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Nikolay Apollonovich Beleloubski (Russian: Белелюбский, Николай Аполлонович) (March 13, 1845, Kharkiv – August 4, 1922, Petrograd) was a leading bridge designer, civil engineer and scientist in Imperial Russia.
Life and career
Nikolai Beleloubski was born on March 13, 1845 in Kharkiv into a Russian noble family descended from the 16th century. He spent his childhood and youth in Taganrog and graduated with a gold medal from the Taganrog Boys Gymnasium in 1862. And so that year, Beleloubski joined the Institute of Railroad Engineers in Saint Petersburg, from which he graduated in 1867.
Beleloubski was considered to be one of the best Institute's graduates ever, his name was engraved on a memorial plaque of marble, and after graduation he was left at the institute as a private tutor. In 1873, he was appointed Extraordinary Professor in the Department for Building Materials and three years later he already held the position of Full Professor.
He gained international recognition for his research and practice in the fields of bridge engineering and building materials.
The first practical experience of engineer Beleloubski was a construction project of a new railway line avoiding the station of Verebje, covering the period from 1877 to 1881. In fact, during the construction, it was impossible to eliminate a steep ascent and subsequent descent near the railroad station of Verebje (Verebushka) by technical means of that time. Passenger trains were able to overcome that mountain pass, but freight ones had to be uncoupled and moved by parts with double heading. This area was considered to be the most dangerous section of the whole line of the Nikolaevskaya Railway. The project of Beleloubski allowed to address several engineering challenges at once: to construct a unique embankment 49 metres (161 ft) high and to erect the bridge's pillars in the deep channel of the Msta river (similar to the Skytrail Bridge) using for the first time the caisson method.
No railway bridge over a river in Russia was built without the involvement or support of Nikolai Beleloubski. He is indeed considered to be the founder of the Russian professional school of bridge-builders. He continuously improved and updated the designs, like a stage performer who hones his skills from play to play.
Beleloubski personally designed and managed over 100 projects of long bridges. The total length of the bridges constructed upon his projects extended 17 kilometres (56,000 ft). These include the bridges over the rivers Don, Danube, Ob, Kama, Oka, Neva, Irtysh, Belaya, Ufa, Neman, Berezina, and many others.
In 1875, Beleloubski designed the Alexander Railway Bridge on the Volga Samara-Zlatoust railway, near Syzran. Working on the bridge project, Beleloubski developed a method for analysis of waterway openings for large bridges, which later came to be widely acknowledged. This bridge continued to be the longest in Europe over a long period of time with a total length of 1,483 metres (4,865 ft): its superstructure system had 13 spans, each 107 metres (351 ft) long. The bridge connected the railroad network in the central Russia with Volga region and Siberia. The construction works involved approximately 2,500 thousand people, required more than 10 thousand cubic metres of masonries and approximately 6,5 tons of iron, and what is more, Beleloubski personally obtained iron from Belgium, demanding to improve its quality. The first train crossed the bridge on 30 August 1880. In 2004, the original spans were replaced with contemporary ones.
In the period from 1881 to 1884, a two-level rail bridge across the Dnieper in Ekaterinoslav was built under the project of Nikolai Beleloubski. The lower level was for trains only, while the upper level ― for cartwright travel. The length of the bridge was 832 metres (2,730 ft). The bridge was thoroughly renovated in the 1930s-1950s.
While he was designing the rail bridges over the Volga river near Tver in 1885 and the Belaya River in Ufa in 1886, Beleloubski developed and introduced a new technology: the transverse floor-beams were hingedly connected to the bottom chords of trusses. Such a type of structural support was considered to be ground-breaking in the days of Beleloubski, because it allowed to reduce secondary stresses in trusses. At the Edinburg Exposition 1890, this design received the Gold medal and later came to be known abroad as the ‘Russian support method‘.
In 1897, Beleloubski was in charge of constructing of the railway bridge across the Ob River near Novosibirsk. It was the first one of the grand bridges of the Great Siberian Route, which eternally connected the two largest and significant areas of the Trans-Siberian Railway ― the West Siberian and Middle-Siberian railroads. The bridge was for the first time equipped with the spans, which were topped by metal structures of the cantilever-beam type, while the bridge itself went down in history as the largest structure of the West-Siberian railroad.
Beleloubski always paid special attention to the appearance of his creations, especially in urban areas. In this regard, of particular interest are the Rusanovsky bridge in Kiev (1906) and the Nevsky Bridge in St.Petersburg, which had steep bowstring arches. Each of his bridge was a piece of architectural and artistic work, a combination of practical usefulness, beauty, and structural strength. Thanks to such engineers, Russia has almost never seen bridge failures.
The apogee of his engineering career became Romanovsky rail bridge, which was built across the Volga river near Zelenodolsk in 1913. It was renamed Red Bridge after the October revolution in 1917. Its oval openwork lattice spans amounted to 160 metres (520 ft) (a similar model was replicated for the bridge in Simbirsk). Due to their extension, the designer was able to reduce their number (six and two small). It was opened for traffic on July 11, 1913, and has served the people well thus far. In the period 2006-2011, the original spans were replaced with new structures.
Beleloubski was also actively involved in the drafting of several St Petersburg's bridges: Okhtinsky, Troitsky and Dvortsovy. He has developed a method to build caissons in the construction of bridge piers, which later came to be called as ‘caisson-slipper‘. Additionally, Beleloubski was engaged in tests of building materials, and he was President of Society of this branch.
Beleloubski tried to help Russian science move forward, representing his country at many international railway exhibitions and forums. The studies of Beleloubski were presented in books, drawings and bridge models at several world expositions (Edinburg, 1890; Chicago 1893; and five expos held in Paris). His international recognition is evidenced, for example, by the fact that he received honorary doctorates a number of times from universities of Germany, France, England, for example, he was an honorary member of the Society of civil engineers of France, a member of the International Association of Railroad Congresses, an honorary member of the Institute of concrete in England.
According to the testimony of contemporaries, Beleloubski was a man of high culture and internal content. Modesty, devotion and material unselfishness were main personality traits of the founder of the Russian school of bridge building and the "poet" of bridge engineering. Even so, the outstanding scientist was considered to be a poor and oddish man, according to the standards of the society he lived in. But Beleloubski himself never suffered mentally from this. He preferred the spiritual values to material goods, while serving the people was the greatest happiness for him.
Beleloubski made substantial educational efforts to prepare specialists for the country's railway lines. In addition to the main place of service, he also lectured at the Mining Institute, the Institute of Civil Engineers, the Imperial Academy of Arts and Women's Polytechnic courses. And his work "The Course of Structural Mechanics" (1885) became the most popular textbook for students and a reference book for many engineers.
He used to tell his students:
"You are future engineers. What could be better? You will design and build bridges. Bridges are built to last for a hundred years or more. Look for the best designs, techniques and construction methods. But don't forget one thing: you must be the masters of your own construction projects. Not owners, but masters, as you build for the state, for the people. Build efficiently, carefully, sparingly, firmly, and originally. Every epoch brings its useful novelty, each engineer has to take a step forward in his practice. Anyway, he must want to do it, otherwise he is not an engineer, not the master of his own craft".
It is notable that under his leadership "Society of Academic Support for Weak Students" and "Society on Fund raising for technical learning for women" were established. He also became the first chairman of the Council of Petrograd female polytechnical courses.
- Ufa Rail Bridge
- The first railway bridge over the Ob River
- List of civil engineers
- The American Bridge