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 When opening, rail locks are released, the rail ends are lifted, catenary wire is separated, wedge locks are withdrawn, and bridge locks are released.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!