sal and acl drawbridges : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

Since the major changes on the FEC after the strike in the 60's, its drawbridges are operated remotely by train controllers in St. Augustine. I think the large bridge over the St. Johns in Jacksonville is still attended, and not sure about the bridge to Dodge Island in Miami, but the bascules at Stuart, Jupiter, and Ft. Lauderdale are automated.

ACL and SAL also had many drawbridges, maybe 15 or 20 in Florida alone. Did all their drawbridges have attendants on duty, or did ACL or SAL automate any of them? What about those drawbridges today, are any automated or does CSX still keep bridgetenders in the shacks to open the draw for boats and close it when trains approach.

-- bob lowry (, February 10, 2001


The rolling lift bridge across the St Johns river in Sanford, FL is still manned by an attendant. I saw him up there on 1 June. The neatest thing about this bridge, is that on one of the silver girder bridges leading to the moveable span are painted in big black letters "ACL RR". The picture I shot is on the upriver (East) side of the bridge. The St Johns River is one of the very few (at least in the Northern hemisphere) that flows South to North and empties into the Atlantic at Jacksonville.

david in Orlando

-- David Wiggs (, June 21, 2002.

To help shed some more light on the drawbridge subject: most of the mainline draws are manned 24/7. Several that I know of are only operated when there is a need for water traffic and only with quite a bit of advance notice. EX: little Manatee River near Ruskin, FL on the ex ACL Bradenton line is a swing type and is home signaled but is not manned. The other 2 bridges Joe mentioned, Alafia is a swing type but is manned due to the traffic in the area, i.e. phosphate trains to and fron the Big Bend dumper. The Big Manatee is a rolling bascule and is usually manned to coincide with the Juice train and the two Bradenton locals. The Hillsborogh River bridge in downtown Tampa is a rolling bascule type manned ONLY from 4pm - midnight Sun thru Thursday to coincide with the yard job working the ex-ACL main to Port Tampa.

The Miami River is another rolling bascule type, but I haven't been back to that area in quite some time. However, it was a manned "on call". The Bridge over the Intercoastal at Dodge Island was controlled by the city brigdetender which also manned the highway bridge directly alongside. It may have changed by now. Hope this info is of use to you.

-- walt rogers (, June 07, 2001.

Hey Joe-- In your recap of draw bridges on CSX, you note McGirts Creek in South Jax. Haven't been there since 1964. The adjacent highway bridge had a sign that identified the body of water as Ortega River, yet the ACL special instructions refer to it as McGirts Creek. Is this a case of the railroad having one name and the rest of the world knowing it by another ?

-- Harry Bundy (y6b@AOL.COM), February 17, 2001.

re Mr. Oates comment: you are correct, in Turners book this is discussed in the picture caption on p.114.

-- bob lowry (, February 13, 2001.

Reference bridge at Ft.Myers,Fl.I think,if you will check, SCL rebuilt that bridge as one of its last big jobs before all the other mergers.A small shortline,such as S-G could not afford to do it. I would venture to guess that the Army Corps dictated the type of bridge used,not the railroads.My thanks to all who have responded to this question.A suggestion was made to do an article on bridges,but I need more feedback.The article would help modelers and historians as well. Keep it up!

-- Joseph Oates (, February 13, 2001.

The Charleston, SC area has two drawbridges that are listed as having bridgetenders from 0700hrs. to 2300hrs.,and I often hear on my scanner conversations between the bridgetender and trains. They bridges are: Ashley River south of Bennet Yard to West Ashley (Drayton Hall.) The other drawbridge is north of Moncks Corner over the Tailrace Canal (a branch of the Cooper River.) Bob

-- Robert S.Lockhart (, February 13, 2001.


The three most common types of movable bridge are the bascule (drawbridge), vertical-lift, and swing bridges.

Modern bascule bridges usually have two movable spans that rise upward, opening in the middle. A vertical-lift bridge consists of a rigid deck frame held between two tall towers. The bridge opens by hoisting the entire bridge roadway upward between the towers in an elevator-like fashion. Swing bridges are mounted on a central pier and open by swinging to allow ships to pass.

Bascule bridges are used for short spans. A bascule bridge over the Black River in Lorain, Ohio, has a length of 102 m (333 ft).

Vertical-lift bridges are useful for longer spans, but they must be built so they can be lifted high enough for tall ships to pass underneath. The vertical-lift bridge over Arthur Kill between Staten Island in New York City and New Jersey has a span of 170 m (558 ft) and can be raised 41 m (135 ft) above the water.

Swing bridges have the advantage of not limiting the height of passing vessels, but they do restrict the horizontal clearance, or width, of passing ships. The longest swing-bridge span is that of a railroad and highway bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa. This bridge has a span of 166 m (545 ft).

-- Ron Wright (, February 12, 2001.

Thanks for comments. Seminole Gulf replaced their bridge at Ft. Myers with a new bascule, not whether it is attended or automated. SCFE has a swing bridge at Moore Haven and a vertical lift at Port Mayaca, while the CSX at Indiantown was (is it still) a swing bridghe and FEC at Stuart is a bascule. Anybody know why the RRs chose different styles of moveable bridges for different locations?

