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-

Advertisements

Flood Aftermath in Europe

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz

Produced together with sister column: The Flensburg Files

Clean-up of flooded areas underway. Several small crossings destroyed by flooding, mostly concrete beam bridges. Others doomed due to damage. Linz Railroad Bridge spared flooding and near ship mishap but fate sealed?

Four weeks where fields became lakes, towns became small Italian villages, and farmers and merchants became gondola drivers and boaters. That is the signature of the Great Flood of 2013 in central Europe.  Heavy rainfall caused several major rivers in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries to flood their banks, setting new records, destroying livelihoods and causing damages that are exorbitant financially and in a literal sense. In Germany alone, 10 out of 16 states were declared disaster areas, with the hardest hit areas being in Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Cities, like Passau, Halle (Saale), Magdeburg and Luneberg broke 400-500 year old records with much of the city being under water.

But surprisingly according to newspaper reports, unlike the Great Flood of 2002, damages to the bridges in Europe were minimal. While many smaller bridges were destroyed because of flash floods, the major bridges along the Saale, Elbe, Danube and Rhine Rivers (among them) sustained little to moderate damage. This is a stark contrast to what happened in 2002, where many major crossings were damaged to a point where demolition and replacement were warranted. This included the Pöppelmann Bridge in Grimma (Saxony), a 1719 stone arch bridge that was undermined in the 2002 flooding and had to be rebuilt. While Grimma was flooded out again this time around, the bridge survived the flood thanks in part to the main span allowing water to pass through.

Old Magdeburg Railroad Bridge spanning the Elbe- Photo taken in February 2011

But it does not mean that the bridges that survived the floods and mudslides are safe. Many bridges are being inspected to ensure they are safe for travelling. This includes the Elbe River crossings between Magdeburg and Lauenburg, where the Elbe put hundreds of miles of highways and rail lines underwater together with the bridges. While bridges like the historic Anna Ebert Bridge in Magdeburg are being inspected for structural concerns to determine whether street cars can use it again, it is possible that an even bigger solution to the flooding problem will come at the expense of these crossings as many local and state government officials are looking at all options possible to ensure that the next round of floodwaters stay in the rivers and not flood the banks. This includes raising some bridges and rebuilding and removing those that are hindering the flow of water. This puts such crossings like this and  the old railroad bridge over the Old Elbe River located downstream from the Anna Ebert Bridge, at risk. A link to the bridges of Magdeburg is here if you wish to look at the city’s bridges and their history.

Anne Ebert Bridge- Photo taken in February 2011

One of the interesting facts about this round of floods is the fact that not only the small river crossings were undermined and destroyed by flood waters, but the majority of the bridges destroyed in the floods were concrete beam bridges built between the 1980s and 2000s. This is unusual given the fact that beam bridges were built to allow river currents to flow over and underneath the structure. But as you can see in a video of a beam bridge being washed away in Poland two weeks prior to the Great Flood, if the river current is strong enough, it can cause the span to sag and eventually break it apart and wash it away. You can see the full video here. This was exactly what happened to the bridges in eastern Thuringia and western Saxony in the area of Zwickau and Chemnitz, as these crossings were either wiped out or damaged to a point where replacement is now a necessity. Even if beam bridges are made of wood and steel, many of them crossing these small streams were wiped out or barely survived but are not stable enough to be repaired. This will most likely lead to the question of which other bridge types to be used when these structures are being replaced, for many arch, suspension, cable-stayed and truss bridges survived the onslaught of flood waters with little or no damage. Interestingly enough, these types are being used more extensively for bridge construction here in Europe than beam bridges, which should put other countries (like the US and Canada), their agencies, politicians and bridge builders on notice regarding bridges to be used not only to accommodate traffic across ravines but also be structurally sound against such natural disasters.

To close this series on bridge disasters and the Great Flood of 2013, there are a couple interesting bridge stories to mention that provide some lessons in dollars and sense. One deals with preventive measures to keep a temporary bridge from being washed away at the cost of many thousands of Euros. Another bridge survived a near boat mishap, to the dismay of the majority of the community the bridge is located, for the 110-year old structure is due for replacement but is protected by federal preservation laws, which officials are pursuing to have this protection revoke to allow for the bridge replacement to proceed.  Here are the details:

Flood destroys new bridge abutments and temporary bridge in Zschopau, Saxony:

Many small bridges along this small river in western Saxony were severely damaged or destroyed during the floods. This bridge is one of them. Located along the Zschopau River in the town bearing the river’s name, near Chemitz, the Bailey pony truss bridge was supposed to serve as a temporary crossing as a new bridge was being built replacing a two-span brick arch bridge. Yet misunderstanding plus political inaction and rushing water doomed the temporary bridge as the floods not only destroyed the bridge, but also the abutments of the new bridge being built. This created a stir among residents who were against the construction of a new bridge and had pushed to temporarily remove the Bailey truss from the river, both unfortunately to no avail. The bridge has long since been fished out of the river, and a new temporary bridge is planned at the moment, but at costs that would have been avoided had action been taken earlier.  As for the new bridge, it is unknown when it will be completed for construction crews will have to build a new bridge completely from scratch, even revising their plans to ensure that the structure will survive such onslaughts as this one. An article on the bridge can be found here.

Linz Railroad Bridge survives flood and close call:

Never has there been such discontent towards a bridge as the city of Linz in Austria. As reported last year, the three-span through truss bridge spanning the Danube River has been targeted for demolition and replacement by politicians and the majority of the community, even after a pair of reports indicated that half of the bridge cannot be restored. Yet this 1903 structure has been protected by the Austrian Heritage Laws because of its historic significance to the region and its rare truss type that was used in bridge construction in Austria. This bridge survived a close call as a small ship traveling along the high flowing Danube River almost rammed into the bridge. However, this was not before having to evacuate 120 Swiss tourists ashore prior to its passage. The ship barely made it across the rising river. A few more centimeters and a collision with the truss bridge would have been likely, causing damage to both the boat and the structure. An article on this incident can be found here.  While many were wishing that the accident would have happened and the bridge would have either collapsed or been damaged to a point of irreparably, government officials, which includes the city council, the mayor of Linz and the railroad company that runs trains across the bridge have filed a petition to the Austrian Heritage Office in Vienna to have its historic status revoked, so that the replacement of the bridge could proceed at the earliest in 2014. While the decision was expected last month, there is still no word on whether this waiver will be granted. If the request is denied, the city and the railroad will be forced to consider alternatives, which includes rehabilitating the entire structure. This will take twice as long as the two years needed to replace the bridge. More information on this bridge can be found through the OÖ Nachricht here as well as through the Chronicles, here, which will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge. An organization aimed to save the bridge has been created. You can find them by clicking on here.

Our last part of the Flood Series focuses on Canada and its acute flooding situation which has ripped railroads out of their beds and dropped many important crossings into the water, including the ones in the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Stay tuned!

You can view the highlights of the Great Flood of 2013 in Europe through sister column the Flensburg Files, which you can click on here.

 

 

 

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.

Note: More information on this topic can be found here. One can also follow the topic via Bridgehunter’s Chronicles Newsroom on Twitter.