The Winona Bridge Railway was organized in the late 1880s to own and
operate a second railroad bridge over the Mississippi River at Winona,
Minnesota. The bridge idea was conceived of by the Winona & Southwestern
Railway. Congress granted a charter for the bridge, but required that it
be open to anyone who was willing to pay the bridge toll. This was the first
bridge over the Mississippi River to be required to be open access. Since
both the Chicago, Burlington, & Northern and the Green Bay, Winona, &
Saint Paul railroads both wanted to use the bridge, the Winona Bridge Railway
was created to with these two railroad in partnership with the Winona &
The Winona Bridge Railway consisted of 5,440 feet of track as follows,
starting on the Minnesota side and heading east across the river:
- 1,915 feet of approach track
- 270 feet of trestle
- 420 foot swing span
- 360 foot long modified Pratt truss
- 240 foot long modified Pratt truss
- 240 foot long modified Pratt truss
- 1,100 feet of trestle
- 895 feet of embankment
The crossing was a single track capable of supporting a moving load of 3,000
pounds per linear foot. This was heavy for its time, but was light for a
bridge after World War II. The truss spans were a combination of steel and
wrought iron. The tie bars and boom chords were steel, but all other parts
were iron. The modification to the standard Pratt truss style was that the
top of of the trusses were rounded rather than horizontal. The swing span
was mounted on a circular pier that was 30 feet in diameter and was powered by
a 20 horse steam engine.
While the Winona Bridge Railway was successful, the three partner railroads
did not fare quite as well. The Winona & Southwestern went bankrupt in the
panic of 1893. It was sold to the Winona & Western, which later became
part of the Chicago & Great Western, the Chicago & North Western,
which is now part of the Union Pacific. The Green Bay, Winona, & Saint
Paul Railroad went into bankruptcy and was sold at foreclosure in 1896,
where its rights to the WBR were purchased by the Green Bay Route.
The Chicago, Burlington, & Northern did enjoy success with its partner
relationship with the Chicago, Burlington, & Qunicy, but it ceased to
be an independent railroad when it was purchased outright by the CB&Q in
1899. The CB&Q became part of the Burlington Northern, and operates
today as part of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Traffic over the WBR began to wane in the latter half of the 20th Century
due to the bridge not being able to handle modern 100-ton rail cars. The
bridge was closed in 1985 due to the trestle sections having deteriorated.
The Burlington Northern had plans to create a new bypass route to Seattle,
and purchased the Green Bay Route's share of the WBR. However, that plan
fell through. A section of the bridge burned on December 17, 1989. It
was decided to not repair the structure, so it was dismantled in 1990.
The tracks leading to the west end of the Winona Bridge Railway still exist
and are still in use. A section of embankment still extends into the the
channel of the Mississippi River. This can be seen from a levee that runs
along the river, with access from a boat landing located just downstream.
I haven not visited the east side of the Mississippi River, but aerial
photos suggest that a section of embankment still exists on the Wisconsin
side of the river.
The photo above is looking northeast towards the end of the tracks where
the Winona Bridge Railway once crossed the Mississippi River. The photo
below is looking northeast across the river where the MBR bridge once
crossed the Great River.
These two images are public domain photos from the Historic American
Engineering Record. The photo above is looking north across the river
towards the downstream face of the MBR. The photo below is looking
downstream to the east towards the upstream face of the structure.
The photo above is the very end of the tracks at the end of the bridge
embankment on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River. The yellow
devices are to prevent rail cars from rolling off of the end of the track
and into the river. The photo below is an electrical controller box on
the upstream side of the railroad track.
These two photos are looking west towards Winona from the bridge embankment.
A single track lead to the bridge (above), but several other tracks
converged just before the river from a small yard that currently serves a
The photo above is looking upstream towards the railroad embankment that
led to the swing span on the Minnesota side of the river. Newspaper accounts
indicate that there was a 270 trestle span on the Minnesota side of the
river, with a pier located in the river just beyond the end of the embankment.
The photo below is a close view of the Wisconsin side of the main river
channel. There is a small thin island in front of the taller trees in the
background. A trestle crossed the small island just to the left of the center
of the photo, and passed through the mainland where there is a large V in
the trees to the right of the center of the photo.