BNSF Texas drawbridge replaced, heads to California

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Ken Fitzgerald
PETALUMA, Calif. – Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials may buy a used drawbridge in Galveston, Texas, to replace a 109-year-old swing bridge over the Petaluma River, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has reported. Rather than launch a $20 million overhaul of the old bridge and then having to spend as much as $30 million to replace it in 20 years, transit officials say that for $20 million they can buy and install the used bridge and that should last 75 to 80 years.

The replacement bridge is on the BNSF Railway route between the Texas mainland and Galveston Island. It is a bascule drawbridge that uses a counterweight to the lift bridge into an almost vertical position and was built in 1985. A new vertical lift bridge that will allow the channel width’s to be increased is replacing it. “It is a really solid bridge,” said Bill Gamlen, the agency’s chief engineer. “We will have to do some mechanical upgrades, but it is a very stout bridge. BNSF doesn’t want to get rid of it, but the Coast Guard is driving the replacement.”

The new bridge would open or close in about 90 seconds, instead of the 2 to 3 minutes needed for the swing bridge now in place, which was built in 1903. It also is long enough to allow the Petaluma River channel to be widened from 56 feet to 87 feet, and allow trains to cross at higher speeds.
The bridge in Galveston can be purchased for $4.2 million and shipped to Petaluma, then refurbished and reassembled on new supports for an additional $14 million to $16 million. That would create a crossing good for about 80 years, district officials said. Parts of old swing bridge could be used in other areas on the line, primarily at creek crossings and to replace wood trestles.

Officials say they need to move quickly because the Galveston bridge is being dismantled this week. At a meeting today, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board will be asked to waive the competitive bidding process to buy the bridge, and then seek bids from BNSF and Union Pacific to transport it to Petaluma. The agency hopes to have daily commuter rail service on the line within four years.
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