The bridge was opened on April 6, 1872 in a ceremony attended by 5,000 people, including prominent men from across Ulster, Orange, and Dutchess counties. One of the spectators was James S. McEntee, Esq., an engineer who had worked on the Delaware and Hudson Canal in 1825. He was the only person to have seen both "the passage of the first loaded boat through the canal and the first train over the bridge which spans it". A 4-4-0 locomotive with five boxcars and two passenger cars made the inaugural run. Many spectators doubted the strength of the bridge, and believed that the trestle would collapse under the weight of the train. The bridge appeared unaffected by the strain, and an increasing number of people rode over the bridge during the second and third runs.
A. L. Dolby & Company was contracted to complete the rail line between the bridge and Kingston. The track reached the Kingston Union Station in November 1872. By this time, trains were running regularly to and from Kingston.
By 1885, the bridge supports were reinforced and the track was converted from broad gauge to standard gauge. In 1888, the Wallkill Valley Railroad received a permit from the town of Rosendale to "construct and maintain abutments to support the trestle" as long as such work did not interfere with traffic along the underlying highway (present-day NY 213). That same year, the Delaware and Hudson Canal allowed the railroad to temporarily use some of its property by the Rondout Creek to place bents for bridge repairs. The waterway beneath the trestle could be quite treacherous; so many people drowned that the area became known as "Dead Man's Stretch". There have been reports of ghostly "apparitions" in the area, particularly of a white dog.
The bridge, while remaining in use, was rebuilt by the King Bridge Company between 1895 and 1896; the trestle is the only railroad bridge featured in the King Bridge Company catalogs of the 1880s and 1890s that remains standing. The renovation converted the bridge's structure from iron and wood to steel to allay public concerns about its strength; the height of the bridge evoked collapses such as the Tay Bridge disaster. The steel was provided by the Carnegie Steel Company. The renovation raised the bridge's piers by 8 feet (2.4 m) and made the bridge straighter; the original design had a curve on the southern terminus. One of the northern spans was completed by February 1896, and the entire reconstruction was finished by June. The layout of the spans was unchanged from the original 1872 design. Following its reconstruction, the bridge was unaffected by the shock of a large cave-in at a nearby Rosendale cement quarry on December 26, 1899, though it was shaken by a nearby boiler explosion that occurred days before the collapse.