Kinzua Trestle, Pennsylvania


Hamburg, United States

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Mt. Jewett, McKean County, NW Pennsylvania.

The Kinzua Railroad Trestle was built in 1882, to carry trains ferrying coal across the deep Kinzua Gorge. General Thomas Kane, president of the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad & Coal Company hired famed engineer Octave Chanute to build this marvel, & it was completed in just 94 days. The original structure was constructed of wrought iron ‘Phoenix Columns’. It was the highest (301 feet [92 m]) & longest (2052 feet [625 m]) bridge in the world for several years until that honor was conferred upon the Lethbridge, Alberta, CPR (Canadian Pacific) trestle at 314 feet (95.7 m) in height & 5327 feet (1624 m) in length, built between 1907 & 1909.

Around 1900, it was determined that the ironwork construction of Kinzua was inadequate to handle the heavier trains that were coming into use, & the bridge was rebuilt using steel towers. The bridge continued in use until 1959, & in recent years, it was a high point, literally & figuratively, on an excursion route which thrilled passengers as they rode behind a lighter-weight Chinese-built steam locomotive operated by the Knox and Kane Railroad. Trips across the trestle were suspended when it was determined that a major restoration job was needed, & a $12 million project began. In the midst of this, disaster struck. An F-1 tornado ripped through the Kinzua Gorge on 21 July, 2003. The following is from the ‘Skywalk’ brochure:

‘Bridge designer C. R. Grimm predicted his creation would last 100 years. And he was right. Grimm’s design used roller expansion bearings where the tower legs were anchored to the masonry foundation piers. This design allowed lateral expansion of the tower legs under temperature loading. But his failure to replace the original 1882 anchor bolts would have catastrophic consequences.
‘[On July 21, 2003]… workers decided to call it a day when the sky went black and the winds rushed in. A tornado tore through the forest heading straight for the Viaduct. Hundreds of trees were ripped from their roots and 11 of the bridge’s 20 towers were lifted, twisted and thrown onto the valley floor. Six towers remained standing on the south end; only three towers remained upright on the north end.
‘Engineers later confirmed that winds attacked from three directions. The original 1882 anchor bolts and collar coupling assemblies, which mated the old bolts to the later 1900 construction, had failed.
’Within 30 seconds, nature had brought the mightly span to its knees.’

In September of 2011, the ‘Skywalk’ was opened to the public. A real labor of love, this; it uses the remaining six towers at the south end to support a long platform, complete with tracks, & the views are magnificent, to put it mildly. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains a park at that end, & among the startling sights are the remains of the twisted steel towers that Mother Nature dumped unceremoniously into the gorge. I here use a MUCH overworked word to describe this sobering vision ~ awesome.

Much more can be seen by Googling Kinzua Trestle, including, for the truly interested, a couple of superb videos detailing the history & construction. Also take a look at Vickie Emms & her fine shot of the Lethbridge Trestle.

Another view here.
A shot showing the debris left behind by the storm can be seen here.
Photo taken 4 October 2012.

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