As a kid I used to run up and down New River in Lauderdale, going thru both the FEC and the SAL drawbridges. This was before the present FEC automated bascule that pivots on the north side, the old bascule pivoted on the south side of the river. The bridgetender came out onto a little catwalk that came down with the drawspan and walked onto the span to lock it down by turning a wheel. My Dad, a Ft. Lauderdale native from before 1920, told stories about before electrification when the tender would crank up a little gas motor geared to pivot the weights to operate the bridge. 4 or 5 miles to the west on New River was then-SAL's bascule drawbridge, the same bridge (CSX) is there today under I95. In my kid days that bridge was in the middle of nowhere, literally, the only life around was alligators and fish and the occasional Seminole Indian. I often wondered about how the tender got to his job and if he ever got lonely out there.

Someone else also had mentioned that the CSX bridge at Trout River was crank operated. What an anachronism!

-- bob lowry (, February 12, 2001.

In the SCL days the Caloosahatchee drawbridge was manually operated. An employee (the signal maintainer, I think) would drive out in a truck to close the bridge for the trains. The Seminole Gulf now operates the line under a lease agreement, so I doubt if they have changed anything.

-- Bill Donahue (, February 12, 2001.

I lived in Stuart about four years ago and used to "hang out" at FEC Stuart Bridge, but spent time in Indiantown, too. Haven't been lately, but in those days both the SAL St. Lucie and FEC Stuart bridges had tenders.

One day while I was in Indiantown waiting to make photos of a northbound Silver Something from the highway viaduct that parallels the railroad bridge there the tender came out onto the bridge and gesticulated general hostility towards me and my FM2. Turns out the day before some Indiantown denizen had attempted to sleep on the CSX main even while an Amtrak train was passing by. Tender must have figured me for some paparazzo vulture picking over the carcass of a gruesome story.

The Stuart bridge tender parked on the Stuart (south) side and walked out on the bridge to reach his "office" -- a daring stunt on windy, rainy south Florida days. Sometimes I would see him checking that the tracks locked when the bridge closed.

I lived north of the bridge, in Rio, just near the Rio siding. Used to listen on the scanner for southbounds calling for Stuart bridge. Usually dispatcher just said "Stuart Bridge going down." Initiating this cycle made the bridge distant signal behind my condo go from stop to approach. After about five minutes the bridge was down and locked and the signal aspect went clear.

Sometimes, though, trains arrived at Rio still facing an approach aspect, meaning the bridge was not locked and the home signal was still stop. On those occassions the dispatcher radioed that he was calling the tender at Stuart Bridge to find out what the problem was.

If the bridge ever stayed closed in either location more than about two minutes with no train the pleasure boat captains started blowing their horns and calling on their radios.

Maybe the tender at Stuart has been "uninstalled" by a recent upgrade. Wouldn't surprise me.

-- Ron Wright (, February 12, 2001.

I don't know about the manned hours,but here are operating bridges that I know about.CSX (exACL)Tampa Southern, Alafia River,near Tampa Manatee River,Bradenton.Further south,altho,now owned by Seminole Gulf Calooahatchee River,Ft.Myers.Buffalo Bluff,St.Johns River,near Palatka McGirts Creek,South Jacksonville.St.Johns River,near Sanford.CSX (exL&N) Black River,Milton,FL.Some FEC and ex SAL were already mentioned. CSX (exSAL) St.Lucie Canal,near Indiantown(still operating?) How about the ex SAL over the Savannah River at Savannah,or the exACL over the Ashley River in Charleston?

-- Joseph Oates (, February 12, 2001.

There is a manual swing bridge in Jacksonville on the old SAL line to Fernandina. The bridge is manually tended and get this....the tender has an auger-like crank that he inserts into the deck of the bridge and manually cranks the bridge open and closed.

-- mark huband (, February 11, 2001.

there is a large drawbridge over the hillsborough river in tampa, florida. The line is ex-acl. It has a tenders house, but I believe it is automated. The line is a branch and only sees local traffic and not much at that. If memory serves me correctly there were some drawbridges on the ex-ACL line south of tampa near sarasota, palmetto, bradenton, etc. but i havent been down that way in years.

-- troy nolen (, February 10, 2001.

At Hopewell, Virginia, the former SAL branch line between there and Bellwood crosses the Appomattox River over a swing bridge (which I believe is still lettered for Seaboard, although that point I'm not 100% sure about since I've been at Amtrak for 15 years and haven't run to Hopewell.) There is a bridge tender listed as being on duty daily between the hours of 7:00 AM and 11:00PM. Outside of those hours, the bridge is line for rail movement. The tender's shack is at the south end of the bridge and when left open, he takes a small boat to the center column, climbs a ladder, takes a long iron rod, sticks it in the pivot hole in the center of the gauge of the track, and pushes it around in a circular motion, turning the span as he goes. (Hard work, as you can imagine.) This takes about five minutes.

-- Doug Riddell (, February 10, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