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A Short History of the Back Cove Swing Bridge In Portland [PHOTOS/VIDEO]

If you’ve driven in Portland on 295 over Tukey’s bridge or walked the Eastern Prom, you no doubt have seen the Back Cove swing bridge now permanently set in its open position. Have you ever wondered why it happened?


The rail swing bridge and trestle was built in 1848 when the Atlantic & St. Lawrence railroad began service from Portland to Yarmouth Maine. To cross the Portland peninsula, the trestle was built, an impressive feat of engineering at the time. In order to allow tall masted ships of the day into Back Cove, the bridge would swing open.


The bridge tender house from where an operator would open and close the bridge


The bridge remained in service for over 100 years as a link from Portland to Montreal Canada with the Atlantic & St. Lawrence and later the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1984 it was a victim of arson and the fire damaged it to the point that the Grand Trunk didn’t feel it was worth the cost of repair as passenger service ended in the 60’s and its freight customers on the Portland peninsula had dwindled significantly as more and more goods were being shipped by truck.


The burned ties and decking of the bridge still in place today on the peninsula side of the bridge


Since that day the bridge has been left in the open position and the end of the line for the current rail operators, the St. Lawrence and Atlantic railroad, ends at the B&M Baked Bean plant.

Today the rail from India Street at the former Grand Trunk station and rail yard to the bridge is used by the Maine Narrow Guage Railroad for excursion trips around the Eastern Prom. Within the next ten years, they too will be gone from the Portland penninsula as they prepare to move to a new location in Gray.


The end of the line for the Narrow Gauge railroad. Notice that old ties under the rails are still in place. The right rail was moved over for the Narrow Gauge use.


What did it look like when this rail was in service? Here’s vintage video of Grand Trunk passenger and freight trains crossing the bridge along with shots of the old Grand Trunk passenger station and rail yard at the corner of India and Commercial streets.

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This video is from rail simulator software that shows what it might look like if the bridge were still in operation today.


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