and was raised for river traffic about 75 times. [5]


When it was constructed in 1914, its 1500-ton main span was the heaviest of any vertical lift bridge in the United States. [4] It is the only vertical-lift bridge across the Chicago River.

See also

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  1. Holth, Nathan. "Canal Street Railroad Bridge". Historic Bridges of Michigan and Elsewhere. Archived from the original on 2009-03-28. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Smith, W. L.; Priest, W. W. (1915). "The Design and Erection of the Pennsylvania Lift Bridge No. 458 Over the South Branch of the Chicago River". Journal of the Western Society of Engineers. Chicago, IL: Western Society of Engineers. XX: 478–500. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  3. "CHICAGO LANDMARKS: Individual Landmarks and Landmark Districts designated as of January 1, 2008" (PDF). Commission on Chicago Landmarks. 2008-01-01. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-27. Retrieved 2009-05-01.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. 1 2 Alexander, Frances; Fitzsimons, Gray; Nicolay, John; Brucken, Carolyn (1992). "Pennsylvania Railroad, South Branch Chicago River Bridge" (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2014-05-07.
  5. Waddell, James Alexander Low (1916). Bridge Engineering. 1. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. p. 734. Retrieved 2009-04-30.