Whirlpool Rapids Bridge

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Coordinates: 43°06′33″N 79°03′30″W / 43.109208°N 79.058336°W / 43.109208; -79.058336

Whirlpool Rapids Bridge
Whirlpool Rapids Bridge 2009.jpg
Coordinates 43°06′33″N 79°03′30″W / 43.1092°N 79.0583°W / 43.1092; -79.0583Coordinates: 43°06′33″N 79°03′30″W / 43.1092°N 79.0583°W / 43.1092; -79.0583
Carries 2 lanes (lower)
1 rail line (upper)
Crosses Niagara River
Locale Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York
Maintained by Niagara Falls Bridge Commission
Design Arch bridge
Total length 329 metres (1,079.40 ft)
Width 16.9 metres (55.45 ft) (lower)
10 metres (32.81 ft) (upper)
Longest span 167.6 metres (549.87 ft)
Clearance above 3.96 metres (12.99 ft) (lower)
Clearance below 68.6 metres (225.07 ft)
Opened 1897
Daily traffic 543 (2006)
Toll $3.75 USD/CAD per auto (westbound only, via prepaid account linked to NEXUS card or E-ZPass payment)[1]

The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, commonly called the Whirlpool Bridge, and until 1937, known as the Lower Steel Arch Bridge, is a spandrel braced, riveted, two-hinged arch bridge. It crosses the international border between Canada and the United States, connecting the commercial downtown districts of Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York. This bridge is located approximately 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) north of the Rainbow Bridge and about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the Falls. This bridge was acquired by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission in January 1959.


Bridge construction

The predecessor of the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge was the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, which carried foot and rail traffic. That bridge, opened in 1855, was most notable for being the world's first working railway suspension bridge and for being the bridge abolitionists running the Underground Railroad used to get slaves to freedom in Canada. By the late 1800s, the suspension bridge was becoming outdated for railroad needs. The weight of trains in North America had greatly increased by the mid-1890s. Larger and more powerful locomotives were required to pull cars that handled an increasing number of passengers and goods; compared to the 23-short-ton (21 t) locomotives crossing the bridge in the 1850s, 170-short-ton (150 t) locomotives were the common engines 40 years later.[2] The weight of these trains exceeded the specifications of the Suspension Bridge, and the bridge companies took the opportunity to review and request the replacement of the bridge.

Civil engineer Leffert L. Buck, who had been hired to maintain the Suspension Bridge, was selected to design the replacement bridge. He settled for a bridge of the arch design. At that time, arch bridges were the new models for railway bridges and were more cost-efficient than suspension bridges. Buck built the new bridge around and below the Suspension Bridge, replacing it a piece at a time beginning on April 9, 1896. His plan allowed bridge traffic—train and pedestrian—to continue without disruption.[3] By August 27, 1897, the last pieces of the Suspension Bridge were dismantled, leaving the Lower Steel Arch Bridge—later renamed the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge—in its stead.[4]

Over the years the New York Central Railroad, Great Western Railway, Erie Railroad, Canadian National Railway, and Amtrak have used the bridge. In November 2009, the bridge began extensive refurbishment; repairing and replacing the catwalk and some of the steel beams and rivets, sandblasting, and a paint job were among the major maintenance tasks undertaken.[5] Amtrak took over maintenance responsibility of the rail deck from Canadian National (CN) in late 2012. Currently the Maple Leaf train service, jointly operated by Amtrak and Via Rail, is the only train to use the bridge; CN routes freight over the International Railway Bridge at Fort Erie, OntarioBuffalo, New York instead.

Just upstream is the disused Michigan Central Railway Bridge which with its predecessor the Niagara Cantilever Bridge competed for rail traffic with the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge.

Bridge setup[edit]

The Maple Leaf crosses the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge over the Niagara River (1983).

The bridge has two decks. The upper deck carries the railway traffic while the lower deck is a roadway.

Locals prefer using the crossing,[6] as the lower deck roadway is reserved for passenger vehicles only—commercial vehicles and pedestrians are prohibited—and is reserved for NEXUS members, a joint program implemented by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP). There is one lane of traffic to the United States and one lane to Canada, with two inspection lanes at each end for traffic entering the respective countries. The American side connects to New York State Route 104 and New York State Route 182, while the Canadian side connects to the historic terminus of King's Highways 3A, 20 and 8, now known as River Road and Bridge Street.

A single train track crosses over the bridge on the upper deck. The tracks on the upper deck are currently used exclusively by Amtrak. The Via Rail Niagara Falls Station is immediately located on the Canadian side of the bridge in Niagara Falls, Ontario and the Amtrak Niagara Falls Station is immediately located on the American side of the bridge in Niagara Falls, New York.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-16. Retrieved 2014-03-16.  Niagara Falls Bridge Commission: Toll Cost & Vehicle Definitions or http://www.niagarafallsbridges.com/index.php/crossing-info/toll-cost-vehicle-definitions
  2. ^ Irwin 1996, p. 55.
  3. ^ Griggs 2006b, p. 82.
  4. ^ Crabtree 1901, p. 360.
  5. ^ Whirlpool Rapids Bridge gets historic facelift, November 6, 2009.
  6. ^ "Chapter 4: The Watery Boundary". United Divide: A Linear Portrait of the USA/Canada Border. The Center for Land Use Interpretation. Winter 2015. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Whirlpool Rapids Bridge at Wikimedia Commons