Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bridgetown Coda: The Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1

A while back it occurred to me that I’d been remiss in wrapping up the Bridgetown series with the St John’s Bridge. Of course it did make a neat ending: crossing the most beautiful of the Portland bridges on my birthday, on a truly splendid late summer day. But facts are facts: there are 11 bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland, so stopping at 10 just won’t pass muster.

Having said that, it must be admitted that the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge is a bit of a special case. It’s owned by the railroad, & isn’t open to the public. It carries both Burlington Northern Santa Fe & Union Pacific freight trains, as well as Amtrak. So there is a chance I’ll be on the bridge someday if I ever happen to take the train up to Seattle.

At any rate, I’d decided that the bridge should be included in the series. Now came the question. How to get more photos of it? I’d taken a couple of decent photographs of the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge when I crossed the St John’s—in fact, the lead photo was taken then & is also a “repeat” here, as it was a Photo of the Week. But I ruled out crossing the St John’s Bridge again to get photos for a couple of reasons: first, the photos would be largely redundant; second, one time on that very high bridge was probably enough for me!

So I took to the internet to determine where I might go to get shots of the bridge, & I found that there’s a place called Harbor View City Park along the Willamette quite close to the railroad bridge. Off I went, camera in backpack, on the #44 bus headed north, for my destination. Now I should observe that, despite studying the maps (I thought) quite carefully, I hadn’t paid strict attention to how to access this park. Since the maps all showed that it was very close to N. Willamette Boulevard, I guessed that access wouldn’t be an issue.

You see where I’m going with this. In fact the park isn’t at all accessible from the part of Willamette Boulevard I was on, namely the area that runs at a 45 degree angle to the bridge! I now know I would have needed to either get off the bus at the University of Portland, or else backtracked, but I compounded the problem by heading in the opposite direction! I did get some shots, tho I was shooting directly into the afternoon sun—contre soleil may make for nice effects in the hands of a professional photographer, but it’s not recommended in the case of us amateurs.

In brief, the facts & figures on the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1 are: the bridge opened in 1908, originally as a swing-span bridge, which means that the movable section of the bridge swings out at a right angle to clear a channel for passing ships. At the time it was constructed, the swing span was the longest in the world. This was changed to a vertical lift in 1989, & the vertical lift span of the bridge is still one of the longest & highest in the world. The 5.1 in its name refers to the distance in miles from Portland’s Union Station (originally Hoyt Street Depot.) Thanks, Wikipedia, for those stats!

Next week, with a little luck, the new series I promised to start after the St John’s Bridge post should kick off—hope to see you then! 


  1. Ack! I hope you were in the mood for a walk,John. One of these days, I'm going to pass through Portland at something less than freeway speed, and enjoy the view of all these bridges.

  2. Great post, John! I love seeing your 11 bridges! I'd like to visit Portland one day, I wonder...


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