The Bridges of Ulm, Germany

Neutor Bridge located northeast of Ulm Central Station (Ulm Hauptbahnhof). Photos taken in May 2015
Neutor Bridge located northeast of Ulm Central Station (Ulm Hauptbahnhof). Photos taken in May 2015

Located along the Danube River, the city of Ulm, with a population of over 123,000 is one of the oldest cities in Germany. First mentioned in 850, the city had straddled the river for almost a millenium, making it one of the key points of trade and commerce. It had once been declared an Imperial City by order of Friedrich Barbarossa in 1181. However, thanks to Napoleon’s conquest in 1805, Ulm was parted along the river, making it part of Baden-Wurttemberg, whereas the settlement east of the Danube was declared Bavarian and renamed Neu-Ulm. The names have remained the same ever since, although both cities are deeply engaged in joint ventures on the public and private scales, and are sister cities of New Ulm in Minnesota (USA). Some of the key characteristics Ulm has to offer include a professional basketball team “ratiopharm Ulm,” The Ulm Minster Cathedral with the world’s highest steeple surrounded by historic buildings and a large market square, the historic city hall, a pyramid-shaped modern public library, one of the largest collection of “Fachwerk” houses dating back to the Medieval Era (many located along the canals streaming through the southern part of the old town, and memorials honoring scientist Albert Einstein as well as Hans and Sophie Scholl, leaders of the White Rose movement that propagandized against the regime of Adolf Hitler.

And then there are the bridges that are worth mentioning. While all of the Danube crossings in Ulm/Neu Ulm were destroyed towards the end of World War II, a large portion of the pre-1945 bridges were spared  destruction and subsequentially repaired to make them functional again. Whether it is the Neutor Bridge or the stone arch bridges along the Blau Canal, or even the rebuilt Herd Bridge, Ulm today still has a wide array of bridges that fit the cityscape, some of which conform to the Renaissance period landscape in a way that a person is actually walking back into time to get a glimpse of Ulm’s past.

This tour takes you to the most noteworthy bridges in Ulm one should visit while visiting the city. The goal is to provide you with a glimpse at the role of the bridges in the city’s development and their survival through two World Wars. While there are over five crossings over the Danube River, the Herd Bridge will be profiled here because of its historic significance despite being rebuilt after World War II. The other bridges were built in the 1960s on and do not have the historic taste in comparison with the bridges mentioned here. For some of the other bridges profiled here, information is missing on their history- in particular, the bridge builder and the year of construction. If  you wish to add some information about these bridges, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, and that information will be added.

A map of the bridges’ and their location are found here and the bridges….

map

Herdbrücke with Neu-Ulm in the backrgound
Herdbrücke with Neu-Ulm in the backrgound

Herdbrücke (EN: Herd Bridge):  

Location: Danube River (main channel) at Donaustrasse (Ulm) and Marienstrasse (Neu Ulm).

Bridge type: Closed spandrel arch bridge with ribbed spandrels

Length: 75 meters

This bridge is one of two crossings that carry a single street over both channels of the Danube River. Ironically, the Gänsetorrücke in Neu Ulm, despite spanning the narrower channel of the river is longer than this bridge by about 21 meters. This bridge features a single span elliptical arch design wide and tall enough to accomodate boat traffic along the river. Built in 1949, its predecessor was a three-span brick arch bridge built in 1832 and named after Ludwig Wilhelm. Unfortunately in an attempt to slow the advancement of American and British troops from the west, the Nazis imploded the bridge in April 1945, a month before Germany capitulated in Berlin and Flensburg, respectively (please click on this link for more information on this topic). A temporary bridge was erected, which remained in service until this bridge was built. Today, this bridge serves as the key link between the city centers of Ulm and Neu Ulm, while at the same time, its historic significance fits in nicely with the surroundings of both cities: a 1949 bridge whose modernity fits the cityscape of Neu Ulm but its arch design fits  nicely with the old town of  Ulm itself. A nice compromise for a crossing like this one.

