Tuesday, December 1, 2015

1919,1930 St. Charles Air Line Bridge and Straightening the South Branch

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(Bridge Hunter, Historic Bridges)

(Update: the swing bridge before elevation and the straightening of the river.   video of both bridges going down)

See the B&OCT Bridge that is next to this one for more views.

From Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Historic Chicago Railroad Bridges, p. 34:
The St. Charles Air Line (SCAL) Bridge was the world’s longest and heaviest single-leaf bridge when completed in 1919. Designed by the acclaimed Chicago bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss, the SCAL Bridge was built using many of the design principles as the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Bridge (constructed in 1908). However, the SCAL Bridge is significant because it is an excellent example of a “heel trunnion” bascule bridge, a design developed by Strauss specifically for long bascule spans.
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0688 with brightness cranked up to Gimp 20
The clouds significantly impacted the camera's decision about compensating for backlighting because in this photo with a blue sky the bridge is much darker. I tried using Gimp to adjust brightness and contrast. More contrast did not help. Upping the brightness helped some, but it still not near as good as the May 13th shot.

(Update: another picture from the 18th Street Bridge, Neil Gale's photo copy)

This bridge replaces a 295' long iron swing bridge that was built in 1882. That bridge was raised in 1898 when SCAL elevated the tracks. The iron bridge replaced a wooden swing bridge built in 1856.
On March 14, 1912 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered removal of the swing bridge. (The swing bridges had already been removed up by Wolf Point because they reduce the width of the navigation channel by more than half.) On March 23, 1914 the city council passes an ordinance "obliging railroads to cooperate in future straightening of South Branch of Chicago River." (HAER IL-157, p. 2)

Chicago and the World's Fair, 1933, p. 116, from Internet Archive
This photo shows the original location of this bridge across the old route of the South Branch. When completed at this location in 1919, it was 260' long. But when it was designed, it was planned to be shortened to 220' and moved to its current location south of the B&OCT bridge on the straightened route because of the 1914 ordinance. Soon after this picture was taken, they would fill the old channel, build the track on the fill, dismantle the bridge, and rebuild it over the new channel. During the interval of finishing the new channel and moving the bridge, the B&OCT and the St. Charles Airline would have to share the B&OCT bridge.

The final configuration of the bridges.
David Daruszka updated

Chicagology has a map that show the six phases of moving the river.

After the CREATE P4 (Grand Crossing) project is finished, Amtrak trains will no longer use this bridge. And after CN starts using the EJ&E rather than run its freights downtown to connect its routes over SCAL, what will happen to this bridge? At the end of an article, we read:
Once Amtrak and Canadian National move the trains off St. Charles Air Line, the railroad may find a new lease on life. The 2009 Central Area Action Plan calls for it to be converted into a “recreational trail connecting to the lakefront.”
But before the city implements anything, it would need to get permission from all of St. Charles Air Line owners. Amy McBeth, BNSF Director of Public Relations for Midwestern states, indicated that the company has no intention of discontinuing its operations on the Air Line. At this time, it rarely uses the segment east of Chicago River, but it still reserves a right to use it in the future. McBeth did say that the company might re-evaluate its options once the Grand Crossing project is completed.

EB Laker over the St Charles Air Line.
The label for this photo claiming the train is on the SCAL has to be wrong. It is going over the B&OCT bridge for two reasons. One is that the camera is facing west so it is going over the northern bridge. Two is that the SOO in 1959 was the original Wisconsin Central and used the B&OCT to access Grand Central Station.
Mark Hinsdale posted
Mark's comment:
A momentary (and elusive) sliver of low winter sunlight illuminates Amtrak Train #3, the "Southwest Chief," as it departs Chicago on time for Southern California.
Mark takes a lot of photos from the perspective of the MH Tower, but this one has a particularly nice catch of the viaduct that raises the trains over the yards and connects with the SCAL bridge. It is also a rare view of the B&OCT bridge in its "always up" position. Mark's looking east. Steven's photo below is looking west. It shows how the viaduct climbs up from BNSF/CB&Q's 16th Street yard to the Mark's part where it crosses the yards and connects to the bridge.

