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The destructive force of nature – The shattered remains of the Kinzua Bridge

May 2019

The Kinzua Bridge was a railroad trestle near Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania, that collapsed during a tornado in 2003.  The 301 foot high, 2052 foot long trestle spanning over the Kinzua Valley, was built in 1900 for the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railway; a steel bridge that replaced the original wrought iron bridge that stood since 1882.

Advertised upon completion as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” it was the largest and longest railroad bridge that had been attempted at the time, with 20 supporting towers, six of which were taller than the Brooklyn Bridge.

The bridge was used as a railway bridge until 1959, when then owner the Erie Railway shut down the line.  The bridge was sold in 1963 to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, becoming the centrepiece of the newly created Kinzua State Park.

The Knox and Kane Railroad operated a sightseeing service through Allegheny National Park and over the bridge from 1987 until the bridge was closed due to safety concerns in 2002.  A restoration project was commenced but on 21 July 2003, as construction workers were finishing up for the day, an F-1 tornado struck the bridge from the east.  Winds of around 94 miles per hour, generating an estimated 90 short tone-force, caused 11 of the 20 supporting towers to bend and collapse and 2 others to be ripped off their foundations but remaining intact.

The estimated $45 million cost to repair the bridge proved cost prohibitive.  Instead, the remaining section of the bridge was turned into a pedestrian walkway, the Kinzua Sky Walk.  Dedicated on 15 September 2011, the Sky Walk features an observation deck with a glass floor, allowing visitors to look down to the valley floor.  The twisted and rusting remains of the demolished bridge towers lay where they fell, a stark visual reminder of the destructive forces of nature.

The Kinzua Bridge was removed from the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, but brings in an estimated $11.5 million in tourism revenue to the area.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinzua_Bridge, https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/KinzuaBridgeStatePark/Pages/default.aspx.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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