Cincinnati Southern Bridge

The Southern Bridge is a railroad-only span connecting the western edge of the city with the small town of Ludlow, KY. It was built by the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, the only major railroad in the United States built by a municipality.  In a move unmatched in American history, Cincinnati voters approved a $10,000,000 bond issue for construction of an entirely new railroad south to Chattanooga, TN.  Construction began in 1869, requiring another $10,000,000 bond issue before completion of the 350 mile line in 1880.  The bridge opened in 1877, and 130+ years later it is still the busiest in the city.

Despite the 27 tunnels built through the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, the railroad's Ohio River bridge was the most expensive single structure on the new line.  It was originally a single track bridge on masonry piers similar to the original  L&N Bridge, but with a swing span at the southern end.  Like the other railroad bridges, it was a victim of its own success and in 1922 was rebuilt in an elaborate operation that kept the bridge in service while work proceeded. The upper half of the original piers were encased and widened with concrete and the new double track truss assembled around the original truss. The circular pivot pier of the original bridge's swing span was left standing and is still there today.  The rebuilt bridge does not have a swing or draw span.

Aerial view looking west.  [ Larry Stulz   photo]

Today the Southern Bridge is extremely busy -- according to the September 2002 issue of Trains magazine, the bridge carries 28-36 trains per day.  During peak hours, no more than a 5 minute gap passes between mile long trains, with each taking 10 minutes or more to crawl across the bridge.  The pedestrian walkway was abandoned in the 1970's and it is impossible to walk along the tracks before a train comes along. The Kentucky approach through the town of Ludlow is fairly interesting, with a small yard just south of the bridge and two high trestles about a mile further south. The Ohio approach descends a 1/2 mile snaking viaduct (visible in the above photo) to the massive Gest St. and Queensgate yards at the base of Price Hill. This viaduct was rebuilt first in 1931 in anticipation of Union Terminal's construction. After passenger service ceased in 1972, the terminal concourse was demolished and the Gest St. yard expanded. The approach was modified again in the 1970's after the yard expansion, however much of the approach is still over the 1930's era viaduct. The yard's throat is located at the end of this viaduct, and it is common to see mile long trains stopped for crew changes, with the front half on the viaduct and back end still all the way across the bridge.

The Cincinnati Southern Railroad is still owned by the city, which leases it currently to Norfolk Southern.  Although criticized as a white elephant in its day, the railroad paid tens of millions in dividends to the city throughout the 20th century, repaying its original $20,000,000 cost many times over.

1. Southern Bridge Photos

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