Cape Gazette (www.capegazette.com)
Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
Susan Hutcheson Keyser
DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Hand-cranked swing bridge, opened and closed by means of a beam "wound" like a large winch. Bridge sees rail service perhaps once a week at best, to serve one industry near Cape Henlopen State Park with compressed-gas tank cars. Bridge normally left in open position and closed in advance of railroad traffic.
From Delaware Department of Transportation, with updated correction:
"The Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad Bridge Number 38.71 carries the Georgetown-Lewes railroad line over the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, 1/4-mile south of State Route 9 (Business) in Lewes. The bridge is a center-bearing, bobtail, swing span with an over all length of 92' and a deck width of about 17'. Constructed in 1916, the bridge is historically significant as a surviving example of a swing span railroad bridge.
The swing span bridge has a deck girder superstructure composed of two tapered. built-up girders. The design is called a bobtail swing span because of the unequal lengths of its two arms; the longer of the two arms measures about 60'-long, and the shorter about 30'-long. The end of the shorter arm is framed with a concrete counterweight for balance. Bobtail swing spans commonly were used for narrow waterways where the off-center pivot pier caused less of a channel obstruction. The abutments and pivot pier are concrete.
The bridge is operated manually by a capstan inserted in a drive shaft located in the deck. The capstan and drive shaft turn beveled open reduction gears that engage the pinion gear mounted on the pivot pier. The bridge rotates on its center bearing with eight balance wheels traveling on a track. A shaft operates a worm gear that moves two end wedges at the abutment end of the swing spanís longer arm. In the closed position, the wedges lift the arm to afford a rigid support on the abutment and neutralize the end deflection of the arms. As with all movable railroad bridges, an important consideration is aligning the rails on the bridge with those of the approaching railroad tracks. To accomplish a secure fit, the rails on the ends of the bridge are bowed upwards by rail lift rods. After the bridge is closed, the operator engages a lever that lowers the rods, thus lowering the rails into a slotted fitting with the approach tracks.
The Georgetown-Lewes rail line was established in 1869 as part of the Junction and Breakwater Railroad (J&B), a short line running from the Delaware Railroad at Harrington to the breakwater at Lewes. In 1883, the J&B was renamed the Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad (DM&V) as part of the consolidation of several smaller Delmarva lines under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The DM&V spurred the development of fish oil processing near Cape Henlopen. These factories, located on the eastern side of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, were serviced by the DM&V, which made use of the swing span bridge to deliver their products.
The line currently is owned by DelDOT and operated by the [Delaware Coast Line] Railroad.
The 1916 swing span bridge was erected as part of the construction of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, begun in 1912. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the 12-mile long canal as part of the inland waterway. In the vicinity of Lewes, the canal followed the natural course of Lewes Creek, which was channelized to meet the canal specifications. In 1915, when the canal reached the existing railroad bridge over Lewes Creek, the DM&V submitted a proposal to the Corps to construct the swing span bridge. It was fabricated by the American Bridge Company at its Pencoyd, Pennsylvania shops."
Railroad has filed for abandonment of section of line that includes this bridge, but will jack up settled span to retrieve three stranded tank cars later in 2017.
The railroad is effectively a "dead-end" branch-line railroad ending at an industry about a mile east of the bridge, with only one crew, one locomotive, etc. The trains operates at fairly low speed. The crew members on the train are often (usually? I've seen a guy in a truck drive out to close the bridge in advance once...) the ones cranking the bridge open and close. It's akin to the gate or garage door at the end of a driveway being open or close before you drive out onto the road--you don't need a signal to tell you your gate or garage door is open or not, do you?
Wow, very unique bridge. But how does the railroad know when the bridge is open? Does the open bridge turn the railroad signal to "red" status?