Photo and story by Eric Oberg/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Bridges are a costly need for rail-trails, many of which cross streams, roadways and even other rail corridors. After engineering and installation quotes were obtained from a precast bridge supplier for bridges along Ohio’s Moonville Rail-Trail, the reality of the extremely costly challenge became clear. So when members of the trail’s nonprofit group heard that old flatbed rail cars might be available from the federal government’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant near Piketon, Ohio, a light bulb went on and calls were made. The rumor was true: some rail cars were available to eligible entities, including nonprofits. Over the next few months the trail group expressed its interest, then waited, worried and wondered what needed to be done to get the cars to their corridor. Moonville Rail-Trail President Neil Shaw finally got the call in August and was informed that three cars were ready for pick-up.
Although the cars were donated at no charge, they had to be moved within three days to avoid a stiff storage fee. A friend of the trail with a big rig and trailer came to the rescue. Just shy of the move deadline, three rail cars were being backed down the corridor toward the first bridge site. The rail cars are heavy steel flat bed cars, as if they were manufactured to someday work as a bridge structure. The sheer strength, size and shape made these cars ideal bridges.
Two large cranes were rented for lifting the cars off of the trailer and then placing them on the existing bridge abutments. As the cars were scrutinized it was found that they were actually not 50 feet long, as advertised, but were instead 46 feet, nine inches long. With bridge abutments exactly 50 feet apart at the first site, some good old-fashioned ingenuity was needed. The contractor working to install the bridges, Seneca Steel from nearby Logan, Ohio, was more than up to the task. Using portable truck-mounted welding equipment, the contractor fabricated extensions for each end of the rail car, as well as feet that were then bolted to the abutments to make the elevation work to match the adjoining trail tread. This amazing work has resulted in a snugly fit bridge structure that should service the trail for decades to come.
The second bridge site was an even larger challenge. The opening from abutment to abutment was measured at 54 feet, and again the rail cars were only 46 feet, nine inches. The torches came out and the more than seven feet necessary to finish the span was simply cut from the third rail car. This piece will be welded onto the car and the bridge placed on the abutments.
The Moonville Rail-Trail now boasts two bridge decks in need of decking and railings. Until now, the bridges have cost the group under $4,000 for transportation and installation work. They are currently soliciting bids for the wood necessary to complete the projects. The original quote for building, transport and installation from the pre-fab company was $54,000 for the first bridge and $84,000 for the second. What trail group, looking at a huge capital need such as a bridge project, cannot appreciate a savings of more than $100,000?