Neutorbrücke with the Ulm Minster Cathedral in the background
Neutorbrücke with the Ulm Minster Cathedral in the background

Neutorbrücke (EN: Neutor Bridge):

Location: Ulm-Treutchingen-Nuremberg Railline at Neutorstrasse NE of Ulm Hauptbahnhof (Railway Station)

Bridge type: Steel cantilever truss bridge with Warren truss features

Built: 1907 by Levi and Büttner as well as Machinefabrik Esslingen

The Neutor Bridge is the most ornamental of the bridges in Ulm. At over 120 meters long, the bridge’s main features are the towers, whose finials are covered with gold egg-like figures. The towers portals features the city’s shield with its black and white color. When taken from Kienlesbergstrasse, you can capture the bridge and the cathedral all in one, as long as the weather is cooperative.

A close-up of the tower's portals and finials.
A close-up of the tower’s portals and finials.

While designed by Levi and Büttner, the construction of the  bridge was done by the firm Maschinenbauwerk in Esslingen, a very popular steel fabricator of bridges and train locomotives until the late 1960s. The company was founded by Emil Kessler in 1846 and was solely responsible for the construction of railroad bridges, railroad tracks and train locomotives and coaches. Apart from this bridge, the company was responsible of the building of the Unterreichenbach Railroad Bridge in 1874 (today, the only example of a Schwedler truss bridge left), The Neckar River Steel Arch Bridge at Plochingen in 1949, and The Fehmarn Bridge in 1963. The company survived several takeovers and concourses during its 120+ year history before the company announced its cessation of production in 1966. Shortly thereafter, it was bought by Daimler-Benz.

Despite being used regularly and its thoroughly done maintenance, the bridge will receive another crossing only 200 meters to the west, which will provide a more direct connection between the city center and train station  to the southwest as well as the freeway Highway 10 to the west. While the design has been announced, construction has not started yet as of present. It does appear though that the bridge will be left in place as a secondary crossing going to the northeast once the new crossing is open by 2020.

Ludwig Erhard Bridge at Ulm Hauptbahnhof
Ludwig Erhard Bridge at Ulm Hauptbahnhof

Ludwig Erhard Bridge:

Location: Munich-Ulm-Stuttgart Railline at Ulm Hauptbahnhof (Railway Station)

Bridge type: Cable-stayed suspension bridge

Built: 2007 replacing the Blaubeurerbrücke

The Ludwig Erhard Bridge is the first bridge you will see when disembarking the train at the railway station. In the daytime, one can see the blue and grey colors of the tower and cables as it decorates the hillside in the background. At night, however, the colors change to yellow, for the towers are lit by sodium street lamps lining up the meridian and the inner portions of the towers, thus making photography an interesting adventure. The bridge replaces the Blaubeurer Bridge, a steel girder bridge from the 1950s that had corroded away thanks to the black smoke from the trains combined with heavy traffic. Yet this combination steel and concrete bridge improves a key link along Karlstrasse between the city center, Neutorbrücke, the railway station and the eastern suburbs on one end, and the freeway Highway 10 and parks to the west. All of the mentioned locations are centralized and easily accessible even by foot.

Bleicher Hag Bridge
Bleicher Hag Bridge

Bleicher Hag Bridge:

Location: Munich-Ulm-Stuttgart Railline and railroad yard at the junction of Am Bleicher Hag and Blaubeurerstrasse at Ulm-Lehrertal

Bridge type: Bedstead Pratt pony truss with riveted connections

Built: ca. 1920

The Bleicher Hag Bridge is the longest of the bedstead truss bridges that exist along the railroad lines serving Ulm, with five spans of 120 meters, totalling 600 meters. There is little information about the construction date of the bridge, let alone the bridge builder, yet given the popularity of the riveted truss bridges after the turn of the century and the effects of World War I, a date of 1920 best made sense to pinpoint. The caveat with this bridge is its narrowness- only 3 meters wide and with a weight limit of six tons.

U15aBut given the increasing demand of rail traffic and the improvement of vehicular traffic, chances are likely that this bridge may be replaced with a larger, more appealing structure in the next 10-15 years. But it depends on the availability of money and manpower to make it happen.

