C&O RR Bridge

The C&O Railroad terminated for decades at Huntington, West Virginia. Because the approach to Cincinnati along the Ohio River's north bank had been taken in the 1830's, the C&O was forced to build its line to Cincinnati along the river's southern shore and cross at Covington, KY. The bridge, designed by William Burr and constructed by the Philladelphia Bridge Company, was the city's first double-track bridge and at 545ft. had the longest center span of any railroad bridge in the world. Two aproach spans of 476ft. (both longer than the nearby L&N's center span), a cantilevered street car line, cart path, and two pedestrian walkways made the $5,000,000 bridge the most expensive, per foot, ever built.

The original bridge under construction, circa 1887. Paul Brown Stadium now
stands in the right half of this photo.

Bonds were issued by the "Covington and Cincinnati Elevated Rail and Transfer and Bridge Company" as construction began in 1886, with a completion set for 1888. A flood in August 1888 washed away the bridge's wooden falsework, taking some of the bridge with it, and delayed completion until 1889. When the C&O Bridge was completed it was hailed as an engineering triumph, but like the other railroad bridges it became obsolete as freight grew ever heavier and by the 1920's required replacement. At the end of its life the bridge carried nearly double the weight for which it was designed.

The original C&O Bridge, viewed from Covington.

Construction of today's double track bridge began adjacent to the west side of the old bridge, with a longer 675ft. central span. The new C&O Bridge opened in 1929, with a continuous 850ft. truss that is the second largest of its kind in the world.  When the replacement C&O Bridge opened, the original bridge was sold to Kentucky and converted for automobile use.  The southern pier of the original bridge was extended for shared use by the new bridge, however the same could obviously not be done for the northern pier, so for river navigation purposes the same 545ft. clearance persisted that had been in place since 1889.  The new C&O Bridge required a massive mile long viaduct to connect it with its yards and Union Terminal, which opened in 1933.  The viaduct is still in use, and photos of it can be seen here. A few of the original 1889 viaduct's piers were modified and reused on the 1929 viaduct. A handful of others not reused were never dismantled, and can be seen today scattered around the area.

Today the C&O is extremely busy; often several trains cross per hour.
[August 1, 2005 Jake Mecklenborg]

The C&O is framed by its approach viaduct.
[August 1, 2005 Jake Mecklenborg]

The narrow shipping channel situation continued until 1970, when the original C&O Bridge, facing major repairs, was blown up and construction of a new automobile bridge began in its place. The new bridge is a generic cantilever truss design, with a 675ft. main span identical to the adjacent 2nd C&O.  The previously shared 1889/1929 southern pier was reused and the 2nd C&O's northern pier was extended west, creating a 1929/1974 shared pier. The old C&O's northern main span pier was dismantled, allowing a clear 675ft. navigation channel beneath.

The Clay Wade Bailey, C&O, and Brent Spence Bridges viewed from the Carew Tower Observation Deck.
[August 1, 2005 Jake Mecklenborg]

C&O and Clay Wade Bailey Bridges viewed from Covington. The
Brent Spence Bridge is visible to the left.    (Larry Stulz  photo)

1. "New" C&O and Clay Wade Bailey Bridge Photos

2. C&O Approach Viaduct Photos

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