DB and M drawbridges are located right next to each other just off Newtown Creek in LIC. Both were built for 2 track operations, and both only have a single stretch of track in use today. The similarities end there.
These 2 bridges are very different. The northernmost bridge, “M” has no superstructure and is a Bascule bridge. This type of bridge lifts upward from one end allowing boats of unlimited height (but limited width) to pass. The one to the south, closest to Newtown Creek is known as DB, and is center swing bridge. The bridge rotates on a center gear to open to marine traffic on either side of the span.
M drawbridge was built in 1908, and is part of the original Montauk Cutoff. It was built exclusively for freight train use, and until the mid 1990s to turn diesel locomotives.
DB was built in 1893, and is part of the LIRR’s route into Long Island City. This bridge used to see passenger train service up until the late 1990s. Afterwards it was used by the LIRR on weekdays to move non-passenger trains between Jamaica and L.I.C., as well as the occasional work train. Freight trains ceased using this bridge in the 1970s, after the last freight customers moved ceased receiving and shipping freight cars.
This all changed when NY&A was granted operational control of the tracks, and Wheelspur yard was rebuilt – thus relocating several rail customers to a lot just west of the drawbridge.
DB’s gain in freight trains only came as the very same rail customers were relocated from Arch street, and the tracks over M drawbridge abandoned.
Confused yet? (I hope not!)
DB’s sordid history
A little known fact is that DB is no longer able to be opened on it’s own. Copper thieves have looted all of the wiring off of the bridge control panel. These wires would have to be repaired, and even then, opening the bridge to marine traffic would be a precarious operation.
There was an incident of incompetence back in early 1991 which caused passenger service along these track to be temporarily shut down. The media reported it as ’emergency bridge repair’ due to the bridges age, though they never explained why it really needed to be fixed. Here’s the story from our man GasAxe, who worked with the LIRR at the time:
“As you see the bridge today, it’s one track, straight up the middle. When they reduced it from two tracks to one track, they just removed one track and left the remaining track sitting off center. That was fine while the bridge is closed and supported by the abutments on both sides and the center bearing.
When they tried to open the bridge, they got the bridge open just enough to get the ends of the bridge off the abutments and the motor stalled.
What happen when they opened the bridge, it was only supported by the center bearing and the center of gravity was off center because the remaining track was not in the center like it is now. The bridge wasn’t sitting level on the center bearing, the motor stalled because it wasn’t turning the bridge, but driving it the two sides of the center bearing against each other.
They figured they just had a motor problem and opened it the rest of the way by hooking a cable to it and pulling it with a locomotive. That worked, but it was about that time that word got back to Hillside and one of the B&B engineers came out and about had a cow.
They wrecked the center bearing. They sorta fixed it with shims and welding build-up, but now, even with the track moved to the center, it’s still a “fingers crossed” operation to open the bridge. The only way to properly fix the center bearing is to removed the bridge and replace the center bearing (i.e.: build a new bridge).
It was a major operation to move the track to the center because they also had to realign the tracks leading up to the bridge. It would have been easier and cheaper just to reinstall a dummy track to balance the bridge, but whoever said the LIRR does anything smart. After all, it was stupidity that got them into this quagmire in the first place.
They should have just done what Conrail did with the swing bridge over Overpeck Creek in Ridgefield Park, NJ. They reduce the line to single track, but left the ties and rails for the disused track installed on the bridge.”
Re-enforcement beams on DB
Today, DB is showing its age. It is a very rusty looking structure in need of some TLC.
M drawbridge could also use a bit of TLC, but since the tracks have been ‘abandoned’ here, the latest plan I heard is that the MTA plans to open the drawbridge and weld it into the open position.
Looking towards the walkway over the water.
There was once a walkway between the bridges, along the middle of the creek. Some of this walkway was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy (which also rose above the deck of DB and flooded the Wheelspur yard site).
The Shipping Container
Between the two bridges, on the eastern edge of the Dutch Kills, there is a shipping container that used to hold a small rowboat. This boat was the last remnant of LIRR’s marine division (yes – that’s a historian joke 🙂 ). It was used by bridge maintainers to gain access to DB if it was stuck in the open position. This shipping container was most recently used for an underground party space.
NYC Graffiti History
Nearby walls along these tracks contain some interesting relics from graffiti writers who are no longer with us.
Seus RTD was a graffiti writer from Astoria. He was stabbed to death in 1995. I miss running into this guy on the street often. He was well on his way to making a name for himself in the game before his untimely murder, apparently at the hands of a random thug. Below Seus’s throwy is a Utah tag – another infamous NYC writer and friend of the Squad…
This Sane/Smith/Bruz piece was the last one that Sane did before he died.
The immediate future for M drabridge is bleak. It will likely be welded open or completely removed in the coming years. DB on the other hand will either need to be replaced or maintained to keep it operational to freight traffic and the occasional LIRR work train use.
*Note – this post was completely re-written on December 13th, 2015.