Lehrertal Overpass
Lehrertal Overpass

Lehrertal Railroad Overpass:

Location: Railroad line at Y-junction of Ulm-Treuchtingen-Nuremberg Line and Munich-Ulm-Stuttgart Line, north of Ulm Hauptbahnhof.

Bridge type: Bedstead subdivided Warren pony truss bridge with welded connections 

This bridge is hard to find, unless one wishes to walk across the Highway 10 bridge on the north side. Here is where one can get the best photo. The bridge is unique because of its curved spans as it crosses the rail lines going east past Ulm. Most likely this bridge is used for freight traffic not wishing to stop at Ulm Railway Station, located only 500 meters to the south. Like the Bleicher Hag Bridge, the Lehrertal Bridge has little information on its history but it appears that the bridge has been in service for 60+ years, namely because of its welded connections that had started becoming popular at that time. Yet more information is needed to confirm this.

Schieferhausbrücke
Schiefeshausbrücke

Schiefeshausbrücke:

Location: Grosses Blau Canal on a pedestrian path between Schwörthausgasse and Fischergasse

Bridge type: Brick arch bridge

There are many small crossings along the Blau Canal that compliment the Fachwerk houses in the Old Town. Yet this two-span arch bridge is the more popular of the crossings, and one of the more visible bridges to photograph. The bridge dates back to the 1700s and it is built using brick. No information on its length is given, but it is estimated to be 20 meters long and only three meters wide. The bridge is located only 15 meters behind Das Schiefe Haus, the oldest existing house remaining in Ulm that dates back to the 1500s and one whose name fits the description, as seen in the picture below:

Das Schiefes Haus with the bridge in the background.
Das Schiefe Haus with the bridge in the background.

The house is the only one of its kind in Germany with this unusual feature. It is a now a bed and breakfast, located right on the canal. Anybody care to eat or sleep at the water level? 😉

Weinhofbergbrücke
Weinhofbergbrücke

Weinhofbergbrücke:

Location: Grosse Blau Canal at Weinhofbergstrasse and Auf der Insel

Bridge type: Brick arch bridge

Located at the north tip of the island surrounded by the Blau Canal, this bridge is the lesser visible of the brick arch crossings because of the Fachwerkhäuser and vegetation interfering with the view. Nevertheless, the bridge fits nicely in the cityscape, providing access to some of the small shops in the Old Town. It is located behind one of the recently restored Fachwerk houses (the light brown colored one as seen in the picture) where a gallery and private residence occupies it. The bridge dates back to the 1700s but unlike the one at Schiefeshaus, this one carries automobile traffic but at a snail’s pace because of the high number of people soaking in the scenery of Ulm’s Old Town.

There are many more to see in Ulm, but these examples are the ones that should be visited first because of their historic and aesthetic appearance and how they fit the cityscape. Many of them are difficult to find and one will end up walking past them as they see the Fachwerk houses or even the other places of interest in the Old Town. But in case you stop at at least a couple of them to pay homage to them, you will have a chance to learn how oatingthey have played an integral part in the city’s development over the past three centuries. Unlike the ones in New Ulm in the US, where most of the crossings are now modern, these crossings are unique because of their history and design, even more so because of how thy fit Ulm’s cityscape, thus adding them to the storied list of places to see while in Ulm. Taking the line from Hans Scholl, one can sum up Ulm’s history as the following: Es lebe die Geschichte und Kulturerbe, in addition to his famous last words: “Es lebe die Freiheit.”

EN: Long live freedom, history and heritage.

bhc new logo jpegAuthor’s Note: This article is part of a series being done on the cities of Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany and the city of New Ulm written by sister column, The Flensburg Files. For more on this topic, click on the logo below for more details. The story behind Hans and Sophie Scholl can also be found there as well.