Steven J. Brown posted
Steven's comment:
A lot of action in this image from January 24, 1990 taken from the Canal St Bridge at 16th in Chicago. CNW SD38-2 6657 is on the St. Charles Air Line Bridge possibly on a transfer run to the IC or maybe doubling a cut in the yard. Two BN E9AM's 9910 and 9917 are making a yard move. One of the east coast Amtrak's with a lot of express business and F40PHR's is turning on the wye.
Mark Hinsdale posted
[This westbound coal train is aview of a train coming off the incline to the viaduct to the bridge.]

Steve Malachinski posted
St Charles Airline facing East toward the river. Old BOCT and the Airline bridges over the river are in the back ground
[This would be the viaduct that goes over the BNSF/CB&Q and Metra/Pennsy yards.]

Steven J. Brown posted
Amtrak City of New Orleans #58 crossing the Chicago River over the St. Charles Airline on its way to Chicago Union Station on February 8, 1991.

Steven J. Brown posted
Grand Trunk Western SW1200's 1512 (built 1960, became Great Lakes 1512) and 1514 (built 1960, became Burlington Junction 1514) are swinging off the St Charles Air Line onto the former Rock Island at 16th Street in Chicago, Illinois - February 5, 1988.
Fred Mohr: The Chicago Rail Link was leasing it.
Michael Buckley: Been over St Charles airline a lot on CN Coal trains 🚂
Steven J. Brown shared
Edward Kwiatkowski shared

Mark Hinsdale posted
A timely advance by Sayre Kos facilitated a rare opportunity to witness a 6 hour late, 15 car "City of New Orleans" come across the St. Charles Air Line and back around at "MH" for the final move into Chicago Union Station. In addition, arriving #6, and departing #3 all were in the mix, too, and all within a 15 minute timefrane. A little "fancy footwork" yielded these views of the tardy "star" of the show, #58.
[A couple of comments indicated the train was longer than usual.]
For those who are members of RAILROAD HISTORY BUFFS OF ILLINOIS, Chuck Edmonson posted a between-the-tracks view looking west through the bridge.

David Daruszka provided these three comments on a posting:



A 1929 Tribune picture also showing both channels. Note the original B&O swing bridge still exists at the north end of the old channel. (Update: at least I thought it was a swing bridge. This indicates it was a rolling bascule bridge.)

MWRD shared
South Branch straightening (Chicago Historical Society)
Bob Olsen posted
Jeff Bransky River City was built in 1986. There has been a lot of development north of Roosevelt Road and east of Clark Street since then.
[I need to make a separate posting about the river straightening, but until then I'm saving this image here.]

Bob Olsen posted
Straightening the South Branch of the River in the 1920s.

Michael Matalis posted the link with the comment: "More than you probably want to know about the St Charles Air Line bridge counterweights. Back in the days before 9-11 I used to walk across this thing to get to 16th St!"

This bridge has a Facebook page.

C&NWHS posted
This is a photograph of the "St Charles Airline Bridge" the construction of which was funded by both the Illinois Central and the Chicago and North Western railroads. It replaced a center swing bridge at 16th street in Chicago over the not yet straightened Chicago River. Note that the concrete counterweights have not yet been added to the structure. See the next photo for the completed bridge which still stands unused just to the west of this position. The photo is dated June 9, 1919. The photo is from a book of 30 photographs detailing the construction of the bridge donated to the archives of the Chicago and North Western Historical Society by Charles Stats. Thank you, Charles!
[BNSF/BN/CB&Q and NS/NYC/Michigan Central were also owners.]

C&NWHS posted
This is the completed "St. Charles Air Line" bridge at 16th Street over the not yet straightened Chicago River. The photo is dated May 1, 1920. The old center turn piling is still in place and will be removed as a hazard to navigation. The whole bridge was actually rolled to the west when the river was straightened. It still stands and can be seen in the permanently raised condition. The style of bridge is called a "jackknife draw."
It was also shortened when it was moved to its current location. It is not the permanently raised one on the north It is the one in use on the south.]
The third of a sequence of photos posted by Mark Hinsdale
"Up, Up & Away"
One of the few instances in which freight on the BNSF Chicago Subdivision ventures as far east as Halsted Street on either Main Track 1 or 2 occurs, as today, when a train is destined for Canadian National by way of the "St. Charles Air Line." The "Air Line," owned equally by BNSF, Union Pacific and CN, provides a route connecting trackage of its three owners via a long, elevated, bridge structure over streets, other railroads, and the Chicago River on Chicago's Near South Side. The ramp ascending up the "Air Line" can be spotted in the 3rd and 4th images.
The two vertical white "columns" framing the black truss of the bridge are the counterweights for the bridge. The truss to the left peaking above I-90/94 is the B&OCT Bridge.

