Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grand finale: Installation of the new CSX RF&P bridge at Cameron Run (May 28-June 1, 2010)


CSX and their primary contractor, Skanska, had planned for the new railroad bridge over Cameron Run to be slid into place over the Memorial Day weekend. The huge construction project, begun last October, met that deadline and is now completed.

When I had first come upon the work site at NS's "CR Tower," where the horn track from CSX meets the NS main, it was November 6, 2009. Work was just beginning and the scene looked like this, which is to say, not much of anything:

A lot happened in the ensuing seven months. The final phase, the move of the bridge that was assembled atop a framework of pilings and beams, is depicted in the photographs below starting Friday and continuing through Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday. In the interest of safety, all my shots had to be taken from a dirt service road that ran along the horn track on the north side of the project, which prevented me from seeing clearly into the project and often had me shooting into the sun. Many pictures had to be taken by aiming through the scaffolding, as will be seen. That said, herewith is a day-by-day account of the grand finale to this huge project:

Friday, May 28

Skanska's crew spent this day busily setting up the last of the pilings (aka towers) and "roll-in" beams. Piling bases had already been driven into the ground. Now it was time to install the above-ground portion by bolting the square base brackets of one section to the other. A wooden crane mat was carried into place by forklift so the big Manitowoc crane could "walk" back and forth as it lifted heavy materials into place: 

VRE 303, bound for Fredericksburg, toots its way past the work site on RF&P track 2:

Saturday, May 29

With CSX's track 3 and NS's yard tracks shut down for the bridge move during the long weekend, it was time for the fellows with cutting torches to dispatch the old bridge. According to former RF&P executive, William E. Griffin, Jr., the deck girder bridge was installed in 1904, then widened in 1947 to accommodate--Ready for this?--a third track. That track was actually installed but was later removed (year unknown). The old bridge was cut into several sections and lifted out by the crane one at a time, an awesome sight that had many of the Skanska people whipping out pocket cameras.

Amtrak 67 en route to Newport News rolls by as the crane prepares to lift out a section of track from the old bridge:

Here comes a Kobelco Excavator to arrange the fill:

Amtrak 20, on the horn track, is dwarfed by the new bridge:

As the crane ambles along the now-extended crane mat, Amtrak 88 passes above the busy job site:

A Wacker RT trench roller is hoisted in to pack down the fill dirt:

A welder (background, right) trims the bracket for a roll-in beam:

Prepping the fresh concrete supports:

And now, ladies and gents, here she comes--Miss Railroad Deck Girder Bridge of 1904!

Sunday, May 30

We had thought Sunday would be roll-in day, but no. There were still too many details remaining to be taken care of, including finalizing the pilings and roll-in beams, taking transit readings, making additional welds, yadda yadda. Borrowing a favorite bumper sticker about "momma's" effect on family tranquility, "If the Professional Engineer ain't happy, nobody happy!"

Looking for a little excitement were my friends and fellow rail enthusiasts, Mike Schaller (ever prepared for a good photo angle with ladders, boards, parachutes, jet packs, you name it) atop his car, and out-of-towner Vic Stone (Union Pacific environmental manager, Omaha):

Monday, May 31--It's"show time"!

Memorial Day dawned sunny, hot and steamy--but at least there were no storms in the forecast. Supervisors were telling us today would be the day. We double-checked our film, uh, pixel supply, and waited.The photos below represent two visits to the site, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, when things at last began to happen:

Amtrak 20 again:

Here's a significant player in this project, one of the hydraulic jacks that will be bolted down to the bridge support and connected by cable to the new bridge. Once activated, it will drag the bridge toward it, two feet per move:

One of the extreme heavy-duty nylon roller assemblies on which the bridge will glide:

This gap reveals there are actually two spans to the new bridge, the shorter one to the right being Span 1. It will be moved first:

Returning to the site after lunch, I discover an American flag flying above the project, a nod of course to the holiday:

Around 1:30pm the supervisors call a "come to Jesus" meeting under the bridge. All crew members reported in and sat down for what we can surmise (without being able to hear what was said) a lecture on safety and a review of procedures for the move about to begin. After the meeting broke up, workers scrambled to move equipment out of the way and get themselves into position:

A jack sits cocked and loaded, awaiting the "pull of the trigger":

At 2:17pm, it moved! Just two feet, but . . . and then all those civil engineers, supervisors, technical types and other workers began hopping around checking, checking, and checking again. Can't have those nylon rollers pulling off plumb with such a monstrous load bearing down on them. The move was deemed A-OK, and the roll-in resumed:

By 5pm, Span 1 was almost "home":

As the span approached its "final resting place," Amtrak's new Lynchburg train (#17) rips through the site blasting its horn. With that, I called it a day:

Tuesday, June 1

Crews worked through the night. Next morning when I arrived, Span 2 had also been rolled into place. Workers spent this day tweaking, attaching, welding, whatever was required to make fast those enormous steel assemblages:

And lo, the job was finished, and it was good. Currently (June 3) only one track is operational on the new bridge but the second will be completed this July as an element of CSX's third-track extension project. The job site closed down this afternoon for a long weekend of deserved rest for all involved. Next week begins the dismantling of piles, roll-in beams, scaffolds, crane mats, equipment, you name it as a convoy of large trucks arrives to haul it all away.

