Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 9.6

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Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 9.6
BNSF 9.6 railroad bridge, train crossing swing span.jpg
A train crossing the bridge's
467-foot (142 m) swing-span section
Coordinates45°37′29″N 122°41′27″W / 45.6247°N 122.6908°W / 45.6247; -122.6908Coordinates: 45°37′29″N 122°41′27″W / 45.6247°N 122.6908°W / 45.6247; -122.6908
Carries2 railroad tracks, used by freight and passenger trains
CrossesColumbia River
LocalePortland, Oregon;
Vancouver, Washington
Other name(s)BNSF Railway Bridge 9.6,
Columbia River Railroad Bridge (at Portland)
OwnerBNSF Railway
DesignSwing bridge, Pratt truss
Total length2,807 feet (856 m)[1]
Longest span467 feet (142 m)[2][3]
Piers in water9
Clearance below33 feet (10 m)
Construction startFebruary 8, 1906
Construction endJuly 24, 1908
OpenedNovember 17, 1908
Daily traffic63 freight, 10 Amtrak per day

Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 9.6 or BNSF Railway Bridge 9.6,[2] also known as the Columbia River Railroad Bridge,[3] is through truss railway bridge across the Columbia River, between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, owned and operated by BNSF Railway.[2] Built by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway (SP&S) and completed in 1908, it was the first bridge of any kind to be built across the lower Columbia River,[1] preceding the first road bridge, the nearby Interstate Bridge, by a little more than eight years.

The 2,807-foot-long (856 m)[1] bridge has a swing span, which pivots on its base to allow for the passage of taller ships. The bridge carries two railroad tracks, which are used by BNSF, Union Pacific Railroad, and Amtrak. It is one of only two surviving swing-span bridges in the Portland metropolitan area, which once had several bridges of that type.[2] The other survivor is another BNSF bridge located nearby, on the same line and built at the same time, the Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge (also known as BNSF Railway Bridge 8.8).[2] The 9.6 in the name is the distance, in miles, from Portland's Union Station, the same as for Bridge 5.1 (across the Willamette River) and Bridge 8.8 on the same line.[2]


Construction of a single-track railroad bridge at the same location was started in 1890, engineered by George S. Morison[1] for the Portland & Puget Sound Railroad Company[4] (affiliated with Union Pacific), but that project was abandoned at an early stage.[1] In 1905, another crossing of the Columbia River was proposed, this time by the Northern Pacific Railway (NP), for use by the newly formed Portland & Seattle Railway. The Portland & Seattle had been formed jointly by NP and Great Northern Railway,[5] to build and ultimately operate new railroad lines from Portland to Seattle and Portland to Spokane, but was renamed Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway (SP&S) – in early 1908,[6] before opening any track sections – after construction of the Portland–Spokane line got under way before the Seattle line.[7] The planned new railroad was commonly referred to as the "North Bank road"[3][5] (road being short for railroad or railroad line), or North Bank line, because the Seattle line would follow the Columbia River's north bank as far as Kelso and the Spokane line would also follow the north bank, running east from Vancouver. East from Portland, the south bank of the Columbia already had a rail line, owned by the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company (later absorbed by Union Pacific Railroad).

The bridge was part of an overall planned new line from Vancouver to Northwest Portland, which included three major new bridges: the Columbia River Bridge, Oregon Slough Bridge and Willamette Drawbridge. Northern Pacific hired bridge builder Ralph Modjeski to design all three.[3][8] On November 14, 1905, the SP&S board approved Modjeski's recommendations. Plans for the bridges were submitted to the War Department, and eventually approved in February 1906.[3] Pier 2 of the Columbia River bridge, the pier on which the swing-span section pivots, was built as part of the canceled 1890 project, and was incorporated into the plans for the 1906 bridge.[1][8]

Aerial view in 2016, looking towards Vancouver, with the swing span opened for a barge

The first work was performed on February 8, 1906, when work crews began framing the caissons. The steel was fabricated by the American Bridge Company of New York. Construction took approximately 26 months. Steel construction at the site began on June 15, 1907.[1] Structural work on the bridge was completed in June 1908,[1] but its opening to traffic was delayed by problems concerning installation of the heavy machinery required to turn the huge swing span on the new Willamette River bridge located on the same line.[9] The span was the first bridge of any kind to be built across the lower Columbia River,[1] preceding the first road bridge, the nearby Interstate Bridge, by a little more than eight years.

The first train crossed the span on October 23, 1908,[10] and the bridge opened for regular use in November 1908.[11] This completed the initial SP&S route, between Portland and Pasco.

Ownership and operation of the bridge passed to the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) in 1970, when SP&S, Northern Pacific and other railroads merged to form BN. At the end of 1996, BN merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe), becoming the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway[12] (officially shortened to BNSF Railway in 2005).


The swing span is located at the bridge's north end, in Washington, a short distance from the Vancouver Amtrak station. All trains using the bridge are required to call the bridge tender to obtain permission to cross.[13] A bridge tender is on duty 24 hours a day, year-round.[14] Boats requesting an opening should contact the bridge over VHF channel 13 using call sign KQ 9049.

The bridge's swing span is opened for river traffic an average of 12 times per day.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Finish Bridge Over Columbia; Steel Structure of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad [sic] Completed—Last Bolt In Yesterday". The Morning Oregonian. June 26, 1908. p. 11. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wood Wortman, Sharon; Wortman, Ed (2006). The Portland Bridge Book (3rd ed.). Urban Adventure Press. pp. 5, 36, 119–120, 177. ISBN 0-9787365-1-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bottenberg, Ray (2007). Bridges of Portland. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 55–64. ISBN 978-0-7385-4876-0.
  4. ^ "Builds North to the Sound". The Morning Oregonian. February 13, 1906. p. 12.
  5. ^ a b "Two Roads Come On North Bank: Northern Pacific and Great Northern". The Sunday Oregonian. September 17, 1905. p. 1. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  6. ^ "Important Articles Filed: North Bank Changes Name [from Portland & Seattle Railway Company to Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Company], Increases Capital and Will Extend". The Morning Oregonian. January 30, 1908. p. 11. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  7. ^ "History of North Bank Road". The Morning Oregonian. November 6, 1908. p. 12.
  8. ^ a b "Bridge the River: Ralph Modjeski Here to Supervise Work—Spanning the Columbia". The Morning Oregonian. January 10, 1906. p. 11.
  9. ^ "Road to Open October 15: Tentative Date for Inauguration of Service on North Bank Line". The Sunday Oregonian. October 4, 1908. Section 3, p. 7.
  10. ^ "First Train Crosses Bridges". The Morning Oregonian. October 24, 1908. p. 4.
  11. ^ "Begin New Service: North Bank Road Schedule to Go Into Effect Tuesday". The Morning Oregonian. November 11, 1908. p. 16. Retrieved June 21, 2014.
  12. ^ "Merger: E. Pluribus Unum". RailNews. Pentrex: 87. March 1997. ISSN 1091-2436.
  13. ^ McCommic, Greg (April 1999). "Portland, Oregon: The Rose City". RailNews. Pentrex: 53. ISSN 1091-2436.
  14. ^ a b Wood Wortman, Sharon; Wortman, Ed (2014). The Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver: A Book for Young Readers and Their Teachers. Portland, Oregon: Urban Adventure Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-9787365-6-9.

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