Steven J. Brown posted
A pair of second hand Wisconsin Central SD45's on the St. Charles Airline at Canal and 16th in Chicago - February 10, 1991.
You don't see too many pictures with both bridges down since Grand Central Station was torn down in 1971. This view shows the long viaducts both bridges had to cross all of the tracks south of Union Station. Metra/PRR+GM&O on the right and CB&Q on the left including the wye that Amtrak uses to turn their trains.

Steven J. Brown posted
Chicago South Shore and South Bend GP38-2's 2000 and 2009 descend the St Charles Airline in Chicago - February 10, 1991.
Stan Stanovich ...though I never recorded the move on film...always out of position when hearing it was taking place on the scanner, back in these days CSS&SB occasionally delivered NIPSCO coal mtys to the C&NW(and UP) at Global One this way. The closest I've ever come to recording that move was light power returning at 16th and Clark after coming back across the "Air Line!!!" This looks like cold rolled coiled steel...excellent photograph Steven J. Brown!!!
Mark Hinsdale I must say, I had no idea the CSS&SB came up here this far and traversed the Air Line like this. Goes to show how unbelievably varied the rail scene was during the era of inter-road transfers.

The first time I have seen a view of the viaduct from beside Canal Street.

Steven J. Brown posted
CNW SD40-2 6861 above Canal Street on the St Charles Airline in Chicago, Illinois - February 10, 1991.
Steven J. Brown posted
Before - middle - after:
Amtrak City of New Orleans arriving in Chicago over the St Charles Airline - April 1992, January 2002 and February 25, 2017.
Steven J. Brown posted
South Shore GP38-2's yank a train up the St Charles Airline and over the Metra yard in January 1993. The E's were out of service and at least one sits below awaiting its fate.
Rich Thielman Came from Proviso Yard.Fred Mohr The mixed freight cars are CNW Job 79 on the north track returning from interchanging cars with the IC at 31st St. They are stopped at Union Ave Tower waiting for the CSS to bring up their empty gon train on the south track out of Global 1.
Back in the early 90 the CSS had a 52 car dedicated cold rolled steel train consisting of Gondolas and coil cars from Gary Steel to somewhere out west via CNW/UP all the cars had NADX reporting marks.
Stan Stanovich ...good eye, or even better a little knowledge #FredMohr!...I can see it now!!!...though I made several trips from the east coast to Chicago between 1985 and moving here in 1995, I was only made aware of the cold rolled steel train to the North Western though a recent post by the very same Steven J Brown! From after moving here I was aware that CSS&SB would return mty Nipsco coal trains to Global One. I was always out of position when I'd hear about it on the scanner and my best efforts of catching it on film was recording the light power returning at 16th and Clark!!!...the above photo creates the illusion that there's one coil steel car on the head end and the rest of the train manifest freight!!!Fred Mohr I worked 16th St tower on and off from 1989 till 1996 when I became a dispatcher. Ironically I work in the Red brick building that is now directly north of the B&OCT at 15th and Canal.
[I've never seen this view before. Probably because I think he had to get up on the B&OCT viaduct to take it.]
Fred Mohr commented on the Steven J Brown's posting
Me in 1991 showing the interlocking bed of the 16th St machine.
ChicagoLoopBridges posted
Hello Chicago! At airline railroad bridge.
[April 15 was the first boat run of 2017.]
Mark Hinsdale posted
Chris Paciocco Wow, what a steep grade for that coal train!Mark Hinsdale Might be a bit intensified by the fact that the Amtrak train is actually going downhill, but the Air Line ramp is in excess of 2%
It is probably key that only a couple blocks of the train is on this grade. I see the Google 3D feature works for this area.

