The ever larger boat traffic on the canal started to be a problem in the late 1930s with a string of accidents were boats collided with bridges. To address the problem, Congress authorized an expansion project n 1954 to widen the canal to 450 feet. That project ran through the 1960s and into the mid-1970s. As part of the widening, a small curve in the canal was straightened at the site of the 1920s railroad bridge. The new canal channel ended up being located about 1,300 feet south of the site of the lift bridge.
As a result of the canal widening, in 1966, the US Army Corps of Engineers removed the 1920s era bridge, built a fill across the old canal channel, and built a new larger lift bridge over the new canal channel. The new lift bridge is a monster. For example, railroad lift bridges on the Mississippi River typically raise to about 50 feet above the water. In comparison, this bridge is 40 feet above the water in its fully down position. In the up position, it raises to 138 feet above the water.
The railroad lift bridge was first owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which became the Penn Central in 1968. Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970. It operated in bankruptcy until it was taken over by the US Government in 1976 and became part of Conrail. In 1999, the CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway jointly purchased Conrail, splitting the assets and track between the two companies. As a result, the lift bridge is now owned by Norfolk Southern Railway. Maps still refer to this structure as the Conrail Bridge, so that is the name that I am using.
Railfans tell me that the Conrail Bridge is normally maintained in the open position unless a train is due. If the bridge is down, boats can contact the bridge operator via marine radio. The operator is located in Philadelphia and runs the bridge by remote control. The bridge was in the down position during my visit, but did lift up briefly to allow a sail boat to pass under the structure. It is reported that most of the rail traffic is scheduled to take place at night when canal traffic is the lowest.
The photo above is a view looking east down the channel of the C&D Canal towards the west face of the Conrail Bridge. Due to a slight curve in the channel, our vantage point on the north shore of the canal makes it look like we are in the middle of the channel. The bush in the lower left corner gives away our true position on the edge of the canal bank.