The bridges of Waneta British Columbia. One, the elder of the pair, historically far more interesting and oh so photogenic, dates from the 1890s and once carried trains, It’s now used by highway traffic and is the oldest such span in this service in the province. The second, tight beside it, almost touching it in fact, replaced the earlier structure for train use, is a relative youngster and is from the 1940s. It sees the passing of freights every couple days.
The location here is within visual distance of the US border, not far from the West Kootenay community of Trail.
The Waneta Bridges span the Pend Orielle (or Pend d’Oreille) named after a local indigenous tribe. This river comes in from the US, crossing into BC briefly before emptying into the mighty Columbia just beyond the spans. Since the Columbia flows to the US a short distance away, water from the Pend Orielle is quickly repatriated. The Waneta Dam (circa 1950s) sits just upstream of the bridges. Signs remind anglers, which seem to like the area around here, that water levels can quickly change if the dam discharges. The Pend Orielle is a wonderful deep blue/green.
The oldest bridge: it was built for the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway (N&FS), that ran between the border, connecting with a US based sister-line there, all the way to Nelson BC. The structure dates from the line’s construction in 1893. It came from by the US based San Francisco Bridge Company and is just over 150 metres from end to end. It’s supported by two concrete and/or rubble filled riveted-metal piers topped by (what appear to be) stone caps.
The bridge was used by the railway until the mid-1940s when the structure beside it was built. At that time the track was replaced with a deck, supporting a new highway heading south to the US. The bridge is single lane, which is not a big issue since the traffic here is pretty quiet (mostly anglers from what saw). The Canada/US border is about a click or so away.
The bridge has been well kept up and is expected to be remain in service for some time yet. An Osprey Nest can be seen on atop it.
Technical stuff: the multi-part span uses a cantilevered pin-connected Warren Truss arrangement. Diagonals form triangles, some (alternating) under compression and others tension. The bottom cord is flat, the top cord forming two separated towers supporting the truss structure with pin-connected (so flexible) metal eye-bars. For railway use, especially for such a short span (relatively speaking of course), it’s not the most common design. This 1890s bridge is considered one of the oldest extant examples built to this specific form.
Visually the first Waneta Bridge is quite impressive, a masterpiece of engineering and is of course very historically significant. In the old days, the land around the it was a narrow shelf only wide enough for the railway. Today, it’s much more broad suggesting they had to add fill to fit the highway on it. Still, space is tight in places.
The newer train bridge beside the first has three connected spans also in a Warren Truss arrangement (but with flat top cords) and overall is the same length as its neighbour. It’s from 1945, so was a late example of this style, and sits atop two concrete piers – so close to the those of the first bridge, that they almost touch. Just an observation: Warren Truss train bridges don’t seem common in Canada, or at least where we hang out and the railways here seemed to prefer a similar looking but structurally somewhat different Pratt design.
The tracks seen, for the last decade, have been owned by the Kettle Falls International Railway. This firm comes in from the US many times a week, terminating at a couple reload facilities just inside the border in service of the huge Teck (former Cominco) Smelter in Trail. We prayed for a train to show. No luck!
These same rails also connect with the short line Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway, remnants of that original line and using the same name, in nearby Columbia Gardens. The N&FS serves a saw-mill in Fruitvale ten or so clicks away. This author visited this line (former International Rail Road Systems) and was given a ride which will be documented in an upcoming post here on BIGDoer.com.
In the past, the tracks at the Waneta Bridges once belonged to the original Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway (early 1890s), and US based Great Northern Railway (1890s-1970 – they built the replacement span), Burlington Northern Railroad (1970-1996) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (1996-2006). Interesting side note, they spelled Sheppard wrong, it should be Shepherd, and comes from an old trading fort once located nearby, incidentally right across the Columbia River from the bridges. It’s a one and a quarter century old error. Waneta, by the way, was never a town that we could find, but simply refers to the general area.
The original line once ran all the way to Nelson. Now only the short Kettle Falls Railways (in Canada) section and Nelson & Fort Sheppard line further on (interestingly, the company serves neither of the places in its name) are all that remains in use today. The rest closed starting in 1990s and much is a rail trail. This author visited some of the former N&FS this same trip.
Stay tuned for another bridge report from the area, a look at three crossings of the Columbia River, one old, one real old and due to be demolished and one still under construction, in the town of Trail. The river is big and wide here so all documented are particularly interesting.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: Waneta, BC.
Article references and thanks: HistoricBridges.org, BC Ministry of Highways, Trail Historical Society.
There are spots beside the highway or near the river where you can safely view the bridges.