FF new logo 

Also: The Files has a Genre of the Week entitled “The Fire Within,” written by Sophie Scholl, which if clicked here, might be of interest to the reader. 🙂

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Vote on the Linz Railroad Bridge on 27 September

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz
Photo courtesy of the City of Linz

Vote on the Two-Bridge-Solution to determine the bridge’s fate

LINZ, AUSTRIA- After countless debates and arguments for and against the demolition of a key landmark in the city of Linz, citizens will go to the polls to decide whether to keep the 115-year old Linz Railroad Bridge over the Danube River and have a replacement span alongside it, or to send it off in a pile of rubble. The vote will take place tomorrow and the Chronicles will inform you of the results once they have them. Planners on both sides have been working on proposals on converting the old bridge into a pedestrian- bike trail crossing on one hand, but also a new structure to accommodate all traffic on the other. Arguments for saving the bridge include keeping its structural integrity and integrating it into the cityscape of Linz, while showing people the history of bridge and its contribution during the age of industrialization. Together with the Styregg Bridge, they are the only two Danube crossings in Linz that are more than 110 years old, with the former still serving rail traffic despite turning 130 years old this year. The Austrian Railways, which used to share the bridge with vehicular traffic, has not used the Railroad Bridge since 2013, thus clearing the way for the repurposing proposal.  Opponents have claimed that the cost for renovating the bridge and re-purposing it for recreational use would be more than the cost of a one-bridge solution. In addition, claims of the structure’s instability and it being closed to traffic during the winter instead of salting the roadway were brought up recently during several meetings between both parties. And despite this practice existing in the United States, realigning the roadway would be an inconvenience, according to opponents.

Nevertheless, there are enough arguments for and against the bridge, some of which can also be seen in the videos below. It is more of the question of not only the number of voters going to the polls, but also if the heart lies with keeping the old lady for generations to come or if it is time to let it go. No matter the result though, construction of the new bridge will take 2-3 years to complete with or without the steel bridge in its place.

Here are the videos of the campaign for saving the bridge and voting for the two bridge solution:

An interview was conducted a year ago with the Save the Bridge Initiative, which you can click here for details.

 

 

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Linz Railroad Bridge Update: Aktionstag at Donaupark Urfahr on September 12

The Railway Bridge at night but in black and white. Photo courtesy of Madeleine Schneider

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark the date on your calendar: 12 September, 2014 at 6:00pm (Central European Time) at Donaupark Urfahr in Linz, Austria. The Group Initiative Save the Linz Railway Bridge (Rettet die Eisenbahnbrücke) is hosting the bridge festival Aktionstag, featuring the Austrian bands of Attwenger and Folkshilfe. There are no entry fees but you can donate to the cause. The festival brings together people with close ties to the bridge who want to see the 114-year old bridge saved and reused for pedestrian use.

This includes the political parties of the Free Democrats, the Volkspartei and Greens, who are making up the majority who are pressing the mayor of Linz, Klaus Luger, to reconsider plans to demolish the bridge. Luger, along with supporters of the party SPO (the Social Democrats), are pushing to see the bridge replaced with a modern structure, despite growing opposition from the majority of Linz’s population, preservationists, and even engineers who have expertise in preserving historic bridges, including Erhardt Kargel, whose invitation to speak with Luger was rejected, according to interview with the city magazine, Linzider (see article here for more details).  A new design is expected to be revealed in September, yet with the mayoral elections scheduled for next year, the topic of this bridge and its future will be one of the top themes of the election campaign.

For more information about this bridge festival on 12 September and/or on how to contribute to saving the bridge, click here for more details. The initiative is also on facebook, where as many as 8,250 likes have been posted. There is a potential that the 10,000 mark will be reached between now and then, and the numbers will double by year’s end.  Join in on the action in saving the Railroad Bridge by attending the concert and being actively engaged in pushing the city to support preserving the bridge.

The Chronicles interviewed Robert Ritter, who is one of the leading organizers in saving the bridge. You can click here to read the information behind the initiative to save the bridge. The Chronicles, which is throwing its support behind the bridge, will keep you posted on the latest developments as they come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINZ, AUSTRIA-

Linz Railroad Bridge Preservation: Interview

Obique view of the bridge. Image courtesy of Thomas Nemcsek.