3D Satellite
Steven J. Brown posted
Twenty-six years apart, Amtrak City of New Orleans #58 about to cross the Chicago River - February 8, 1991 and February 25, 2017.
[So the B&OCT Bridge was still down in 1991.]
Dan Marinellie posted
Amtrak P42DC #26 leads the southbound "Saluki" train #391 across the St. Charles Air Line. The St. Charles Air Line bridge was built in 1919.
Photo taken on 5/18/17 from the 116 year old 16th Street Tower with permission.
Carl Venzke posted
Looing across the St. Charles Air Line Railroad Bridge, Chicago, IL - Photo by Kevin Dickert
Danny Kelley Great shot, forgive me but why did they call it the airline bridge?Francis Otterbein St. Charles Air Line Railroad
In 1852 the Chicago, St. Charles and Mississippi Air Line Railroad was chartered to run from South Branch Chicago River to the Mississippi River at Savanna via St. Charles. (An "air line" route meant a straight or direct route.)
[Francis description looks familiar.]
Mark Hinsdale posted
"Stormy Morning"
Chicago took on an unusual glow early this morning as thunderstorms passed just to the north of the Loop. And yes, there was rain in dem dere clouds...
Steven J. Brown posted
Chicago Rail Link's ex-Rock Island GP18's climb the St Charles Airline as a Burlington Northern E9m heads for Aurora at 16th St and Canal in Chicago - July 18, 1991
[The CRL train is on the western ramp to the viaduct across the train yards and then the bridge.]
Steven J. Brown posted
Metra F40PH 112 heads for Aurora at 16th and Canal in Chicago - August 12, 2017.
[The track in the foreground is part of the Jefferson Connection. The train is going under the viaduct for the St. Charles Air Line Birdge]

William A. Shaffer posted
Drawbridge at Amtrak Yard in Chicago (8.15.17)
This Drawbridge has been in the "up" position since I began work at Amtrak in 1983. (Photo by William A. Shaffer)
[The Air Line Bridge is on the right.]

Barry Butler Photography posted
This weekend’s [May 4, 2019] boat run on the Chicago River. What a city!
[He had to be using a drone that day.]

MWRD posted
[So the foreground would be the new channel and the St. Charles Bridge is in its original location over the old channel.]
 The St. Charles Air Line Bridge is seen in this photo from October 16, 1929. The bridge was being relocated as a result of the straightening of the South Branch of the Chicago River.

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8723, cropped

Karl Beetschen posted
Rob Conway: Decommissioned CB&Q cab car visible with plated widows and antenna, beacon and horn holes patched on the roof.
Timothy Leppert: Rob Conway You probably wore that car out....
Rob Conway: Timothy Leppert We both probably did. But, leaving the rails in one at 60mph is something I hope I never experience again.
Henry Freeman commented on a posting

Another photo of the approach on the west side of the bridge:
Mark Hinsdale posted
"Split Second"
While out on the "porch" here at "MH" Tower enjoying Chicago's first 80+ degree day of 2018, I was treated to this spectacle. Up on the St. Charles Air Line, a tardy Train #390 from Downstate Illinois is arriving. In the middle, behind P42 195, Train #3 is departing town and accelerating west. In the lower right hand corner, the tail end of Train #49 from New York and Boston is seen, completing it's equipment turning maneuver. All three trains are moving, at different speeds, two in one direction and one in the other, and, against all odds, I somehow managed to record it. Happy May Day everyone!

This angle shows that St. Charles balance arm and counterweight was designed for the longer length when it spanned the old river routing.
One of six Rick Burn photos posted by Marty Bernard. Some of the other photos include this bridge.

James Clary posted
Roosevelt Street Bridge - Chicago
Dennis DeBruler The upright bridge behind it is the B&OCT, now abandoned. The span that is still down is the St. Charles Air Line, which many condo owners wish was abandoned.
Forgotten Railways, Roads, and Places posted
‪St. Charles Air Line Bridge on the right, and a former railroad bridge used by the B&O Terminal Railroad, now permanently upright on the left. Chicago, IL.

