Amtrak Bascule Bridge No. 116.74 over the Niantic River, between East Lyme and Waterford, Connecticut. The bridge is located along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor.
A new Niantic River Bridge has replaced one of the oldest movable bridges in the country, a two-track, bascule (rolling lift) bridge that was built in 1907 and operated continuously until it was replaced in 2012. The bridge is one of five movable bridges along the Northeast Corridor rail line between New Haven, Connecticut and Boston, Massachusetts.
The completion of the bridge project is an important milestone in Amtrak’s plans to replace outdated infrastructure, increase capacity for rail operations, and improve reliability and trip times on the Northeast Corridor, by providing sustainable travel options that support a vibrant, growing economy in the Northeast Region.
One of Amtrak's most complex capital projects, the bridge replacement was partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and successfully completed in May 2013. Prior to its replacement, the old Niantic River Bridge served as a key link for passenger and freight rail traffic between New York and Boston. Because it is was no longer economical to repair the bridge, it required full replacement to provide reliable rail operation and will now enable Amtrak to increase train speeds on and near the bridge and minimize delays.
The project involved the construction of a new two-track, electrified railroad bascule bridge across the Niantic River 58 feet south of its prior location between East Lyme and Waterford, Connecticut.
Major work elements included: construction of new track alignments on the east and west approaches to the bridge and expansion of the navigation channel beneath the bridge from 45 feet to 100 feet. Sections of the Niantic Bay Overlook boardwalk were reconstructed and the beach was replenished with 76,000 cubic yards of sand. The new bridge was phased into service from September to November, 2012, followed by the removal and demolition of the old span.
In order to build the new three-span railroad bascule bridge 58 feet south of the existing bridge, track along both the west and east approaches to the bridge had to be realigned. The west approach work involved track construction, embankment construction, scour protection, retaining walls and reconstruction of the boardwalk. The east approach also entailed track construction, embankment construction, scour protection and retaining walls. A new electrification system used to power the trains was built, as well as a new signal system.
As part of the project, the Niantic Bay boardwalk was relocated due to the new track alignment on the west approach. The wooden boardwalk was removed and replaced with a concrete walkway. The sidewalk that passed under the old bridge’s westernmost span was demolished and rebuilt to a new alignment connecting the boardwalk to East Lyme’s Cini Park.
The new bridge allows Amtrak trains to travel at speeds of 60 miles per hour, up from 45 miles per hour. The new bridge also provides greater reliability and reduces the risk of delays associated with mechanical failures.
The new bridge broadens the navigation channel beneath the bridge from 45 feet to 100 feet and raises the vertical under-clearance above the water from 11.5 feet to 16 feet in the closed position, allowing more vessels to travel under the bridge without a bridge opening, minimizing delays to the boating community and to rail passengers.
As part of this project, Amtrak rebuilt the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, replenished the beach with 76,000 cubic yards of sand, and nearly doubled the number of parking spaces at Cini Park to 127 spaces, increasing public beach access.
During peak construction, the Niantic Bridge project employed as many as 50 people full-time, through both Amtrak and contracted work forces.
Remnants of the old Niantic Bridge built by King Movable Bridge Company have been donated to the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic for preservation, including the control house, lengths of chain, a sprocket and the original builder plate. The towns of East Lyme and Waterford also acquired lengths of chain and other parts of the original bridge for preservation. Before its replacement, “Old Nan” operated safely for 105 years and was used daily by Amtrak Acela, regional, commuter and freight trains.