The next Chronicles entry takes us back to Linz in central Austria, and in particular, this bridge over the Danube. Two years ago, the Chronicles published an article about the future of this three-span hybrid Parker-Whipple through truss span that used to carry rail and vehicular traffic and features a pedestrian boardwalk. At that time, public sentiment favored replacing the bridge with a modern one, which would fit the modern landscape but leave the Styregg Bridge in the northern part of the city as the lone historic bridge left. As seen in the article here, the Office of Historic Preservation was the last barrier to be taken down before demolition could proceed, which was backed by the city government and the Austrian Railways.

Fast-forward to the present, and we see a somewhat different scenario involving the bridge. The Austrian Railways has relinquished its responsibility of the bridge to the organization Linz AG, public support for the bridge has increased to the majority, but attempts to destroy efforts to preserve the bridge including one agency changing sides and producing one of the biggest scandals in the city’s history, are still there.

The organization Rettet die Eisenbahnbrücke (EN: Save the Linz Railway Bridge) was formed and started several initiatives to convince the city to change its mind. Despite its infancy, the support for the bridge has been enormous, with almost 8,000 likes on facebook and tens of thousands of signatures that prompted the city to involve the public about the plans for the bridge. Even the Chronicles has thrown in its support for this unique bridge that has been considered a historic jewel for the city, the Danube River and central Europe.

Underneath the bridge in black and white. Photo courtesy of Arno Schröckenfux

I had an opportunity to interview Robert Ritter, one of the organizers who is spearheading efforts to get the bridge saved, asking him about the current situation of the bridge and what the group wants to do with the bridge. Despite a long battle ahead of them, he remains optimistic that the public will have a say towards what they want to do with the bridge, which is restore the structure and convert it into a bike and pedestrian crossing with an option to include streetcar service in the future. Here is the Chronicles’ Q&A with Herrn Ritter:

1. What got you started with saving the Linz Railroad Bridge?
It was initially press reports saying that the demolition of the bridge had been enacted in the municipal council. We were wondering that nobody in public seemed to take notice of this incredible act let alone stand up against it. We learned that there were numerous initiatives campaigning for the preservation of the monument, all more or less remaining unnoticed or unsuccessful. So we decided to try the same through Facebook. Some weeks before we started a Facebook campaign demanding a beach cafe at the river Danube had led to a round table involving politicians and Facebook activists to realize the project.
2. In the past three years, political support has been mounting to replace the railroad bridge with a more modern one because of claims that the bridge cannot be restored. Is the political pressure there and if so, how have you been combating it?
It’s more ignorance than pressure we are fighting against. We are detecting massive economical interests in destroying the bridge and a network of actors that are very close to corruption the way they have been pushing their concerns. However, we have strong support by most of the political opposition to the government and even by members of the governing parties (which are the social democrats and the green party).
3. The bridge is now privately owned, from what I understand. Is it right?   If so, what are your plans for the bridge?
That is correct although the “private” owner is a company that is owned by the city. The company is a result of sourcing-out services provided by the city. Our plans are to preserve the monument as a bridge for cyclists and pedestrians and – if necessary – for a tramway. A new bridge for cars can easily be built beside the railroad bridge unless it should turn out that another position for the new bridge is a better option in terms of traffic concepts.
4. How much support have you received so far?
Well, we almost have 8000 supporters on Facebook. Even 7000 were enough to make the mayor invite the Facebook activists for “Linz braucht einen Strand” to a round table. We notice that there is also very much popular demand for a preservation of the bridge by persons that are not on Facebook. And we do not detect much open opposition against our concern.
5. Is it true about the Denkmalamt removing the historic status of the bridge (as seen in one of the fb postings)?  If so, how will you go about in convincing the agency to reinstate this status?
The permission to demolish the monument (so the official term) was politically motivated and is a scandal on its own. Some history: in the 1960ies the municipal government of Linz destroyed a textile manufactory of the 17th century in face of grim protest of the public. As a result an independent advisory board for issues concerning historical monuments (Unabhängiger Denkmalbeirat) was established by law to never let anything like that happen again. Well, the advisory board argued by majority vote FOR a preservation of the railroad bridge. For the first time in the history of the advisory board the Denkmalamt ignored its recommendation. Notice that the Denkmalamt is subordinated to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture headed by a social democrat minister. Coincidence?
6. If plans for restoring the bridge are approved, what is the timeline for the project? How will the bridge be maintained?
Well, we are far away from speaking of timelines. We are preparing to utilize all democratic means to fight for a participation of the population in the decision. At the moment the city government is planning a timeline for the demolition of the bridge. The demolition has to be executed within 3 years after the permission of the Denkmalamt which means a lot of pressure for the destroyers. There are detailed offers by steel building companies to restore the bridge. It is possible and it is by far cheaper to restore AND build a new bridge than to tear down the monument and build a new one.
7. Any advice to anyone who is working on saving a historic bridge, especially one over such a large river like the Danube? Do you know of other similar bridges that are being restored that are worth mentioning?
There are more best practice examples for restoring historic bridges than can be mentioned here. Some of them are the bridges Baltoji Voke  and Kaunas (both Lithuania), Eglisau (Switzerland) and The Hef in Rotterdam. To anyone who is working on saving a bridge: fear nobody, don’t give up, involve the public! And utilize social media – they have an incredible potential for reaching lots of people within a short time.
The Railway Bridge at night but in black and white. Photo courtesy of Madeleine Schneider
If you are interested in taking part in any efforts to save the Linz Railway Bridge, go to their facebook page to like (here) and follow up on the updates and photos provided on the page. There is also a website, where you can sign the petition and subscribe to updates on the current situation with the bridge so that you have an opportunity to participate in the efforts to save the structure. You can click on the link here for more details.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving the bridge, as things are heating up between those wanting to save the bridge and those wanting to demolish and replace it. The Chronicles is also on facebook and twitter which you can subscribe to follow the updates on that and other bridges in Europe and the US.  As you can see in the interview, the battle is brewing, but in the end, the people of Linz will have the final say as to what will be done to the bridge. It is hoped that a compromise- a historic bridge as a bike and pedestrian trail and a new bridge alongside it for vehicular traffic will serve to the liking of both parties. But it will all depend on the number of votes needed to realize this project.
The author would like to thank Robert Ritter for the interview and wish him and the rest of the group best of luck. Also a round of thanks to the photographers who were willing to share their pics of the bridge for this article. Their names have been noted on each one. 

Flooding in Germany and Europe: Numerous Bridges in Danger of Collapse?

Saale River flooding its banks in Jena, Thuringia (Germany). Photo taken at the Burgau Bridge on 2 June 2013

Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and Flensburg Files now taking stories on flooding in Europe as well as bridge disasters.

Normally at this time of year, we would be seeing sunny skies with temperatures between 20 and 30° C (70- 80° F), with people grilling in the backyard, construction crews repairing roads and working on bridges, and families preparing for vacation with pupils writing their last exams before graduation from high school.  This year has been anything but normal in that aspect.

In the past week, cities in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic have been fighting heavy rains, which have swollen the rivers and caused flooding in many areas. This includes the ones southern and eastern Germany, where the Rhine, Neckar, Elbe, Danube, Saale, White Elster, Mulde, and Ilm Rivers (among them) have flooded the banks and resulted in many towns and cities being evacuated. Many of the towns, like Passau, have already shattered the mark set in 2002, when flooding cut Germany into two parts thanks to the Elbe wiping out every crossing for 48 hours. Especially in Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia, people are preparing for the worst as the 200-year flood is back and records will be smashed again at the expense of their livelihoods.

