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The Eastern Railway

The Kingdom of Prussia understood the economic and military meaning of railways very early. After constructing the first railway section linking Berlin with Potsdam, new trails were delineated in order to join various provinces of the fast growing country. For political reasons, one decided to lead the railway further to the east, through the areas taken from Poland in 1772. By this we mean the Eastern Railway (Ostbahn), which was supposed to link Berlin with the Eastern Prussia, a connection that had been demanded by the representatives of Prussian provinces and the General Military Command. Due to the lack of a private investor to finance the enormous enterprise, its construction was fully financed from national funds. The research in the terrain began in the spring of 1843. Several options of the route were considered, among others from Frankfurt on Oder, through Poznan, Bydgoszcz and Grudziadz, where it was supposed to cross the Vistula. Experts also suggested construction of the bridge near Ostromecko or Torun, but due to the near border with the Russian Empire the locations were given up. The final decision as for the location of the bridge was made on the 14th of January 1845 at the assembly of the representatives of provinces. The delineation of the Eastern Railway was approved of, as well as its branch towards Gdansk - the bridge was to be built near Tczew. This location was determined, first of all, by the proximity of Gdansk with its sea port and by the tradition of the Vistula ferries in Tczew. By the royal decree from the 6th of July 1845 a special committee was established in Tczew to construct the bridges on the Vistula and the Nogat, as well as to regulate the Vistula. The works connected with its regulation had a vast scope. To enable an easy flow of ice and to decrease the length of the bridge, the riverbed was made narrower, new dikes were built together with the new fork of the Vistula and the Nogat.

The Constructors

The task of building the railway bridges over the Vistula and the Nogat near Malbork was given to Carl Lentze (born 1801 in Soest, died 1883 in Berlin), who was responsible for the idea and the general design of construction. He was an experienced engineer, in 1845 he was nominated a Government’s Constructor and a Member of the Royal Governmental Committee for Constructing the Bridges on the Vistula and the Nogat; from 1859 Lentze chaired the Committee. In 1852 he became a Senior Secret Councilor for Construction Matters, from 1858 he was an advisor in the Ministry of Crafts, Trade and Cooperation with Abroad. He was assisted by Rudolph Eduard Schinz (born 1812 in Zurich, died 1855 in Tczew), a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees in Paris, responsible for all calculations and constructional details, whose experience was gathered during the construction of the railway connection between Cologne and Minden. The bridge portals and turrets were designed by Friedrich August Stueler (born 1800 in Muhlhausen, died 1865 in Berlin), the Royal Inspector and Councilor for Construction Matters and the Chairman of the Committee for Construction of castles, since 1849 the Director of the Building Academy and a year later - a Member of the Technical-Constructional Council.


At first Lentze planned building a steel hanging bridge, he may have been inspired by his design of the bridge on the Rhine in Cologne from 1849. In 1844 – 1845 he travelled on a research trip to France, Great Britain and Ireland. In Wales he watched the hanging road bridges over the Menai Strait and the River Conway, which were built in the years 1819 -1826 by Thomas Telford. In Ireland he observed the construction of the railway Royal Canal Bridge. The innovation of its construction was in the implementation of truss girders, which resembled American wooden constructions built by Town. In 1847 Lentze travelled to Great Britain again to see the construction and assembly methods used at the Britannia railway bridge over the Menai Strait. The bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, consisted of 4 spans, 460.5 metres long in total, with closed iron tubes of rectangular cross-section. It the contemporary literature it was called a tubular bridge. The experience gathered at the construction site of Britannia Bridge largely influenced the final concept of the bridge in Tczew. Lentze decided to build a beam bridge of six spans with parallel truss walls, which was lighter and more economical in construction than a tubular bridge. It also had smaller surface exposed to the forces of wind.


