The Frisco Bridge was a monumental undertaking. It was the first bridge built on the lower Mississippi River, and the only bridge south of Saint Louis at that time. The US Army insisted on a 770 foot clear span for river navigation, and at least 75 of vertical clearance under the bridge. The result was a bridge that featured the longest span of any bridge in the US when built. The main river spans are 791 feet, 621 feet, and 604 feet in length.
In order to secure a building permit, Memphis officials insisted that the bridge carry pedestrian and buggy traffic as well as trains. The deck was built somewhat wider than would have been required for a single railroad track. As a result, two way buggy traffic was allowed. Later, automobiles used the Frisco Bridge until the Harahan Bridge opened. If a train needed to cross the bridge, wagon and automobile traffic was stopped and cleared from the bridge, and then the train was allowed to cross.
The United States allowed its bridge inventory to go largely without inspection during much of the twentieth century. The result is that many bridges were deteriorated to a dangerous level before the problems were discovered. The Frisco Bridge was no different. It deteriorated to the point that a 10 mile per hour speed limit was posted. Later, trains were not allowed to start up motion on the bridge for fear that it would cause the bridge to collapse lengthwise. Rather, if a train stalled on the bridge, it would have to back up until it was clear of the bridge before another crossing could be attempted. Repairs have been made on the structure, and the traffic restrictions have been eased.
The Frisco Bridge was built by the Kansas City and Memphis Railway and Bridge Company, a company that was formed by the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad specifically to build a bridge over the Mississippi River. In 1901, KCFS&M was bought by the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad, which was commonly called the Frisco. The Frisco system was bought by Burlington Northern in 1980. The BN later merged with the Santa Fe to become the BNSF.
The photo above is a BNSF train emerging from the east bridge portal on the Memphis side of the Mississippi River. BNSF locomotive 5871 is a General Electric Evolution model ES44AC built in January, 2006. The unit is powered by a 12 cylinder diesel engine and alternating current traction motors that develop 4,400 horsepower.