With the “Jahrhundertflut” there will be many bridges affected by the floods with some of them not being able to withstand the floodwaters and buckling under the stress. In 2002 at least 20 bridges were destroyed by the floods, including a 1700s stone arch bridge in Grimma, located northwest of Dresden. Many others sustained slight to moderate damage, including the ones in Dresden, which the floodwaters of the Elbe flowed over it when 80% of the city was underwater.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is taking stories and photos of the Great Flood of 2013 and the damages done to the bridges to be posted as articles on this page, as well as the ones on its other social networks (facebook, twitter and pininterest). If you know of any bridges that were damaged or destroyed in the storm, you can either post it on the facebook page bearing its name, or send it to Jason Smith, editor and writer of the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com, and it will be posted. The goal is to bring the bridges affected to the attention of the readers, while at the same time get you in touch with the right people with expertise in restoring and/or rebuilding bridges to reincorporate traffic and commerce in the areas affected.

In addition, the sister column The Flensburg Files is also taking on stories of the Great Flood of 2013 to be posted in its column section. If you have any, you can post it in the facebook page or send it to the editor and writer and it will be posted. A summary of the flooding with photos can be seen here.  Photos are strongly encouraged for both, and the stories of the flood can be sent either in English, French or German.

We would like to send our wishes out to the people affected by the Great Flood of 2013, which will surely surpass the one in 2002. There are many people and villages cut off from the rest of the world, many livelihoods washed away, and many cities underwater. Whenever there is a chance to give these people a hand, please do so. They need our help and we all in this together until this flooding is through and the lives of those affected are back to normal.

The Linz Railway Bridge: At the End of its useful Life- What’s next?

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz

Located along the Danube River in the state of Upper Austria in Austria, the city of Linz, with a population of over 188,000 inhabitants, is one of the largest tourist destinations in the Alps region. One can travel into the mountains and end up skiing in 30 minutes, or visit its historic city center to see the Pöstlingberg church, the Church of St. Michael and Ursula, plus many museums and the market square, just to name a few. There is the University of Linz, one of the largest institutions of higher education in the country. Yet, when it comes to bridges spanning the longest river in Europe and the second longest river in the world behind the mighty Nile in eastern Africa, the city has one of the fewest river crossings with a total of five bridges, if one combines the suburb of Styegg, which has two spans. In terms of historic bridges, only two of them exist that were built before Adolf Hitler took over the German government in 1933 and ordered the “Anschluss” with Austria (which happened in 1938): an 1873 railroad bridge at Styegg and the Linz Railway Bridge built in 1900. Yet if the city council has it their way and the Austrian Railway Company wants to hand over ownership to the city, the 1900 railroad bridge will soon become history- replaced with a larger, three-span tied arch bridge. While the new bridge would fit the modern bridgescape, with the VOEST cable-stayed bridge built in 1972 and the Niebelungenburg Bridge, built in 1941 but is a girder bridge built on piers of a previous bridge, the historic character of the railroad bridge will disappear forever and it would raise questions about the preservation laws in Austria, one of the strictest in Europe. At the moment, the preservation office has not given the green light to proceed with the bridge replacement, even though they are open to options.


But how special is this bridge in comparison to the one in Styegg? And why does the city want to tear this bridge down at any cost? A quick oversight into the bridge reveals that one should not judge the bridge just by its type alone. The truss bridge type is a Schwedler, created by Johann Schwedler in the 1860s and is a combination of three truss spans known very well in the US: the Whipple, the Parker and the Bowstring Arch.  It was constructed by the state, which appointed the bridge building company Anton Bíro to oversee the design and building of the structure. Founded in 1854 by Anton Bíro, the company constructed hundreds of kilometers of rail lines and buildings even beyond the founder’s death in 1882. His sons took over and the company Bíro later merged with the construction agency Rudolph Phillip Waagner to create  Waagner and Bíro in 1924, a construction company that is located in the capital of Vienna and has built numerous bridges worldwide since then. The appearance of the bridge combined with its association with the builder made it eligible to receive protection status through the Austrian Historic Preservation Laws. Yet despite it being historic, opposition is mounting to see to it that the bridge is replaced. According to polls by the Linz news agent Nachrichten.at, nearly 61% of the public is in favor of the new bridge. Four of the five major parties in the Linz city council would like to see the bridge removed. A study conducted by the Technical University of Vienna also favored bridge replacement and even though the bridge serves rail, automobile and pedestrian traffic, the owner of the bridge, the Austrian Railway Company wants to see a solution regarding the bridge.


