The International Railway Bridge

Buffalo, New York – Fort Erie, Ontario

1873 – Present

The quick growth of economics (trade and commerce), in the years following the War of 1812, was the driving force that made a rail link between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario a necessity.

In 1857, the Grand Trunk Railway (Canadian Rail Corporation) proposed the construction of a railway bridge spanning the Upper Niagara River. The Dominion Parliament and the New York State Legislature drafted an agreement for the construction of the "International Bridge".

Funding was delayed because of war reconstruction. In 1870, funding amounting to 1.5 million dollars became available. A charter was granted to the International Bridge Commission to begin construction.

On May 19th 1870, a contract was signed between the International Bridge Company and Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski and D.L. MacPherson of the engineering firm of Gzowski – MacPherson. This contact was for the construction of a single track iron railway bridge to span the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Buffalo. Assistants on this project included chief engineers, Edmund P. Hannaford, Joseph Hobson and George Hughs.

The Niagara River posed a series of problems and dangers that included water currents between 7-12 miles per hour, fluctuating water levels and ice flows.

On July 13th 1873, work on the last of the water tight caissons, which would support the bridge, was completed. The steel railway bridge was built soon afterward.

The International Railway Bridge was opened on November 3rd 1873. The bridge was officially opened by Mr. Richard Potter, president of the Grand Trunk Railroad and Mr. C.J. Brydges, president of the International Bridge Company. The first locomotive across the bridge was the diamond stacked wood burner, named Scotia, piloted by engineer Enoch Bown. The original bridge was designed to include plans for a combination rail line, roadway and sidewalk. Later on it was finally dictated that the bridge was to be only one rail line and a pedestrian walk way.

In 1900, the superstructure of the bridge was redesigned. The pedestrian walkway was removed to allow room for another rail bed.

The total length of this bridge is 3,651.5 feet (1113m) in three distinct sections:

Canadian shoreline across Niagara River to Squaw Island – 1,967.5 feet (599.6m)
the width of Squaw Island – 1,167 feet (355.7m)
across the Black Rock Canal – 517 feet (157.5m)

In February of 1993, the International Railway Bridge was closed temporarily because of structural problems. As a result, the Canadian National Railway spent $2 million dollars in refurbishing and reinforcing the piers (caissons) on which the superstructure rests. On July 10th 1916, 264 trains crossed the bridge in a twenty four hour period. Today the bridge remains in use averaging ten to fifteen trains per day.  

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