This UP photo was taken as construction of the new bridge neared completion in April 2009.

$50 Million Railroad Bridge Honors 1880s Heroine

Officially opened Oct. 1 by Union Pacific, the Katy Shelley Bridge across the Des Moines River near Boone, Iowa, is more than 2,800 feet long and 190 feet high. It's one of the tallest double-track rail bridges in North America, according to UP.

Union Pacific's top executive, Chairman and CEO Jim Young, joined Iowa Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson and Boone, Iowa, Mayor John Slight on Oct. 1 for a ceremonial train ride across the Katy Shelley Bridge, a new span that keeps the name of the old one it replaced. Measuring 2,813 feet long and 190 feet high, the $50 million bridge is named for Katy Shelley, honored for saving many passengers' lives on July 6, 1881.

According to UP, Shelley heard a work locomotive fall from the Honey Creek bridge that night during a rainstorm. She went to the broken bridge and managed to crawl across it in the dark, then hurried to a nearby depot to warn the agent to stop an approaching passenger train before it, too, tumbled into the creek. Shelley, daughter of a railroad employee, eventually became station agent at that depot herself.

The new bridge increases freight capacity on UP's busy corridor linking Chicago to the West Coast. "The new Kate Shelley Bridge enhances our long-term ability to improve operational efficiency and customer service," Young said. "Congratulations to all Union Pacific employees and contractors who worked on what is truly a modern-day engineering feat. It is only fitting that the new bridge is given the name of the structure it replaced, Kate Shelley, to honor a person who helped save so many lives when she was able to help warn an oncoming passenger train that a bridge had washed out during a stormy night in 1881."

Two rail tracks 20 feet apart atop the bridge are designed for heavy coal and grain consists. Two trains can travel on it simultaneously at a top speed of 70 mph. Construction began in 2006 and included more than 28,000 cubic yards of concrete.

"Freight transportation is critical to the economic success of Iowa and the nation and moving freight by rail is a key component of the overall freight transportation network. I am very pleased to see the completion of the Union Pacific's new Kate Shelley Bridge that improves the operational reliability and capacity of the rail system to meet the freight needs that are so critical to the agricultural and industrial base of Iowa," Richardson said.

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