Apart from the fact that the railroad bridge is 112 years old, which technically does not count as the railroad bridge at Styegg is 27 years older and is still in use, the condition of the bridge itself may doom the structure. Rust and corrosion caused by weather extremes combined with traffic running over and under it have weakened the structure to a point where it could potentially fail.  In fact, according to a study conducted by Josef Fink of the Technical University of Vienna, only half of the bridge can be renovated as rust and corrosion on the other half of the bridge have progressively eaten away at the superstructure to a point where it would cost less to replace the bridge rather than replace the bridge parts. The report indicated that the bridge could still be used without rehabilitation for up to a year at the most- namely through the end of 2012. This has prompted the city council and other parties involved to consider the following options:
Demolish and Replace the Entire Bridge.  The new structure would represent a model similar to the truss bridge and cost 57 million Euros. The time to build the bridge would be 5.5 years.
Renovate the Truss Bridge and Construct an Additional Span. The new span would be either a concrete beam or an arch span and would be constructed first before the railroad bridge would be rehabilitated in its entirety. The cost of the project would be up to 98 million Euros and the time to complete it would be 8.5 years.
The main factors to keep in mind are that with both variants, additional bridge piers would be needed which would have an effect on the river flow of the Danube, the ship traffic going under the bridge and lastly flood protection- should flooding occur on the Danube, it could potentially cause jams resulting in flooding upstream. The decisive role in determining which option is the most feasible is the fact that only half the truss structure can be renovated, which could cost up to 40 million Euros alone, according to Fink.
Yet if the railroad bridge is in such horrible shape, then the next question would be why it was not properly maintained when it was in service in the first place. A simple paint job, combined with minor repairs on the bridge parts and annual inspection reports would ensure that the structure’s life would last beyond the 112 years it has served Linz. Yet, as we have seen in the United States, Germany and other countries, cost-cutting measures, which includes rediverting funds for infrastructure maintenance to other needs have forced the agencies to forego the necessary procedures to upkeep the bridge. In some cases like in the US, many engineers do this on purpose just to secure funds for replacing the bridge outright, and this without properly informing the public beforehand.
It is highly doubtful that it is the case with the Linz Railroad Bridge as the bridge has been heavily travelled and has survived weather extremities and other incidences (like war, etc.) which would have destroyed other bridges. Yet no solution to the bridge problem is not an option at all. If the bridge is protected by Austrian law, then perhaps one should follow Murphy’s Law which indicates that there is another option other than the ones given. The new bridge needs to be built but the healthy half of the old bridge should be preserved as an observation pier to provide people with a view of the city. While this would alter the integrity of the bridge, by removing the half that is not salvageable, saving the other half will still make the railroad bridge a landmark to see when visiting Linz. The advantages are simple: it is cheaper to salvage the part that can be saved, it will not disrupt the flow of the river and shipping traffic, and it will keep the city from having a set of structures over the Danube that are modernized but not to the liking of those who prefer to see historic places.
While it may take weeks before a decision can be made on the future of the bridge, it will have to be made before the bridge is no longer safe to use.

At present, the preservation laws and the interest in preserving the bridge from the public are the only two “hindrances” that are keeping the bridge from being replaced. Yet removing them will ultimately doom the bridge and erase a piece of Linz history, which would make the city less attractive for people to see if they want a cultural and historic experience and not go there for the skiing. An indecision is not an option as it could produce disaster for the bridge and cast a shadow on Linz itself. The easiest way is to present the three options to the public and allow them to decide for themselves. Only then will everybody be happy about it. And even if the majority votes for demolishing the bridge, a memorial for the bridge should be erected so that the public can remember the bridge. After all, contrary to the beliefs that one will forget about the bridge issue, the memory of the railroad bridge will forever remain in the hearts of minds of people who live in this wonderful Austrian town on the Danube.

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