Sunday, June 28, 2020

Ottoman Railway Ruins in Nitzana, Israel

In 1917, during World War I, the British and the Ottoman Empire were engaged in battle in and around the Sinai and Gaza regions of present-day Egypt and Israel. At the center of the battle was an Ottoman Railway line running from Be'er Sheva to Hafir el Auja. (Wikipedia)

The railway was being extended south and west from Hafir el Auja to the Suez Canal, making it a strategically important piece of infrastructure that would significantly increase the Ottomans' military capabilities in the region. As such, it was a target for the British and her allies.

13 Miles of the railway line were destroyed by troops from New Zealand on May 23rd, 1917, with more stretches destroyed the next day, in a significant victory for the British. (Route on the Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map)

To this day, the only part of the railway that was rebuilt currently runs from Ramat Hovav to Be'er Sheva in Israel. Within present-day Egypt, the railway had been completed to an outpost known as El Kossaima, over 100 miles from the Suez Canal, but the project never restarted after the war.

Ruins in Nitzana, Israel of a railway station along the route. (Israel Today)

The Dodge City Montezuma & Trinidad Railway

The Dodge City Montezuma & Trinidad Railway was a short lived railroad operating between Dodge City and Montezuma, KS. (Right of Way)

Looking at a map today, you'll notice Dodge City and Montezuma are still connected by rail. However, the Montezuma that exists today was platted by the Atchison Topkea & Santa Fe Railway in 1912, almost two decades after the original Montezuma, KS would become a ghost town.

Original alignment.

This particular line ran slightly south of the current AT&SF alignment, beginning service around 1890. Its entire existence was the result of three towns vying for county seat of Gray County, KS. Ingalls and Cimarron were both located on another branch of the AT&SF; while Montezuma had no rail connection. In exchange for dropping their fight to become county seat, a railroad promoter promised to build a line to Montezuma.

True to his word, Montezuma got a rail connection, but one that would last less than five years. The line was abandoned in 1894. The Santa Fe briefly owned the right of way and planned to reactivate the line, but chose instead to build their own grade, and settle a new Montezuma along that right of way.…/bu…/Rail/publications/ksrailpln06.pdf

Friday, June 5, 2020

The AASHO Road Test: A Breakthrough in Pavement Technology

The 1950's were an incredibly transformative time in American transportation, with the passing of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Driving on I-80 through Central Illinois, you will pass a sign that offers only a small clue of just how expansive this shift was, showcasing one of the many pieces of building our highways, the pavement itself.

Perhaps you underestimate the amount of engineering and science that pavement materials go through, and this test is a great example of this in action, when the stakes were extremely high, as the largest road expansion in history was in its infancy.

Starting in 1956, AASHO, the predecessor to today's AASHTO, began a $27 Million project tp study different pavement materials, and the impacts that traffic would have on those materials.

Image: Google Street View
The AASHO Road Test was instrumental in scientific breakthroughs on how pavements responded to traffic load, weights, climate impacts, and how long pavement would last. 

Before I-80 was built, the Test Road was a loop as described below:

The AASHO Road Test: Report 1, History and Description of the Project.  Special Report 61A.  Highway Research Board, National Academy of Sciences.  Washington, D.C.
Between 1958-1960, actual tests were conducted at the site using different kinds of vehicles. By the time the test was done, the straight sections of the track were incorporated into the design of I-80. 

In addition to the sign, a small track of pavement is preserved at the site.

Google Satellite Imagery. The loop is located a few miles west of Ottawa on the south side of I-80.
The results and information derived from the Tests cannot be overlooked, as the design of pavements and bridges on the Interstate Highway System largely followed its result. There are many roadside curiosities out there, but this one is one of the most interesting when it comes to the design of roads themselves. Unfortunately, there's no way to visit this site, outside of driving adjacent to it at 70 mph. 

Thanks as always for reading!

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Kenosha & Rockford Railroad

The Kenosha & Rockford Railroad, or the KD Line, was first organized by Kenosha area businessmen as the Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island Railroad. First proposed to connect Kenosha with Beloit, WI, Beloit showed little interest in the road, and promoters chose to connect the line to Rockford, IL instead, a distance of 68 miles. It opened in 1861 after eight years of planning and construction. 

Image: Mark Atkinson Collection via

The line transported passengers between the two cities, often to tourist sites near Silver Lake and Twin Lakes, WI. Those same lakes became important sources for ice before the days of refrigeration. Two ice spurs connected to lakes at Paddock Lake and Powers Lake

Shown in Periwinkle are the ice spurs this line connected to. The abandoned mainline is in blue. Image: Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines

Early in the 20th century, it was acquired by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, who named it the Kenosha Division, or "KD Line". 

A video of satellite imagery of the mainline in 1939 just post-abandonment.
Most of the line was abandoned in 1939, but portions of the line are still active between Rockford-Loves Park, Chemung-Harvard, and Kenosha-Pleasant Prairie.

Part of the right of way is submerged under Pierce Lake, which in the days of railroading was a rock quarry.

The Long Prairie Trail uses the right of way between Capron, IL and Caledonia, IL, with the Hebron Rail Trail running near Hebron, IL.

Image: "A train on the KD Line speeds northeast through the cut in the limestone which gave Rock Cut its name. From the treeline down, this area is now under water as part of Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park. The tracks were removed before the lake was filled. (Brian Landis collection)" via Old Northwest Territory
Image: "A train on the KD Line speeds northeast through the cut in the limestone which gave Rock Cut its name. From the treeline down, this area is now under water as part of Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park. The tracks were removed before the lake was filled. (Brian Landis collection)" via Old Northwest Territory.

Further Reading: Rockford Area Railroads, by Brian Landis. (Amazon)

Thanks as always for reading!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

El Firdan Railway Bridge - A Bridge Not Far Enough

In the context of railway infrastructure, "Transcontinental" typically refers to the original Transcontinental Railroad, particularly in the United States. But very few pieces of infrastructure can truly be considered transcontinental. 

One that can be considered is Egypt's El Ferdan Railway Bridge (Google Maps), which is a dual swing bridge that spans the Suez Canal, connecting Africa with Asia. The bridge opened in 2001, and is (or was) the longest swing bridge in the world. Between 2001-2015, it served the Egyptian National Railway

Railway bridges over the Suez Canal have had a tendency to not last very long, as it was the fifth bridge over the Suez Canal built in that location. 

The first bridge over the Suez was built in April 1918 for the Sinai Military Railway, but removed after World War I as it was a hindrance to shipping. 

A swing bridge built in 1942 was removed in 1947 after being damaged by a steamship. 

A dual swing bridge replaced it in 1954, but was closed in 1956 after the Suez Crisis. 

It was replaced in 1963, only to be destroyed in 1967 during the Six-Day War with Israel. 

Image credit: H Nawara, Wikipedia Commons

While this bridge has had the longest life of any railway bridge in the vicinity, it has not operated since 2015. The Suez Canal was expanded to include a second shipping line, causing the rail line that used the bridge to end at a dead end. A new railway tunnel is planned to connect the railway east of the Suez to the rest of Egypt's railway network, rendering the El Ferdan Railway bridge obsolete. 

Al Firdan area, with the out-of-service right of way. The Maroon color is for the African continent, while the Yellow is for Asia.