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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Frisco Bridge
Mississippi River Railroad Crossing At Memphis
Memphis, TN

Frisco Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 734.7.
• River Elevation: 187 Feet.
• Railroad: BNSF (Formerly Frisco RR).
• Daily Traffic Count: 30 Trains Per Day (Estimated).
• Bridge Type: Continuous Steel Truss Through Deck.
• Length: 4,887 Feet Overall, 791 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 30 Feet, Single Track.
• Navigation Channel Width: 770 Foot Clear Channel.
• Height Above Water: 109 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened May 12, 1892.
This bridge was originally known as The Great Bridge At Memphis. Later, that was shortened to be the Memphis Bridge. It was the only bridge in Memphis until the Harahan Bridge was built just upstream in 1916. The name was changed to Frisco Bridge to ease the confusion over which bridge in Memphis was being referred to.

The Frisco Bridge was a monumental undertaking. It was the first bridge built on the lower Mississippi River, and the only bridge south of Saint Louis at that time. The US Army insisted on a 770 foot clear span for river navigation, and at least 75 of vertical clearance under the bridge. The result was a bridge that featured the longest span of any bridge in the US when built. The main river spans are 791 feet, 621 feet, and 604 feet in length.

In order to secure a building permit, Memphis officials insisted that the bridge carry pedestrian and buggy traffic as well as trains. The deck was built somewhat wider than would have been required for a single railroad track. As a result, two way buggy traffic was allowed. Later, automobiles used the Frisco Bridge until the Harahan Bridge opened. If a train needed to cross the bridge, wagon and automobile traffic was stopped and cleared from the bridge, and then the train was allowed to cross.

The United States allowed its bridge inventory to go largely without inspection during much of the twentieth century. The result is that many bridges were deteriorated to a dangerous level before the problems were discovered. The Frisco Bridge was no different. It deteriorated to the point that a 10 mile per hour speed limit was posted. Later, trains were not allowed to start up motion on the bridge for fear that it would cause the bridge to collapse lengthwise. Rather, if a train stalled on the bridge, it would have to back up until it was clear of the bridge before another crossing could be attempted. Repairs have been made on the structure, and the traffic restrictions have been eased.

The Frisco Bridge was built by the Kansas City and Memphis Railway and Bridge Company, a company that was formed by the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad specifically to build a bridge over the Mississippi River. In 1901, KCFS&M was bought by the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad, which was commonly called the Frisco. The Frisco system was bought by Burlington Northern in 1980. The BN later merged with the Santa Fe to become the BNSF.

The photo above is a BNSF train emerging from the east bridge portal on the Memphis side of the Mississippi River. BNSF locomotive 5871 is a General Electric Evolution model ES44AC built in January, 2006. The unit is powered by a 12 cylinder diesel engine and alternating current traction motors that develop 4,400 horsepower.

Frisco Bridge
The photo above is the south side of the bridge abutment on the Memphis side of the Mississippi River. The photo below is the north side of the same bridge abutment. The structure on this end of the bridge is very interesting. The first bridge span is a short steel girder span. The next span is a short truss section held up by steel beams on the edge of the riverbank. That span connects to the main truss over the first large stone pier. This accounts for the funny flat-top shape of the truss on the Tennessee side of the river.

Frisco Bridge
Frisco Bridge
These two photos are close views of the bridge structure on the Memphis side of the river crossing. The photo above is a view looking down the upriver side of the truss spans. The pyramid-shaped metal supports on top of the pier are bridge bearings. They allow the bridge to move slightly as the structure expands and contracts due to temperature. The photo below is the steel structure under the short truss span between the riverbank and the first stone pier.

Frisco Bridge
Frisco Bridge
The photo above is a view of the three parallel bridges, the Harahan in the foreground, the I-55 bridge in the background, and the Frisco Bridge in the middle. The view is looking southwest from Martyr Park on the Memphis waterfront. The photo below is a train heading westbound on the steel trestle bridge approach. BNSF locomotive 5888 is a General Electric Evolution model ES44AC built in January, 2006. The unit is powered by a 12 cylinder diesel engine and alternating current traction motors that develop 4,400 horsepower.

Frisco Bridge
Frisco Bridge
The photo above is looking northeast along the upriver side of the steel tower trestle approach on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. Note the two large cut stone piers in the foreground. The photo above is the bridge abutment on the Arkansas side of the bridge. The former traffic lanes from the nearby Harahan Bridge pass under the steel trestle of the Frisco Bridge.

Frisco Bridge

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