The Portage Viaduct (also known as the Portage Bridge, Portageville Viaduct, or Portageville Bridge) is an iron railroad bridge in Livingston County, New York, located within Letchworth State Park. It is the second bridge in its current location and is currently being replaced by a third bridge. The first bridge burned in 1875 and was replaced by the current iron bridge that same year. At 141 years old, the iron structure is posing risks leading to weight and speed restrictions that inhibit the productivity of the railroad.
Old Portageville Bridge Fire
The Erie Railroad Company built a wooden trestle bridge over the Genesee River just above the Upper Falls in the mid 1800s. Construction started on July 1, 1851, and the bridge opened on August 16, 1852. At the time, it was the longest and tallest wooden bridge in the world.
In the early morning hours of May 6, 1875, the great wooden railroad bridge was destroyed in a tremendous fire. The bridge was a total loss, leaving only the concrete bridge abutments.
Current Portageville Viaduct
Immediately after the Portage Bridge fire, officials of the Erie Railroad Company moved quickly to replace the wooden bridge with an iron and steel design. Construction began June 8, 1875 and the bridge opened for traffic July 31, 1875. The bridge is 820 feet (250 m) long and 240 feet (73 m) high. It is still in use today (As of January 2016). Despite the weight restriction, the 400-ton Nickel Plate 765 passed over the bridge with passenger coaches as part of a heritage excursion in August 2015.
Popular local rumor contends that the Portage Bridge was used for a famous scene in the 1986 movie Stand By Me. In reality, the bridge used in the movie is the Lake Britton Bridge in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park near Redding, California.
New Portageville Viaduct
On November 29, 2011, Norfolk Southern Railway announced plans to demolish the Portage Bridge and build a new one approximately 75 feet (23 m) south of the current Portage Bridge. Norfolk Southern had offered the old bridge to the State of New York, but the State declined it.
An arched design was approved in late 2014, with an estimated cost of $71 million to build the new bridge. In the fall of 2015, trees were cleared from the site on both sides of the river. Following the normal seasonal closing of the Portageville entrance for the winter in 2015, it will remain closed until completion of the project, expected to be in 2018.
The new bridge, known as the Portageville Arch Railroad Bridge, broke ground in the Fall of 2015. By late 2016, surveying work was still underway for the foundation of the new bridge. In March 2017, construction of the main arch began.