At 465 meters long and 107 meters high, the Muengsten Viaduct, located in the vicinity of Wuppertal in central North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany has been, since its opening in 1897, the highest bridge built in Germany. Â Spanning the steep Wupper River near the village of Muengsten, the steel deck arch bridge was built in three years’ time under the direction of Anton von Rieppel, who was a industrialist working for the company “Maschinefabrik Augsburg Nuremberg” (now known today as MAN AG), and was responsible for the invention of an elevated street car (Rieppel Traeger) that is supported by horizontal beams above the car, and was eventually used for the Schwebebahn routes in neighboring Wuppertal as well as in Dresden in eastern Saxony. Originally used for passenger railway service between Remscheid and Solingen, it future is in doubt as concerns involving its structural weaknesses, which had originally resulted in the reduction of speed to only 10 km/h for all trains, has now resulted in no trains crossing the bridge until the problems are corrected. Since November of last year, the viaduct was closed to all rail traffic, forcing passengers to find alternatives by bus and the German railway company (Die Bahn) to find detours to carry its freight over the Wupper.
Attempts of allowing trains to cross the viaduct have failed to bear fruit. Even though Die Bahn filed for permission by the Office of Railways (EBA) to allow trains weighing up to 69.9 tons to cross the bridge, it only applied to empty trains. To allow train and passengers to cross the viaduct would require a weight limit of at least 81 tons. In the end, the EBA agreed to allow only trains of up to 72 tons with a 10-ton axel load to cross the structure. Unfortunately, recent events at the beginning of this week may force the bridge to be closed permanently if the problems are not resolved as soon as possible. Attempts to cross the bridge using empty rail cars failed due to too much weight from the axel. The end result is that the weight limit will have to be reconfigured by Die Bahn, and the bridge will have to be strengthened so that the guidelines by the EBA are met.
The Muengsten Viaduct has been considered historically significant by the German Heritage Laws (Denkmalschutzgesetz) and is the focus of a massive rehabilitation effort to be carried out over the next five years at the cost of over $30 million. When it is completed by 2016, it will be able to serve rail traffic both ways on a regular basis for the next 30 years. In the meantime, passengers travelling between Remscheid and Solingen will have to resort to bus service until the EBA allows trains to partially use the bridge until the renovation is completed. The question is: how long will the complications last. The answer is unknown at the moment, except that it lies with the EBA and Die Bahn.
Note: At the bottom of the valley underneath the viaduct, a park was constructed in 2006 commemorating the historic structure. A transporter ferry, attached to the arch superstructure, can carry passengers across the Wupper. The Muengsten Viaduct was originally christened the Kaiser Wilhelm I Bridge, the name that was used until it was replaced with the present name in 1918, the same time as the end of World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm I. was the first emperor of Germany when the country was created in 1871. His son Wilhelm II. took over at the time of his father’s death in 1888 and led the country until its defeat in the war 30 years later.
Thanks to Herrad Elisabeth Taubenheim for allowing the use of the photo for the article.