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Bridges of Metro-North: The Norwalk River Bridge, Part 1

Continuing into the new year with our visits to some of Metro-North’s movable bridges, today’s feature is the Norwalk River Bridge. This bridge, owned by the state of Connecticut, is commonly known as WALK, and is the bane of the New Haven Line. Built in 1896, the bridge is one of many pieces of practically ancient infrastructure you’ll find along the line. Prone to getting stuck open and preventing trains from crossing – which happened several times last year – the historical bridge is badly in need of a replacement or serious upgrade. For the interim, attempts have been made to open the bridge less frequently, and to have crews standing by when the bridge does open to hopefully prevent any issues. While I had been under the impression that the bridge would be staying shut while repairs were under way starting in June, I was lucky enough to capture an opening of the bridge on November 8th, much to my surprise.

Constructed for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, the Norwalk River Bridge is a 562-foot long rim bearing swing bridge. Sitting about 16 feet above the water, the bridge’s 202 foot long center deck rotates along a center point to allow marine traffic to pass. When opening, rail locks are released, the rail ends are lifted, catenary wire is separated, wedge locks are withdrawn, and bridge locks are released. Only then can the machinery located at the center pier under the tracks can do its work to swing the bridge open. All of these delicate maneuvers need to happen in concert, which is difficult considering the age of the machinery involved. Also complicating matters for repairs is the fact that the old movable bridges on the Northeast Corridor are all unique – there was no standard for construction, and each bridge has unique mechanical components.

    
Photos from 1977 aerial survey of the Northeast Corridor, from the Library of Congress.

Unlike the Harlem River Lift Bridge that we featured a few weeks ago, the Norwalk River Bridge is frequently opened. In addition to the 140 or more trains that cross the bridge daily, the bridge is opened 20 to 30 times a month to allow large ships access to businesses upriver. On average, the bridge failed to close properly 10% of the time, and two high profile failures on Thursday, May 29, and Friday, June 6, 2014 brought the bridge’s issues to the fore.

While previously only repairs to the bridge were really talked about, now Connecticut lawmakers are pushing for an outright replacement of the bridge, a project estimated to cost $465 million. Two thirds of that price tag will come from federal funds, while the rest will come from the state of Connecticut. If everything goes to plan, construction will begin in 2017, with a target completion date of 2020.

A second part to this post will be upcoming, which will include a video of the bridge opening and closing, so stay tuned!

                   

8 thoughts on “Bridges of Metro-North: The Norwalk River Bridge, Part 1

  1. For better or worse,Walk has become a possible nightmare for Metro North and Amtrak’s NEC services,if there’s another breakdown,
    and there’s no detour possible via the Danbury Branch,then over the remains of the(HRRC’s) Maybrook line to Derby Jct,then back to the New Haven
    Mainline at Devon. A “bus bridge” between S Norwalk and E Norwalk/Westport would become a lost cause if Walk fails again.
    Amtrak might try a Penn Station-Albany-Boston Detour if CSX allows it(not likely).

    1. I was under the impression that the Maybrook over by Derby Junction was in pretty poor shape… We’d be more likely to see an Amtrak redirect via Albany to Boston before we’d see action there, I think.

    2. Is getting to the PAR at Springfield, from Penn Station, possible without back-up moves/run-arounds at Albany and Springfield? Same with getting to the old Maybrook line from the Hudson, or Harlem lines, and the Danbury Branch. Housatonic from Danbury to Pittsfield? I’d love to ride one of those detours, but I don’t think the customers would appreciate them. Where is the old CNE if we need it?

  2. As long as HRRC controls the track between Derby Jct and Danbury,and fights the P+W on freight access,the track has “rotted” in place and is
    useless. As it is,not sure if HRRC wanders over to Newtown now.
    CSX was happy to see the Vermonter return to B+M(PAR) Conn River Line on 12/29/14,Amtrak might need federal help
    if Walk fails and forces the detour via Albany.

  3. Are the people at HRRC the ‘bad guys”? Are they just ‘big kids’ playing with trains? I thought P&W had Trackage Rights on the HRRC. Should I buy them out? What’s the condition of the M-NR/DTRR “Maybrook Line” west of Danbury? Is it still in service? Dunno, me. I’m too far away (2,000 miles) to tell.

  4. MN’s ownership ends at the state line(NY/CONN)and could be returned to service with a few seasons of brush removal and trackwork,
    the raising of 1 bridge in NY severed the track in 1 location,the last known move on the” Beacon Secondary” was M-2 car towed to
    MN’s police training facilty near Fishkill by the Hi-Railed wreck crane.
    HRRC has former Guilford exec’s running the “Show”,do not play nice with MN and P+W,suggest you visit Railroad .net
    and read various threads in the Metro-North and HRRC forums related to the Maybrook line.
    Track conditions on the HRRC side;state line to downtown Dandury,out of service,needs total rebuild,
    from downtown Dandury to Newtown,barely useable class 1 track(max speed 10mph),From Newtown to Derby Jct,
    out of service,needs total rebuild,unknown if the switch is still in place at Derby Jct.
    P+W serves their customers in Danbury by running to S Norwalk,then running up the Danbury Branch.

    1. I’m proudly permabanned from railroad dot net for rejecting the admin’s “advances.”

      And although hypothetically, yes, a few “seasons” of work could bring the Beacon back online, it would be a significant investment. There are washouts by Whaley Lake Stream, and a lot of the bridges are in very poor shape (that big one in Brewster, for example)

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