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Cowichan River Railway Bridge

Cowichan River Railway Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 25, 2014

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Railroad (Southern Railway of Vancouver Island) Over Cowichan River
Duncan: Cowichan Valley District, British Columbia: Canada
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
By Builder/Contractor: Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
Not Available
Structure Length
220.0 Feet (67.1 Meters)
Roadway Width
Not Available
1 Main Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

Additional Information: John Stutz reports the following: Per Turner's "Vancouver Island Railways" p54, the Cowichan River bridge was a timber truss prior to 1907. The current bridge's detailing is characteristic of Phoenix bridges of the 1880's, with only the attachment of the floor system to the paired trusses characteristic of circa 1907 construction. The bridge is almost certainly the result of a Canadian Pacific experiment at recycling a pair of obsolete light spans into a single medium capacity span. John's finding is strong evidence that this is a bridge installed in 1907 using two spans of a ca. 1880 truss bridge and combining them into the distinctive four truss line design seen here.

This bridge is a Whipple through truss with all compression members being Phoenix columns. Phoenix columns, a distinctive and patented type of built-up beam made by the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, are exceedingly rare in the United States, and unheard of in Canada. To date, this is one of only three surviving examples of a bridge with Phoenix columns identified in Canada, and the only known through truss example.

Other features of this bridge, including cast iron pieces at the connections and portal bracing, as well as the use of pinned connections are also rare in Canada, particularly in British Columbia. The presumed pre-1900 construction date also makes it stand out among heritage bridges in Canada. Because pre-1900 bridges are more rare in Canada than the United States, Whipple truss bridges, having been pretty much confined to the pre-1900 period, are far more rare in Canada than they are in the United States, although even the United States considers Whipple truss bridges to be rare as well.

However the most unusual and noteworthy feature on the bridge aside from the use of Phoenix columns is that the design of the bridge has four truss lines. The arrangement of the truss lines on the bridge comes in the form of a pair of trusses on each side of the tracks. This bridge is the only known surviving example of a Phoenix column truss bridge with four truss lines. Cast iron pipe spacers are present between the truss lines. The floor beams are connected to these trusses by a series of hangers, which hold a pair of beams which are pin-connected to the main floor beam via a dedicated pin... a very unusual arrangement.

The bridge appears to retain good historic integrity and it remains in use on a railroad line, something very few Phoenix column truss bridges can claim today.

Given this broad, multi-level historic significance it is clear that this bridge should be considered one of the most historically significant heritage bridges in Canada.

Andrew contacted HistoricBridges.org to offer a video showing railway speeder cars on the bridge.

This bridge is tagged with the following special condition(s): Phoenix Columns


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