Monday, February 14, 2011

Railroad Bridge

One of the most iconic structures of Richmond is the concrete railroad bridge that crosses the James River about 5 miles west of downtown.  It is best seen in its entirety from Powhite Parkway or Boulevard Bridge, but the enormity of it is best viewed at the river level. 

The pair of tracks at its top are very active, a main path for freight and passenger travel connecting north and south.  It is a common sight to see dozens of Tropicana box-cars lined up.  Amtrack also runs along these tracks and stops just a few miles north at the Staples Mill Road station. 

Riverside Drive snakes through the final small arch on the south side.  Two separate east-west train tracks pass underneath this bridge's gigantic arches on both river banks.  The south tracks are lightly used and connect West Point and Amelia crossing the river downtown near the Mayo Bridge.  The tracks along the north are highly traveled by coal cars going between West Virginia and Hampton Roads.

It's not easy to get down to the river near the bridge without walking through woods and thorny thickets.  The river bank level is about 80 feet lower than the road above.  A couple paths will take you there from Riverside Drive - made primarily by young people who fish and party along the rocks.  At the bottom, you are very much in a different place.  Graffiti and some trash is splattered about, evidence of the many people who use and abuse this natural place.  The sense of isolation and challenge in finding this spot surely has something to do with this.

Once near the base of the bridge, you realize just how massive and imposing it is.  The old piers of an earlier stone bridge are also visible. The distinguishing feature of the design is the series of large semi-circular arches that support slender arches under the track bed.  Up close, the color is a beige-yellow from years of dirt and mold.  From a greater distance, the color is more of a light gray except at sunset when the light comes in low, directly down-river washing the bridge in orange then red.

When venturing down the hill to this spot, take the time to sit on a rock and just listen to the sounds.  After filtering out the droan of the Parkway, you'll begin to hear and see the geese and ducks.  The small stepped falls of the river are very calming.  And if you're lucky, one of the bald eagles who are nesting on the nearby island will fly overhead.

No comments:

Post a Comment