Joe Dockrill shared

Tapo Banerjee posted
Amtrak Saluki (?) : 20-July-2020 ~12:40 PM@18th Street, Chicago
[I was going to pass on this photo until I noticed that the St. Charles bridge is in the air. I got the impression from the comments that the bridge is in the air because they are doing repairs on it.]

Carlos Ferran posted
One Chicago area shot I've always wanted to grab was of a train passing the Pagoda in Chinatown. Unfortunately because of all the clutter with the crossing gates, the L, and trees, a ground shot wasn't possible. That changed with the addition of my drone.
On a crystal clear August 8, CN M337 eases through Ping Tom Park and the Pagoda with a hefty lashup in tow.
Seth Lakin DavidandLaura Greenberg the closer of the two bridges, that is not raised as high is the St Charles Airline, has been out of service all summer due to a construction mishap. The farther bridge raised higher, is the B&O has been out of service for almost 50 years.
Matt McClure Seth Lakin Out of regular service. CSX would lower it as late as 1993 once a year to shuffle cars on the lone remaining Grand Central track to stave off abandonment claims from the city.
Larry Klodt Just curious - I live in Waterloo, IA where M337 ends. Where does M337 originated at? I go to Chicago a lot and have been curious where the M337 and M338 end up. Thanks!
Carlos FerranAuthor M337/8 originate/terminate at Kirk Yard.

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Screenshot @ -1:51 (source)
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One of five photos posted by Mark Hinsdale
Dennis DeBruler What is the story about the St. Charles Bridge being up?
Mark Hinsdale Dennis DeBruler repairs to the span and single tracking the Air Line thru 16th St.
HalstEd Pazdzior posted
CN train L537 experienced a mechanical failure on the trailing DPU unit (IC 1010). The train was split apart and half of the train was left on the main. Two rescue units were sent from Glenn yard to bring the rest of the train to its final destination.
Another view of the St. Charles Air Line Bridge in an open position.

And it is still partially open.
Johnny Hansen posted
Amtrak P42DC #189, or the “Big Game Train” and P42DC #59 shove the inbound Southwest Chief’s train set into the Coach yard past 18th Street on a sunny Labor Day afternoon. The Chicago Skyline and the St. Charles Airline Bridge can be seen in the background.

At first I didn't recognize where this photo was taken because I'm still not used to the view with the St. Charles Air Line being partially open.
Bart Shore posted
Near South Side just a bit east of the Dan Ryan.

Kenneth Oehrlein shared
Dennis DeBruler commented on Kenneth's share
At first, I did not recognize the location because I'm used to seeing the St. Charles Air Line bridge in the closed position. Does anyone know why it has been partially open for the last few months?

Kevin Cluver posted
Luke Balogh: Anyone know what the black squares on the counterweight are?
Dennis DeBruler: Luke Balogh They are holes that make it easier to change the weight. The bridges in Chicago are balanced so carefully that they have to adjust the weight after each paint job.
Dennis DeBruler commented on Luke's comment
Here is a closeup of one of the counterweights for the Cermak Avenue Bridge that I took July 7 2015 to catch how the weight can be adjusted. This is not a railroad bridge, but the need to change the weight of the counterweight is the same.

Kevin Cluver posted
Dennis DeBruler: Normally the left bridge is down. So this is the first time I have noticed the control tower between the two bridges. I don't know why it has been stuck up since last Summer. The right bridge has been up for decades since B&O's Grand Central Station was torn down in the early 1970s.

Another photo that catches the bridge stuck in a partially open position.
Mark Hinsdale posted
"Winter Solstice"
Arriving Amtrak Train #6, the 'California Zephyr," backs toward Chicago Union Station nearly an hour early on this shortest day of the year.
Dennis DeBruler: And the St. Charles Air Line Bridge is still stuck partially open.

