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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Missouri River Railroad Crossing
Omaha, NE

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 615.2.
• River Elevation: 961 Feet.
• Railroad: Union Pacific Railroad.
• Daily Traffic Count: x Trains Per Day (Estimated).
• Bridge Type: Steel Through Truss.
• Length: 1,750 Feet, 250 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 27 Feet, 2 Tracks.
• Navigation Channel Width: 238 Feet.
• Height Above Water: 62 Feet.
• Date Built: 1916 Using 1888 Piers.
The Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge at Omaha is one of the most strategically important railroad bridges in the United States. While the Mississippi River has a number of railroad bridges, many of which are relatively close together and underutilized, there are comparatively few major railroad bridges over the Missouri River. The United States runs on coal, and that coal largely comes out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. It moves east in long unit trains, crossing the Mighty Mo either here at Omaha, or using a BNSF bridge just north of Omaha at Blair. Further, the line through Omaha was one of the few railroad crossings that was unaffected by the recent monumental flood on the Missouri River. Any incident that would impact this bridge could seriously back up rail traffic that would quickly be felt across the northeastern and Midwest segments of the nation.

The river crossing here dates back to 1872. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific completed a rail line from Omaha to the west coast in 1869. However, they had no way to connect this line to the eastern railroad network. A connection was completed through Kansas City in 1870, which left Omaha being the poor sister to Kansas City, which grew into the major railroad hub west of Chicago. Omaha desperately wanted to stay in the game by attempting to lay track over the ice on the frozen Missouri River. That ended up being futile due to the shifting ice.

The first bridge connecting Council Bluffs and Omaha was built in 1872, and opened on March 25, 1873. This bridge was built using tubular iron piers, large boxy trusses, and a tall wooden approach trestle. This bridge was damaged by high winds in 1877 and was replaced in 1888. The 1888 bridge featured cut stone piers and iron trusses that were built using cables and pins. Trains grew rapidly in size and weight in the decade leading up to World War I, rendering this bridge obsolete.

The current bridge was built in 1916 using the piers from the 1888 bridge. Since the US was gearing up for entry into World War I, it was not possible to interrupt the flow of materials to tear down the 1888 bridge, and there wasn't time to start over from scratch on a new bridge. To solve this problem, engineers pulled off a feat that is only now becoming practical some 90 years later. They built a set of temporary wood piers on each side of the existing stone bridge piers. The new bridge truss spans were built on the temporary piers on the upstream side of the 1888 bridge. When the new truss spans were completed, the old truss spans were pulled south onto the temporary wooden piers on the downstream side of the structure. The new truss spans were then slid into place on top of the stone piers. This entire operation interrupted railroad traffic less than one day. Doing something like this with computers and modern hydraulics is pretty impressive, but doing it with slide rules and steam engines is nothing short of amazing.

The current bridge configuration is a structure that is 1,750 feet long, with approximately 1-1/2 miles of approach fill on each side of the bridge. Heading from west to east, the structure consists of an approximately 160 foot section of deck plate girder, two 125 foot long through truss spans, four larger 250 foot long Parker through truss spans, a single 125 foot long through truss span, and 150 feet of deck plate girder spans.

The photo above is looking downstream along the Missouri River towards the north face of the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge. The vantage point is the Nebraska side of the river at the Lewis & Clark Landing located about a mile upstream of the structure. The camera angle is shooting under the Interstate highway I-480 bridge. The train on the bridge is an Ethanol unit train heading eastbound.


Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are the first of 8 that show a train creeping eastbound across the Missouri River. In the photo above, the locomotives have just entered the westernmost of the larger truss spans. In the photo below, the lead locomotive is passing from the second large truss span to the third large truss span. The vantage point is the public bicycle trail that passes through the Harrah's Casino parking ramp.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is a closer view of the lead locomotive as it is entering the second large truss span. The photo below is the same locomotive as it is nearing the east end of the smaller truss span on the Iowa side of the river. Union Pacific #7721 is a General Electric Evolution series prime mover that features 4,400 horsepower and six alternating current traction motors. UP designates these as type C45ACCTE. This locomotive, which entered service in July, 2007, is much more fuel efficient and produces 40% less emissions than locomotives that it replaced.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above shows the locomotive on the deck plate girder span right above the Iowa Riverfront Trail, while the photo below shows the lead locomotive nearing the east bridge abutment. In this view, we can see that the second and third locomotives are a different type, the EMD SD70M. The second locomotive is cab number #4806, which entered service in July, 2002. The SD70M is rated at 4,000 horsepower.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are the last of 8 showing a train crossing the UP Missouri River Bridge heading eastbound. These two photos were taken from the Iowa Riverfront Trail from a vantage point located just south of the structure. The photo above is a wider view of the bridge as it passes over the trail, while the photo below is a closer shot of the train cars as they exit the smaller truss span near the east end of the bridge. These cars are newer high cubic foot capacity refrigerator cars. UP started an effort to win back fresh vegetable transport from California and Arizona, so they purchased these new cars. They are painted white to help dispel a history of having dirty equipment that was unsuited for carrying fresh food. Note that these cars are marked with letters ARMN rather than the older UPFE, which stood for Union Pacific Fruit Express. UP went so far as to create a new entity to own these cars.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is the west portal of the UP Missouri River Bridge. The vantage point is looking west from the parking lot at the Amtrak station in Omaha. The photo below are the two smaller truss spans at the west end of the river crossing. The vantage point is looking northeast from Pierce Street near South 4th Avenue in Omaha.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are additional views from Pierce Street in Omaha. The photo above shows the four larger truss spans, which the photo below being a close view of the third span (counting from the Nebraska side).

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are looking downriver one mile from Lewis & Clark Landing on the riverfront in Omaha located just north of Interstate highway I-480. The river makes a slight bend, which gives the impression that our vantage point is in mid-channel. The photo above is a closer view of the main channel span as an Ethanol train crosses eastbound. The photo below is a wider view of the entire over-water section of the bridge while the bridge deck was vacant.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are views looking upstream one and a quarter miles from near the Interstate highway I-80 bridge. Our vantage point is on the Iowa side of the river looking north. We see several landmarks behind the railroad bridge, including the I-480 Grenville Dodge Bridge, Harrah's Casino (right side of the river), the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center (left side of river in lower photo), and the remaining pier of the Ak-sar-ben bridge (right of the railroad bridge pier in the photo below).

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is the view from the surface level parking lot at Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs. We can see the smaller truss span and the first of the larger truss spans at the east end of the structure. The photo below is the protective structure built over the Iowa Riverfront Trail as it passes under the railroad bridge. The vantage point is the upper level of the parking ramp at Harrah's Casino.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are additional views of the east end of the UP Missouri River Bridge as it passes over the Iowa Riverfront Trail as seen from the middle level of Harrah's Casino parking ramp. These two photos were taken about an hour apart, the upper one with no train present, while the lower one shows a string of UP reefer cars crawling slowly eastbound.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos show the south face of the deck plate girder spans at the east end of the bridge. The photo above shows the bridge without a train on the deck, and also shows the abutment (though it is mostly hidden by brush). The photo below is a view from the bicycle trail as the same UP fresh food train heads eastbound.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos show the bottom and side of the truss span located above one of the cut stone piers near the bicycle trail. Since it is dark under the bridge, but the sky was very bright, it is not possible to get a photo that is properly exposed in all areas. As a result, the photo above is exposed to show the detail under the deck, while the photo below is exposed to show the side of the bridge and the sky.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is a view of the Iowa Riverfront Trail as it passes northbound under the railroad bridge. The photo below is a closer view of the protective structure over the trail. I am not completely sure why these structure was built. I didn't see any debris falling off of the bridge, no any stones falling off of the pier. Rather, I think it is there for liability purposes in case something were to fall off of a train, or a worker would drop a tool.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
These two photos are views looking north down the length of the protective structure over the Iowa Riverfront Trail. Again, this is a tough photo due to the differences in contrast. The photo above was exposed to be able to see the bridge pier, while the photo below is exposed to see details of the steel structure.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is the bridge pier located next to the Iowa Riverfront Trail. This pier supports the east end of the smaller truss span as well as one end of a deck plate girder span. I am not sure why the pier is clad in sheet metal. I suspect it was to prevent water from damaging the stonework. However, if that was the case, I'd expect it to be better maintained. The photo below is the next pier heading towards the riverbank, which, like the other piers, is cut stone without the metal cladding.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge
The photo above is a close view of the underside of a deck plate girder span. This appears to be relatively modern steel, but since it is riveted, it likely predates World War II. The corrugated steel deck is much more modern. It likely replaced an earlier timber deck that once covered the entire structure. The photo below is the base of the structural steel tower that supports the deck plate girder spans on the east end of the bridge.

Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge

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