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Eight Track Bridge

Western Avenue Railroad Bridges 'Scissors Bridges'

Eight Track Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 12, 2006 and 2011-2012

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Railroad (Various) Over Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal
Chicago: Cook County, Illinois: United States
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Movable: Single Leaf Bascule (Rolling Lift) and Approach Spans: Metal Rivet-Connected Warren Deck Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1909 By Builder/Contractor: Chicago Bridge and Iron Works of Chicago, Illinois and Engineer/Design: Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago, Illinois

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
140 Feet (42.7 Meters)
Structure Length
140 Feet (42.7 Meters)
Roadway Width
Not Available
1 Main Span(s) and 2 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
View Information About HSR Ratings

Bridge Documentation

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Documentation For This Bridge

HAER Data Pages, PDF

View A Detailed Construction History of This Bridge From The 1909 Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Volume 15

View An Article About This Bridge From Railway Age Gazette, 1910

View A Historical Article About This Bridge's Electrical Systems

View A Short Historical Article About This Bridge

View A Short Biography of Horace E. Horton of Chicago Bridge and Iron Works

Above: 1916 advertisement that also has a rare photo showing one of the spans of this bridge raised. 

2015 Update: Rehabilitation, Alteration, and Reopening of Western Half of Bridge

After being abandoned for many years, something that rarely happens in the railroad world these days has occurred with this bridge in 2015. The abandoned tracks are being rebuilt and reopened! As part of this work, the long-abandoned western half of this bridge is being extensively rehabilitated. It is a very interesting chapter in the history of this unusual bridge, and its rehabilitation will ensure that the bridge is not at risk for demolition anytime in the near future. There is one major downside however, because the 1901 deck truss approach spans were removed and replaced with modern plate girders as part of this project. The below photo showing the project in process (with one of the deck truss spans removed) is shown below. Click the photo for enlargement.

Photo By Patrick T. McBriarty.

About This Bridge

Here, there are four bridges side by side, each carrying two tracks each. They are among the most unusual of the movable bridges in the greater Chicago area, and have a unique appearance to them. The bascule truss spans seen today were built in 1909-1910 by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works. There is a colorful history behind these bridges. The bridge was originally built in 1901 as an unusual fixed bridge that was designed to be converted into a double-leaf bascule bridge in a number of years, when movable bridges would be required on the canal. When the time came to convert to a movable bridge however, it turned out to be just as cost effective to build a new bridge and so the existing single leaf bascule spans replaced the 1901 span. The 1901 approach deck truss spans remained in use. Today, one of the bridges has had its deck truss spans replaced, but the deck trusses remain on other bridges. Follow the historic The Journal of the Western Society of Engineers Link to find a fascinating, detailed article that discusses the history of the bridge, has photos showing its construction, and includes photos of some original plan sheets.

In their page for the nearby Western Avenue Bridge, the Historic American Engineering Record calls these unusual railroad bridges, which are nearby the Western Avenue Bridge, the "Scissors Bridges." Such a nickname seems appropriate since they do have a scissors-like look to them, which is because the machinery end (the end with the counterweights), of the four bridges are not all on the same side. The crossing was traditionally known as the Eight Track Bridge however. The trusses on the bridge employ a Warren truss configuration, and there are riveted connections present on the bridge.

Previous Eight Track Bridge

Above, a historical drawing from Marine Review shows what the original 1900 bridge would have looked like in the raised position if it had actually been converted into a bascule as originally planned.

During the decision making period that resulted in the fixed span being replaced completely with the bascule span seen today, the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company's rival, Joseph Strauss of the Strauss Bascule and Concrete Bridge Company, came forward with an alternate proposal to remove the fixed span and erect a Strauss trunnion bascule bridge. Unsurprisingly, Strauss felt that rolling lift bascule bridges were the worst sort of bridge imaginable and Strauss trunnion bascule bridges were the solution to every movable bridge problem to be found. Obviously, in the case of this bridge, the proposal Strauss made was ultimately rejected. However, the text of the letter he wrote to the Board of Trustees of the Sanitary District of Chicago, available in the box below, is an interesting look into the rivalry between Strauss and Scherzer.


Letter to the Board of Trustees of the Sanitary District of Chicago from Joseph Strauss
Source: Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of the Sanitary District of Chicago, January 1, 1908 to December 31, 1908

The Clerk presented the following communication from the Strauss Bascule & Concrete Bridge Company, which was ordered published and referred to the Committee on Engineering:

Chicago, May 11, 1908.

