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Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge


Photo taken by Patrick Feller

License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY)

View this photo on Flickr

BH Photo #259590




"Soon, perhaps within weeks, wrecking crews will descend to the flat ground between the Trinity River’s levees to destroy a structure that helped build this city. They will use a crane, for sure; bulldozers, possibly, to snatch from the soft ground 1,000 feet of wood planted to carry trains over the river. It will take no more than four or five months to erase a century’s worth of history.

By summer, if all goes to plan, the remains of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad bridge — that vast wooden structure between the levees, made of crisscrossed timber that still smells of creosote on a hot summer’s day — will be erased from the Dallas Floodway. In its place will be a blanket of grass, an empty space.

Which is as it should be, of course. The train trestle’s removal has long been deemed necessary and inevitable by the federal government and city officials, who have said in long meetings and thick documents that its continued existence is a danger — “one of the most notable impediments to Trinity River flow,” according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

But just because that trestle must go does not mean we cannot, or should not, lament its demise.

“Because when it is gone, we’re not going to have it to remind us of how Dallas evolved,” preservationist architect Marcel Quimby told me this week. I called her because she is an expert on the subject, having written an invaluable history of the trestle in 2005 now stored in Dallas City Hall’s basement in the municipal archives.

In that seven-page lesson, she wrote of the arrival of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad in July 1872 — the first train to rumble across the river and through the nascent city. Fourteen years later, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe followed, building its bridge over the Trinity in the very spot the trestle still stands.

It would be rebuilt and raised several times, most notably after the 1908 flood, when the river swelled over 52 feet, drowned five, left thousands homeless and cut off Oak Cliff from Dallas. What remains between the levees now — the thousand-foot-long wooden structure on the downtown side of the river, the 600-foot-long concrete portion on the western shores — was likely planted in the 1920s, long before the completion of the levees in 1935.

The trestle, abandoned for good in the 1980s, is the oldest manufactured structure in the floodway. And both sides will have to be removed."


Pratt through truss bridge with concrete and wooden trestle approaches over Trinity River on Santa Fe Trestle Trail
Dallas, Dallas County, Texas
Open to pedestrians only
Future prospects
Slated for complete removal in 2020 by Army Corps of Engineers to improve flood drainage in Dallas Floodway: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/commentary/2020/01/31/why-a-...
Original bridge built 1872, steel truss erected 1903; abandoned 1980s by ATSF Railway and later turned into trail bridge; slated for removal 2020
- Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF)
- Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway (GC&SF)
- Rail-to-trail
Pratt through truss with concrete approaches on one side and timber trestlework on other
Length of largest span: 198.0 ft.
Approximate latitude, longitude
+32.75321, -96.79141   (decimal degrees)
32°45'12" N, 96°47'29" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
14/706911/3626086 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Inventory number
BH 57148 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • February 5, 2020: Updated by John Marvig: added information from ATSF Bridge Records
  • February 1, 2020: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Entire bridge and trestlework slated for removal early 2020--article linked
  • February 15, 2015: Updated by Matt Lohry: Corrected truss type: This is a Pratt through truss, not a Warren.
  • July 13, 2013: Added by Luke Harden



Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 7, 2020, by John Marvig (marvigj27 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I did manage to find a date for the truss from some steel bridge records I acquired. It’s a standard span, but a rather long one. This design is seen elsewhere on the Santa Fe system. I do not have any records for the trestle, although it is safe to assume it was rebuilt every 50 years or so.

Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 7, 2020, by Cliff Darby (clif30 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

I sure hope they don't remove the truss. Seems awful wasteful to erect a trail setup with parking, etc, just to tear it down. From the news article, it sounds like the wooden trestle is what's hurting the water flow during floods, by collecting debris.

Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 5, 2020, by Luke

It makes more sense, considering all imagery posted by newspapers has shown the timber pile trestlework, not the truss itself.

Hopefully the section 106 review gives us more info on the history of the structure as a whole, but I agree that they're unlikely to remove the truss.

Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 5, 2020, by John Marvig (marvigj27 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I don't think the through truss is going to be demolished. It has been converted to a trail, and appears to be planned to be left in place.


Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 15, 2015, by Patrick Feller (nakrnsm [at] aol [dot] com)

Thanks, Luke.

Santa Fe Trestle Trail - Trinity River Bridge
Posted February 15, 2015, by Luke

Fixed. Sorry about that, I must've been adding some of Christopher's photos at the same time I added this, and not caught my error.