Christopher Brandt posted the question: "Does anyone know why the Saint Charles Airline Bridge has been up all summer? How are freight moving from the IC to the BNSF?"
Very few make that move between the two class ones if at all.
The last thing I knew about running regularly was bnsf coal for michigan and the gtw. I imagine those trains can do the J at Eola and then pop onto the GTW at Griffith.
Metra would actually be a heavy user of the airline to transfer equipment from the Rock Island side to anything Union Station-related. They’ve instead been able to use the Root St Wye over the Dan Ryan since the bridge has been up.
Have you actually seen a train on that wye? I was under the impression it was OOS (owned by CRL) for some day when it because useful, and I'd like to catch something on it.
in May, yes
I was told by a reliable source it was undergoing maintenance, but that was a couple months ago.
Is CN still single tracking between 18th Street (Chicago Sub near McCormick Place) and 21st Street (Freeport Sub)? http://position-light.blogspot.com/2019/07/cn-cripples-chicago-16th-st-21st-st.html

Bryan Monaco posted
Looks like the St. Charles Airline bridge, over the Chicago River, is out of service. The tracks are weed covered and there are no rails on the small bridge beyond. I have read the CN is rerouting the airline.

Joe Dockrill shared

The underpass east of the bridge "was for the connection between Grand Central and the C&WI for interchange of mail and express cars and through sleepers." [Harold J. Krewer comment on a post] That underpass is being removed and another is being built for the Wells-Wentworth Connector. It is nice to know that, after several decades, the plan to improve the traffic flow between South Chicago and the Loop is finally happening.

MWRD posted
The Skim Pickens was pictured along the South Branch of the Chicago River this morning near Ping Tom Park. Our trash collection boat operates along the Chicago Area Waterways from mid-April to mid-October and after significant storms year round, unless weather conditions prohibit safe operations. Two debris collection boats improve water quality and the recreational experience for thousands of people canoeing, kayaking, boating, and enjoying the waterways.
[The bridge has been partially up for over a year because a new overpass is being built east of this bridge.]
The Rail Way posted
A pair of bascule rail bridges cross the Chicago River a few miles from the city center. On the right, the St Charles Airline Bridge, constructed in 1919 by the American Bridge Company. It originally had a span of 260 feet (79m), but was reduced to 220 feet in 1930 when the Chicago River was straightened. The line and the bridge is now partly owned by Canadian National, Union Pacific, and BNSF. The line is not abandoned, but appears not to have been used for some time. The bridge on the left was built for the the Baltimore and Ohio Terminal Railroad, also by the American Bridge Company at the time of the river straightening in 1930, replacing an earlier structure. It is now officially abandoned. It is 186 (57m) feet long. 
Photograph: 11 May 2022.
John Gatt: Something I read stated, the design of these particular bridges makes the fixed bridge necessary for the other to operate.
William Cope shared
My photo...
Dennis DeBruler commented on William's share
Dennis DeBruler: It was taken out of service to add an overpass just east of the bridge. But I see that the overpass has been installed. Since satellite images have a time delay, I don't know why it is not being used again. In the meantime, Amtrak has been using the CN branch to the south and then backing up on the NS/Pennsy route.
[Mark Rowland commented on a post: "something about Amtrak cutting an electrical cable by accident and nobody can agree who will pay to fix it."]

Desktop Background:

Lawrence Smith there are some great pics of the reconstruction/elevation of the B+OCT tracks after the river was straightened - both sides of the river.- on the B+OCT FB site. One shot looking straight down from either the B+O or Airline Bridge to the temporary track construction from B+O station to the Air line bridge..

In the background of the steam locomotive NKP 765.

Metra SW1500 approaching the bridge


  1. Have you looked at this recently? The Google™ Map for 'South Loop Diamond Railroad Crossing #1' caught a train going south-southwest just east of the Air Line Bridge.
    I do not believe any public agency is going to be able to shut down this Bridge. Which I also believe is for the better.
    Let me reiterate this here as well. Do you want this 1996 Triple A road map which also illustrates the still numerous freight track sidings in the nine-county metropolitan Chicago area?

    1. I could not find a Google image that caught a train. But I did notice that the new construction work is now showing up in the images. I've added "doing an update to these notes item" to my todo list. But a problem is that I'm coming across information faster than I can deal with it.

      I see you offered the map in Apr, but the comment was addressed to David. I now tried sending an email to the xoxy.net address you provided in that comment, but it failed. So please try contacting me at dennisdebruler2@gmail.com