Courtesy of Library of Congress
WHAT: The Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge, built in 1908 and rebuilt in 1989
FUN FACT: The original Railroad Bridge swung open around a central “pedestal” — and ships had a heck of a time avoiding it. The worst collision happened 40-odd years ago, when a Norwegian freighter sideswiped the bridge on its way into Portland, inflicting more than $3 million worth of damage.
You could blame the bridge’s architect for leaving such a narrow passing channel, but it’s worth noting that the very same ship had struck the West Seattle Bridge on its maiden voyage four weeks earlier. And almost immediately after bumping into the Railroad Bridge, it also managed to scrape against the Fremont Bridge, completing a dubious trifecta.
WHY IT’S SPECIAL: The Railroad Bridge doesn’t get a ton of love these days (Willamette Week called it a “secret” for a reason), but the original structure was an engineering marvel for its time. The behemoth weighed nearly 8 million pounds, and as The Oregonian proudly proclaimed in 1908, it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world.
The Railroad Bridge might now be less famous than its neighbors to the north (the St. Johns) and south (the Fremont) however it is the sole rail-only bridge and closed to the public, and it continues to stay busy, carrying 30+ trains across it every day.
QUOTABLE: “I crossed the bridge for the first time in January, and boated under it in June. Both times I was struck by its isolation and industrial-age beauty, like something out of Detroit-ruin porn tucked into the industrial fringes of the city.” – Martin Cizmar for Willamette Week in 2017
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