Manilla Rail Bridge

Through Plate Girder Bridge over W. Fork Nishnabotna River
Manilla, Crawford County, Iowa

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Name Manilla Rail Bridge
Built By Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway
Contractor American Bridge Company of New York
Currently Owned By BNSF Railway
Length 185 Feet Total, 85 Foot Main Span
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 15 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Through Girder and Trestle
Substructure Type Steel and Timber Pile
Date Built 1941
Traffic Count 2 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
BNSF Bridge Number 423.68
MILW Bridge Number Z-1378 1/2
Significance Local Significance
Documentation Date October 2018
In 1870, the Sabula, Ackley & Dakota Railroad built a line from Sabula, Iowa to Marion, Iowa; a distance of 87 miles.
This railroad became part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul in 1872. The CM&StP (Milwaukee Road) had already constructed a line from Sabula, to Chicago.

By 1881, the Milwaukee Road continued to build west. A new line would be constructed through towns such as Toledo, Huxley, Madrid and Perry.
In 1882, the railroad continued to build west through more towns, such as Coon Rapids, Manning and Neola.
By the end of 1882, the railroad finally reached Council Bluffs.

Although the long mainline was completed, it had many issues. Bridges were not built to standard, curves were an issue; and specifically in the western part of Iowa, grades were atrocious.

Chief Engineer Charles Loweth began to address the problems in 1912. Fresh off of the Pacific Expansion, a veteran team helped redesign two mainlines: Minnesota and Iowa.
The expansion also added the "Pacific" to the title, creating the CMStP&P.
While the Minnesota line presented a fairly straightforward situation, the Iowa line presented more challenges.

The eastern portion of the state was simple, with slight grade and route changes. However, the western portion of the state required many route changes, grade reductions and large bridges.
272 Miles would be completed by 1914, between Green Island, Iowa and Manilla, Iowa. This line featured sleek curves, reduced grades and a top class double track line.
In addition, the remaining track between Manilla and Council Bluffs would also be improved.

However, these expansions quickly were realized as too ambitious. Significant portions of the double track were pulled up. Sections included:
Templeton to Herndon and Newhall to Collins were reduced to single track in 1934. Paralta to Green Island was reduced in 1950, and Madrid to Collins in 1956.

Despite a fairly solid traffic base, the Milwaukee Road was oftentimes in trouble financially. At this point, a mass abandonment was court ordered for the Milwaukee Road. 791 miles in Iowa would be abandoned, including the entire Council Bluffs line.
However, some sections were kept intact. Burlington Northern purchased the line from Council Bluffs to Bayard. This is now the BNSF Bayard Subdivision. BNSF was formed from a merger of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and Burlington Northern in 1996.
In addition, Chicago & North Western was sold the line from Woodward to Slater, and from Herndon to Perry.
C&NW became part of Union Pacific in 1995. In 2003, the Woodward section was abandoned. In 2004, the Perry to Dawson section was abandoned. The Herndon section was abandoned in 1999.

In addition to the Bayard Subdivision, the Raccoon River Valley Trail and High Trestle Trail also utilize portions of this line.

This newer through girder bridge crosses the W. Fork Nishnabotna River parallel to 320th Street in Manilla.
Built in 1941 to replace a similar bridge, the bridge features a single through girder span, set onto steel pile substructures. In addition, the bridge is approached by a number of trestle spans. These are set onto timber substructures.
It is unknown why the previous bridge was replaced in 1941, but it likely stems from a channelization of the river. The through girder was originally set onto timber piles as well, but these were replaced in the 1980s or 1990s.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in good condition. Many of the structures along the Manilla-Council Bluffs section have been significantly upgraded since the fall of the Milwaukee Road and subsequent sale to Burlington Northern, leaving them in good overall condition.

The author has ranked the bridge as being minimally significant, due to the newer age and common design.
The photo above is an overview.


Source Type


Build Date American Bridge Company plaque
Contractor American Bridge Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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