A Thing for Railroad Bridges

For many of us, the excitement and wonder of seeing a moving train was the start of a passion for trains and later, railroad photography. As we looked deeper and started to explore and understand the railroad better, we often develop a deep appreciation of its infrastructure system and see potential as a photographic subject. Track, signals, yards, stations, trackside structures, tunnels and bridges all have vast photographic interest in of themselves and don’t need a train present to tell a story of railroading. From my observation, bridges are probably the most photographed railroad subject other than the trains themselves….I know they are for me.

Most railroad bridge photographs seem to fall into one of three categories; train pedestal, landscape or structure inspired.

At its most basic, a bridge is basically a prop for the train, which is usually the main subject. A long open deck bridge offers a beautiful pedestal to glorify the train, usually with an un-obstructed, elevated view. Framed relatively tight, the train looks majestic and heroic in such a shot.

Covered hoppers, westbound over the Philadelphia & Reading Bridge.

Covered hoppers, westbound over the Philadelphia & Reading Bridge at Harrisburg.

 

Crossing the Delaware River for the second time on it's journey out of Allentown, H76 heads north to Slatford Junction.

Crossing the Delaware River at Martins’s Creek on it’s journey out of Allentown, a local heads north to Slatford Junction.

 

A Norfolk Southern local crosses the Rarity River on the former Lehigh Valley bridge at Neshanic, NJ.

A Norfolk Southern local crosses the Rarity River on the former Lehigh Valley bridge at Neshanic, NJ.

 

A southbound Canadian Pacific train, #258, crosses Tunkhannock Viaduct as seen through a corn field. Looking for a different shot of the often photographed viaduct, I walked through a corn field looking for a unique view. When I turned around, the backlit stalks and scale juxtaposition struck me as interesting and found a position where the corn stalks overlapped the viaduct, but did not obscure the view. For me, the corn is up to my ears, and then some!

A southbound Canadian Pacific train crosses Tunkhannock Viaduct.

 

Bridges aren’t built without a reason, and when photographed with sympathy to the physical barrier in the landscape, offers not only context, but insight into the design and engineering chosen. More often than not, the surmounted barrier, whether a body of water or a crevice in the earth, makes for a dramatic scene in itself. The combination of landscape, bridge and train can create a wonderful and dramatic photographic scene.

Roundout Creek at Kingston, NY

Roundout Creek at Kingston, NY

 

10/20/08, Alder Creek, ID St. Maries River Railroad, GP-9 #103 At first glance, this train appears to be a caboose hop crossing the St. Maries River. Coupled behind the caboose are 35 center-beam cars that were picked up at the Union Pacific interchange and are destined for storage at the end of the line at Sherwin Pass. This was the first group of a 500 car contract that the railroad had with the UP. With no run-around track at the end of the line, the caboose was needed as a back-up platform for several miles past the Clarkia yard. Once the train arrived at Clarkia, the locomotives ran around the train and pushed up the hill from there. This bridge, EE506, was not easy to get to as it required miles of 4-wheeling and then a 2 mile walk along the tracks, but was worth it since trains will never run here again.

Alder Creek Bridge on the St. Maries River Railroad.

 

To cross Newark Bay, the Lehigh Valley built a lift brige in 1930 that has transfered ownership over the years and is now used by Conrail Shared Assets. The state built a high bridge to carry the Turnpike and whos piers we are viewing through.

To cross Newark Bay, the Lehigh Valley built a lift brige in 1930 that has transfered ownership over the years and is now used by Conrail Shared Assets. The state built a high bridge to carry the New Jersey Turnpike and whos piers we are viewing through.

 

For me, all bridges are design and engineering marvels, no matter what the span or obstacle surmounted. As a designer, I can appreciate the structural challenges inherent in supporting a large load over a span and it never ceases to amaze me on just how many ways there are to do this on something so purely functional and utilitarian. The repetition of form and shape inherent in the structural elements of a bridge creates interesting patterns of geometric form and texture as one moves around the elements.

An Amtrak Regional train crosses the Conneticut River enroute to Boston.

An Amtrak Regional train crosses the Conneticut River enroute to Boston.

 

A Norfolk Southern train crosses the Deleware River and will soon be In Phillipsbury on the New Jersey side of the river. This local, H76, is en route to Slatford Junction, PA to interchange cars with the Delaware Lackawanna. There are three bridges in this scene with a long history of ownership. The train is on the former Lehigh and Hudson River crossing, while behind it are the former New Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley RR bridges...note the two sets of piers.

Three railroad bridges cross the Delaware with a long history of ownership. The NS train is on the former Lehigh and Hudson River crossing, while behind it is the former New Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley RR bridges…note the two sets of piers. Norfolk Southern still uses the near two.

 

A Delaware Lackawanna excursion passes under the former CNJ bridge at Dunmore, PA.

A Delaware Lackawanna excursion passes under the former CNJ bridge at Dunmore, PA.

 

While the bridge design, landscape and light may inform how I want to shoot it, I always find an interesting vision on this subject. I can’t always say that about a train…

 

A quick search on Amazon for books about bridges turned up 567 titles, so obviously there is much interest in this subject. Here are a few that focus on railroad bridges.

The Beauty of Railroad Bridges by Richard J Cook
North American Railroad Bridges by Brian Solomon

A basic primer on bridge types can be found here.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.