10 votes

BNSF - Rock Island Bridge


Photo taken by Aaron Hockley

License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)


View this photo on Flickr

BH Photo #280037


Rock Island Bridge is the oldest existing and was only the second bridge to span the Columbia’s 1200 mile course. The last permanent link in the Great Northern Railway’s mainline from Minnesota to Puget Sound opened on June 15, 1893 replacing the steamer ferry Thomas L. Nixon. The steel cantilever truss with a main span of 416 feet was designed, fabricated and constructed by the Edgemoor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware. It was erected by use of novel techniques first employed by railways in Japan. The swift current and deep channel at the site precluded the use of falsework or scaffolding, instead the on shore approach spans were built first and counter-weighted with bundles of steel rail which supported the weight of the main structure until the truss was completed. The bridge was strengthened in 1925 by building a wider and lower truss around the existing structure which was left in place and has carried traffic without interruption for over a century.


Through truss bridge over Columbia River on single track of BNSF Railway in Rock Island
Rock Island, Douglas County, Washington, and Chelan County, Washington
Open to traffic
Originally built for the Great Northern Railway in 1892, the main span was reinforced in 1925
- Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware
- BNSF Railway (BNSF)
- Burlington Northern Railroad (BN)
- Great Northern Railway (GN)
Pennsylvania through truss with a Camelback profile
Length of largest span: 416.5 ft.
Total length: 875.2 ft.
Also called
Rock Island Railroad Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+47.36686, -120.15372   (decimal degrees)
47°22'01" N, 120°09'13" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
10/714897/5249861 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
669 ft. above sea level
Inventory number
BH 38536 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • January 9, 2023: New photo from Geoff Hubbs
  • February 2, 2022: New photo from Patrick Gurwell
  • April 20, 2018: Updated by Richard Doody: Added historical data to description
  • March 30, 2017: New photos from Dave Cox
  • May 6, 2014: Updated by Tony Dillon: Added builder
  • March 19, 2014: Updated by Luke Harden: Added category "Double-trussed"

Related Bridges 



BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted January 31, 2022, by Carl Johnson

Excellent information on the bridge at http://www.bigbendrailroadhistory.com/ (Monday, January 31, 2022) with the original 1975 "National Register of Historic Place- Nomination Form.

BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted March 4, 2020, by Dorri Steinhoff (dorristeinhoff [at] icloud [dot] com)

There is an illustration and short mention of this bridge under construction in Harper's Weekly Feb 29, 1896 in an article entitled "How Long and Lofty Bridges are Built" by Frank W. Skinner, C.E.

BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted April 20, 2018, by John Marvig (marvigj27 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Great Northern must have had a creative engineer in the 1920s. Both the build dates and rehabilitation dates are similar for this structure and this deck truss in Minnesota:


Re: BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted May 7, 2014, by Matt Lohry

Definitely ranks at the top of the scale of coolness for me too, and I really like the deck truss span with the polygonal lower chord too!

BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted May 6, 2014, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Extremely unique and unusual structure...I like it too!

BNSF - Rock Island Bridge
Posted May 6, 2014, by Nathan Holth (form3 [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

I hereby rate this bridge as extreme weirdness. And I like it.

Rock Island Railroad Bridge
Posted March 27, 2009, by Steven Featherkile (sfeatherkile [at] wildblue [dot] net)

The Great Northern Railway needed a stronger bridge to carry the heavier traffic and locomotives that were being used at the time. Rather than build a temporary bridge while this one was rebuilt, it was decided to build the stronger bridge on the outside of the original bridge. Railroad traffic was never stopped. This is one of the most interesting bridges I've ever seen, especially from a boat underneath. It is strangely handsome, it a brutish sort of way.