We now have, courtesy of Jack Carter, Estimator/Superintendent at Skanska, a unique, dramatic shot by Dave McDonald of the railroad's opening across the new bridge. Amtrak 67 is approaching a waving construction crew Wednesday morning, June 2, at 0757:

With thousands of commuters to be hauled into D.C. on Tuesday, after the holiday, VRE developed a safety-first plan that kept passengers far from the bridge site. For VRE's Manassas line, shown below, trains terminated in the Norfolk Southern yard near Van Dorn Street in Alexandria--in the midst of NS's ethanol transloading facility. The city's DASH buses provided complementary transportation to/from the Van Dorn Metro station on the Blue Line, two blocks to the right. In the photos below, VRE 329 is shown loading for its 1650 departure:

With that, we conclude this report on the CSX Cameron Run bridge project. I hope you found it interesting. Earlier reports can be found in the archives section of this blog site, upper left-hand corner.

Finally, my thanks go to Kathy Davis and J.J. of the Skanska job site office and Randy McLawhon of Norfolk Southern, all of whom were generous with their time, patience and friendship as a stranger plied them with simplistic questions. And to Kent Bishop, a young Skanska field engineer who on his own last winter took me into the office and walked me through their astonishing plans, I wish to extend a special thanks for hooking me on documenting this massive project.

Comments? Corrections? Write me at


  1. Incredibly boring.

  2. Very Cool...great job....the Engineer was Kent Bishop.

  3. Agreed. My eyes hurt from looking at a hundred boring photos.

  4. Thank you...incredibly INTERESTING!

  5. so when will we stop hearing the excessive train horns now that the project is complete?????? it would be nice to get some sleep considering i am 21 weeks pregnant with twins....

  6. Fantastic photography. Thanks for the posting! Had no idea that a 100 YO bridge was being replaced here in my own back yard--and evidently without Government involvement.

  7. John... This is a great blog despite what the naysayers wrote. I have a good friend who is quite interested in hydraulic power and shared your blog with him. He loved it. This is use of hydraulic power on a massive scale. Your descriptions and photos are great. Keep up the good work. I plan to check out your archived blogs as well.
    Cheers, Ed Heiss, Cincinnati

  8. Hey "Anonymous"! If you don't like what is here, go away into the other room and continue what you apparently do best. From your comments, it looks as if you screwed yourself! End of soliloquy.

  9. I found this very informative. Maybe subject to intense for Anonymous!

  10. Thanks to everyone who made (ahem) mature comments. That's gratifying. I'll continue to monitor railroad construction projects and post updates here, including the D.C. streetcar projects, the coming expansion of the D.C. Virginia Avenue tunnel, and maybe even a few shots (if I can get near it) of the new Metro "Silver" line being built to Dulles. To the pregnant lady whose fetus doesn't like train horns, the noise should end over the July 4th weekend when the Track 1 extension, now under construction, is finished and put into service.

    John Fuller

  11. Very good blog, John. Good coverage of the subject and interesting commentary. I really enjoyed it and the excellent photographs.

    A hearty well done to the CSX MoW crews and the contractor for this job. I've impressed with this accomplishment, considering some of the work I've observed in the Cincinnati area. Given their time restraints and the other complications, this was an impressively successful effort.

    Dave R
    Cincinnati, OH

  12. Hello

    I read understand good that better right safety. I look VRE and CSX amd Atamkr safety.

    I am happy it.

    Revis T.
    Woodbridge, VA

  13. This was a nice photo spread and a good read on the bridge work.


    Sheldon a former VRE rider from Dumfries no longer living in the DC area.

  14. For those of us who commute daily on the Fredericksburg VRE and had to endure for such a long time the crawl speed to pass this site... it was kind of gratifying to see some of the key elements of this project unfold. And although those of us who depend on the train every day to get to and from our jobs and had to endure the cockamamie "contingency" plans of 06/02/10 it was sure nice, judging from these pictures that Amtrak wasn't so inconvenienced and ran through this are as scheduled. Although other people and services were put out/off so that this could be safely done - the mighty Amtrak rolled on unabated. No wonder so many of us daily riders hate Amtrak. But good job with the photos and keeping us in the loop. Nice job to the construction people who made this project happen too.

  15. I love photography and your talents on this are excellant. I thoroughly enjoyed these photos since I couldn't get up there to witness myself. Keep up the good work, it is appreciated.

  16. The pictures are not boring "Anonymous". The pictures provide us what was going on during the interrupted service.

  17. Thank you for excellent pix and good commentary...hope you disregard the childish ranting from one who shall remain nameless !!

  18. Thank you, John! Great job documenting this important work. My brother is one of the crane operators on this project and has worked incredibly hard with his team (on average 10 to 12 hour days) to keep this project on track. These pictures are so detailed and helped me to really understand the complexity of the project. Great job!