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Recycling railroad flatcars for bridges on the Frisco Highline Trail

The cost of using the salvaged railroad cars was comparative to the re-decking treatment other bridges received.
From the Fall 2005 issue of Trail Tracks, the magazine of American Trails

By Terry Whaley

Ozark Greenways, Inc., in southwest Missouri recently completed construction of the second-longest rail trail in Missouri. The Frisco Highline Trail was dedicated on September 24 with the "Mayors Meet in the Middle" event and 350 citizens from the six communities that the trail links.

photo: trail crew placing the flatcar bridge
Placing the flatcar bridge (photo from Ozark Greenways)

In addition to great pastoral scenery this 35-mile long trail comes with 13 different railroad trestles ranging in length from 15 to 317 feet-- over 2,000 feet of bridge surface in all.

One of the challenges with retrofitting the bridges to trail was that arsonists successfully damaged one, and destroyed two of the original trestles so badly that no support structure or piers were left to work with.

The normal routine for an Ozark Greenways retrofit included decking over the existing railroad ties and adding handrails. However, the burned bridges were going to require something different and the assumption was it would be very expensive.

photo: President Harry Truman look-alikeat the dedication of the Frisco Highline Trail

President Harry Truman rose from the dead for a special appearance at the dedication of the Frisco Highline Trail (photo by Debra Lee)

Ozark Greenway board members, trail supporters and members of the organizations technical committee made several trips to the bridge locations looking, thinking, and scratching their heads over the best approach to replacing these bridges. We hoped that an inspiration would hit us and the problem would be solved. On another front the group was involved in a capital campaign to raise the needed funds to develop the entire trail, so there was plenty of time for "thinking."

The solution came very routinely one day when Tom Netzer, a board member of Ozark Greenways, was reading a professional trade magazine and noticed an ad from a salvage company called Diversified Railcar located in Camden, Arkansas. The company was advertising used flat bed rail cars for the use of road bridges. Game on! Out to the field we went for some measuring, re-measuring, thinking and more head scratching.

After several calls to the salvage company, requests for some photos, and several questions we learned that they had three flatcars that would fit our needs nicely. Arrangements were made for delivery of the flatcars to a local holding site, followed by logistic plans to move each car to its specific site and add handrails in the field.

The cost of using the salvaged railroad cars was comparative to the re-decking treatment other bridges received. The cost of a re-decked wooden bridge 50-foot in length, complete with handrails was $10,065; while the 50-foot railroad car bridge was $11,900 including the cost of the car, delivery, crane rental for setting it in place, and steel handrails which were built in sections then delivered to the site and welded in place.

Plans are underway to paint the flatcar bridges and some cost will be incurred with that as well. However, it is anticipated the maintenance of the three flatcar bridges will be much less then the wood decks. Ozark Greenways is proud to have these bridges on their trail. In addition to achieving a bit of unique railroad theme and some great conversation pieces along the trail, the recycling and reuse of these cars fits well into the overall philosophy of the organization.

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