Waterfront - Table of Contents

International Railway (swing) Bridge
The International Railway Bridge,
near the southerly entrance to the Black Rock Lock,
carries rail lines across the Niagara River between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario




Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski and D.L. MacPherson.
Type of bridge:
Swing bridge

Original owner:

International Bridge Company

Current owner:

CN Rail (Canadian National Railway)

The International Railway Bridge carries rail lines across the Niagara River between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario.

It was built in 1873 for the International Bridge Company by Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski and D.L. MacPherson.

The bridge consists of three sections and is 3,651.5 feet (1,113 m) in length.

It was closed in 1993 for $2 million worth of repairs by CN Rail.

2007 Photos

Left: Peace Bridge support
Foreground: Bird Island Pier separates Niagara River from the Black Rock Channel. The section of the International Railway Bridge over the Channel is a swing bridge

Bird Island Pier separates Niagara River (above) from the Black Rock Channel. The section of the International Railway Bridge over the Channel is a swing bridge

Bridge over the Black Rock Channel has swung open

Swung open   ...   Note operator booth

Turning mechanism (detailed below:)

Used with permission from Victorian Buffalo, by Cynthia Van Ness


   International tugboat   ...  C. 1900

Bridge trolley

Crossing the Niagara River was originally accomplished by boat.  The first bridges were built before the Civil War across the gorge below Niagara Falls, the narrowest point on the river.  Between Buffalo and Fort Erie, the International Railroad Bridge was completed in 1873; that bridge was replaced by the present one in 1900.  Road vehicles were carried by the ferry boats which operated from the foot of Ferry Street.
- Martin Wachadlo

International Railroad Bridge

The International Railroad Bridge, built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1873 at a cost of $1,500,000, replaced a ferry service which, due to the Niagara River's fierce current and the growing number of cargo vessels and barges crowding the river, had become unsafe. The bridge was a landmark Victorian engineering achievement.

Other prominent engineers had studied the possibility of bridging the Niagara at this point but concluded that the swift currents, winter ice cover, and rapid fluctuations in water level made it impossible. Its builder, Casimir Gzowski, a Polish Canadian, was a founder of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers and the first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission.

Heavily used for freight, the bridge provided a single passenger car service until November 1934....

- Cynthia Van Ness, Victorian Buffalo: Images From the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

142 Years Old and Still in Service: Buffalo’s Oldest Bridge

By  Cynthia Van Ness

Pub. on Buffalo Rising, February 6, 2017

Thousands of Thruway drivers pass it around the clock with a quick glance at best. It has been in service for over 51,000 days, built before the invention of the automobile, airplane, and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.  It shares a birth year with the first typewriter to have a QWERTY keyboard. It opened for business in 1873 during Ulysses Grant’s administration as the International Railroad Bridge.

The need for a rail crossing between Buffalo and Fort Erie became evident after the Suspension Bridge opened in Niagara Falls (1854) and the area was soon overwhelmed by rail traffic. Negotiations between the State of New York and the Dominion Parliament began in 1857 but were interrupted by the Civil War. Finally, in 1870, Congress and Parliament agreed on terms and budgeted $1,500,000 for the project. The International Bridge Company, formed by the Grand Trunk Railroad, was awarded a charter to design and construct the bridge. The Gzowski-MacPherson Company won the contract and began work, supervised by Polish-Canadian engineer Sir Casimir Gzowski (1813-1898).

Gzowski must have been a gifted child, because he entered the Military Engineering College at Kremnitz at age 9. As a young man, he took part in Polish uprisings against the Russian forces. Exiled to New York after the defeat of these efforts, Gzowski learned English, studied law, and eventually settled in Toronto, where he supervised public works on roads and harbors in Ontario and Montreal and developed an interest in rail engineering.        

When Gzowski began work on the International Bridge, a crossing at this point was considered impossible. The currents of the Niagara River were too swift and treacherous, the water levels too unpredictable, the ice build-up too heavy, and the storms too intense. Gzowski was almost 60 when he took on the challenge.

In spite of construction challenges and setbacks, the 1.11 mile bridge opened on November 3, 1873 without the loss of any lives. It quickly became one of the busiest international crossing points in North America. In 1890, Gzowski was knighted by Queen Victoria.

While the bridge mostly carried freight trains, until 1934 it also carried one daily passenger car. It had wooden plank sidewalks until 1900, when the trusses were fully redesigned and replaced. Its busiest day was July 10, 1916, when 264 trains crossed. Today it serves 15 trains per day and is a handsome, sturdy reminder of 19th century engineering prowess.

Photos and their arrangement 2007 Chuck LaChiusa
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