To the President, The Honorable Board of Trustees, Sanitary District of Chicago, Chicago, III.

Dear Sirs: With reference to the conversion of the so-called 8 track bridge into a movable structure, we beg to suggest that we have prepared a design of single leaf Strauss trunnion bascule bridge, as per blue print enclosed, which can be built upon the existing foundations, complete and ready for operation, including our charge for royalty and services and the removal of the present structure exclusive of the approach spans, for considerably less than the estimated cost of the additions to the present bridge necessary to make it operative.

Aside from the lesser cost, a single leaf bascule bridge is preferable for railway services. It has no center or tail locks, no uplift and no lateral thrust, and is therefore stiffer, safer and more definite. When closed it is as rigid and solid as a fixed bridge, and when open it is easier to handle. The maintenance of a single leaf bascule is always less than that of a double leaf and in this case particularly so because of the elimination of the rolling contacts, the life of which, where the loads are so great, is exceedingly short. The present structure, in fact, represents a type of Scherzer bridge which has become obsolete, which is not well suited to the requirements and which has already attained considerable age and suffered appreciable deterioration.

Owing to the existing work, the limitation of space is such that our design alone is applicable. A single leaf Scherzer bridge could not be used because of the absence of space for the necessary operating mechanism. Nor would any other design permit the use of plain concrete counterweight, which, in this case, is the principal saving which our design effects. Our structural steel is also less in quantity, and less difficult to fabricate and erect, which, together with the elimination of the expensive field fitting, adds considerably to the saving realized by the nonuse of cast iron counterweights.

While our estimate is preliminary only, it checks up well both as to quantities and prices, with detail figures on our other bridges. The specifications are those of the District and the Pennsylvania railroad. No change is required in the substructure or approach spans, traffic requirements are fully met and there can be no reason for objection or delay on the part of the railway companies interested. As regards time, the greater simplicity of the work in the drawing room, shop and field and the elimination of all fitting of new work to old, make the new structure the easiest and quickest to complete, and the only one on which the contractor can guarantee the time of completion.

We respectfully request your consideration of these facts, and if the suggestion made meets with your favor, we shall be pleased to furnish, on or before June 7, additional plans and a guaranteed estimate of cost, at actual cost to us, in consideration of the acceptance of our design and services in case the total cost of our design to the District is less than the cost of the contemplated additions to the present structure.

Respectfully submitted.

The Strauss Bascule & Concrete. Bridge Company,

By J. B. Strauss,



Scherzer Brothers

Thanks to Tom Winkle for providing boat transportation to assist in the photo-documentation of this historic bridge.

Sanitary District Plaque

--- OF ---
----- 1909 -----






Builder Plaque


PATENTED MAY 1, 1900. JUNE 19, 1900. NOV. 5, 1901. NOV. 5, 1901.
JAN. 27, 1903. MAR. 3, 1908. AUG. 4, 1903. FEB 16, 1904.



Information and Findings From Chicago Landmarks Designation

General Information

Address: South of 31st St., West of Western Ave. (Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal)
Year Built: 1901 - 1910
Architect: William Scherzer
Date Designated a Chicago Landmark: December 12, 2007

The Pennsylvania Railroad "Eight-Track" Bridge, also known as the Scherzer Eight-Track Bridge, is an example of a patented bascule bridge design by engineer William Scherzer. It is made of steel and comprised of four side-by-side Scherzer rolling-lift, single-leaf, double-track spans set in alternating positions which can not only operate as four independent bridges, but can also operate simultaneously as a single unit. The configuration of the bridge makes it one of the most unusual looking bridges in the city of Chicago. The structure rests on the limestone piers of prior bridges and is reinforced with metal shell cast-in-place concrete piles. Each bridge was operated by two 50-horsepower motors, which worked in conjunction with reinforced concrete counterweights and rocker arcs. Today the bridge is fixed in place and still in use. The structure can be seen from both Western Avenue and the Stevenson Expressway.

This Bridge Is A Designated Chicago Landmark

Visit The Chicago Landmarks Website


Historic Bridges of Chicago and Cook County

Flag of Chicago Seal of Cook County

Complete Bridge List

Chicago and Cook County are home to one of the largest collections of historic bridges in the country, and no other city in the world has more movable bridges. HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer the most extensive coverage of historic Chicago bridges on the Internet.

General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources

Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)

Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.

Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.


Photo Galleries and Videos: Eight Track Bridge

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Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer


Maps and Links: Eight Track Bridge

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