No Injuries Reported in Blaze on Saturday Night- Future is Unknown
ROME, ITALY- One of the oldest metal bridges in Europe may end up becoming scrap after a fire engulfed the structure Saturday night. The Ponte dell’ Industria (Industry Bridge) spans the River Tiber connecting via del Porto Fluviale with via Antonio Pacinotti, in Rome, in the neighborhoods Ostiense and Portuense. It is also known as the Ponte di Ferro (Iron Bridge) because it is the only known iron bridge known to exist in the city where stone arch bridges- many of them dating back to the Roman Empire- rule the landscape beyond the Tiber.
The 131-meter long structure was constructed in 1862-63, all made of iron, yet it represents the earliest example of a truss bridge that uses riveted connections. Most riveted truss bridges were built after 1890, and were considered a standard for bridge construction by many state governments in the USA and other countries in Europe beginning in 1910. The bridge features two polygonal Warren through trusses with V-laced portal and strut bracings. Curved heel bracings are found on the portal. Furthermore, the two trusses are separated by a Warren pony truss span. An outer bridge made of Warren trusses also accompanies the truss spans. A Belgian company constructed the truss spans in England before they were transported in pieces to Rome, where they were erected over the Tiber. Originally used for train service, it was converted into a vehicular bridge before World War II.
Despite its historic significance, its days may be numbered after a fire broke out on Saturday, October 2nd. Fire crews were called to the scene shortly before Midnight only to see the bridge engulfed in flames afterwards. The outer truss span collapsed into the Tiber, while the main trusses and the decking sustained significant damage. The fire was put out by 4am the following Sunday.
The cause of the damage is being investigated but arson has been ruled out. It is speculated that a spark from the shacks below the bridge, where the homeless live, may have started it. It was then exacerbated with a broken gas line, which also runs across the bridge. Many shacks below the bridge were severely damaged. Fortunately, no injuries nor deaths were reported.
The bridge has been closed to all traffic until further notice to allow for the clean-up of the areas damaged by the fire. In addition, no boats are allowed to pass under the bridge. Once the clean-up is complete, engineers will examine the structural stability of the bridge and make their recommendations. It is unknown whether the bridge will be repaired or if the damage is severe enough that the truss structure will have to come down for safety reasons. One source indicated that because the piers escaped damage, it would be possible to build a new span on the original piers and have it open within a year.
The fire on the bridge is one more example of the woes that have impacted Italy’s infrastructure in the past five years. This included a collapse of a multiple-span arch bridge in northern Italy in April 2020, injuring two van drivers. Yet the creme de la creme was the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on 14 August, 2018, killing 43 people. The replacement bridge opened in August 2020. The government has been unable to come up with a plan to deal with the crumbling infrastructure due to political infighting and a large deficit caused by the Corona Virus and its impact on business.
Even if a package was passed, the need for the bridge in the neighborhoods Ostiense and Portuense is dire and there is hope that the historic bridge will be repaired and put into use again as soon as possible. The bridge is rich in history and is a local symbol for the region.
The bridge was also the site of a massacre on 7 April, 1944. A protest over the rationing of foods in the city resulted in the Fascists and Nazi troops capturing ten women in a bakery. They were transported to the bridge where they were shot on site. A memorial dedicated to the ten was unveiled in 1997 and can be found at the bridge.