Preparations to build the bridges in Tczew and Malbork began in 1845, a brick factory in Knybawa was purchased in order to cater for the construction’s needs, a cement plant was established, as well as the Royal Machinery Factory, where individual elements were assembled. In 1847, due to the difficult political and economic situation, the works at the Eastern Railway were stopped and restarted only in 1850. On the 27th of July 1851 the Prussian king, Frederic William IV officially laid the cornerstone. In the years 1850-1852 works on foundations were performed, sheet pile walls were hammered into the ground by steam hammers to protect construction of the bridge pillars carried out by means of granite, basalt and sandstone. They were ready in 1853 and a year later two spans were assembled (number 3 and 4). Lentze did not wait for the stress test and had their wooden support underneath dismantled, only to find out that deformations of the construction were in accordance with the calculations of Schinz, who happened to die a few days before the test. In the year 1856 the spans above the river were fitted, (number 1 and 2) and the two remaining ones on the right riverbank – in 1857. When the spans were ready, two portals and five pairs of turrets were built. On the 12th of October 1857 the Tczew Bridge was officially opened, which enabled direct railway connection between Berlin and Konigsberg. Because of an epidemic of cholera and the king’s illness there were no significant celebrations, but still the importance of the event was great as the bridge in Tczew was at the time the longest one in Europe. Its total length was 837.3 metres (785.28 without the abutments), its construction cost 11.5 million marks.

History of the Bridge

The Bridge in Tczew, from the moment of its opening, was an element of a great European communication trail, among others the famous Nord Express used it on its way from Paris to Petersburg. After 1877, when the railway link between Malbork and Mława was inaugurated, cargo was transported via the bridge to the port of Gdansk from the Russian part of partitioned Poland and from Ukraine. The increase in the volume of railway transport and the growing weight of new locomotives and wagons made the German government decide to build another bridge with two railway tracks. It was created in the years 1888 – 1891, in a distance of only 40 metres from the original bridge; that enabled construction of its pillars in the same axis as Lentze’s and did not require any hydrological works on the Vistula. From 1891 the old Vistula Bridge was used only as a road connection, although it was still possible to use it for the railway purposes. After another tragic flood in the beginning of the 20th century large regulation works were begun on the Vistula. As their result, flood embankments were moved about 200 metres eastwards towards the village of Lisewo, which made it necessary to lengthen the bridges. In the years 1910 – 1912 three spans were added to both bridges, this time with lattice girders in parallel stripes with a lower plate supported on a steel grate. Each of the spans was 81.60 metres long. This way the total length of the bridge equaled more than 1030 metres. The original gates with their portals remained in their original locations but at the end of their extension a new, common portal was constructed. After the end of the World War I, as a resolution of the Treaty of Versailles, Pomerania together with Tczew became a part of the reborn Poland. To the north and the east The Free City of Gdansk was established and the Vistula became a part of its border. The borderline was in the waters of the river, but both bridges together with a strip of land underneath, became a part of Polish territory. In the period between wars the old bridge played the role of a road bridge; a customs office was opened there as well.

World War II

In 1939, in the growing tension of international situation, preparations were made in order to blow the bridges up in case of a war. Under the cover of repair works a group of Polish sappers set explosives on both bridgeheads, the old portal and in the pillar standing in the river. In August 1939 both bridges were secured from an unexpected assault by means of a barricade constructed from iron rails. Germans assumed that they would take the bridges with a sudden attack in order to take them over unharmed. German officers knowing about Polish preparations conducted detailed recon – travelling in civilian clothing they crossed the bridge many times on trains, scrutinizing both bridges carefully. They managed to find the guard houses, location of explosives, wires and the places from which the detonation was to be carried out. The Luftwaffe was given the task of preventing the Poles from blowing up the bridges, by means of bombing the sappers’ positions and the wires. The air raid was to be synchronized with the attack from the direction of Malbork, conducted by German soldiers hidden in a regular freight train No 963 pulled by a Polish steam locomotive. Right behind the train an armed train was to follow. On the 1st of September 1939 at 4:34, 11 minutes before the attack on Westerplatte, three Junkers 87B Stuka bombers from the airfield in Elblag, under the command of Bruno Dilley, bombed the area of the railway station and the deploying stations. The bombing destroyed the wires, but due to the heroic actions of Polish railway workers from Szymankowo, who informed Polish troops about a danger approaching from Malbork and sent the train full of Nazi troops to the yards, the plan of an unexpected attack failed. When Germans reached the bridge the barrages had already been closed and Polish soldiers opened fire. The sappers repaired the broken wiring and at about 6:10 the eastern bridgehead and the old gate were blown up. Half an hour later the same happened at the western bridgehead and at the pillar in the river. Lieutenant Juchtmann and his soldiers succeeded in breaking this enormously important communication trail for many weeks. As a result of the lost campaign in September, the territory of Poland was divided between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Tczew and its bridges was incorporated into the third Reich. After the fights of the 1st September the bridge was seriously damaged. The detonation of the old eastern bridgehead from 1857 caused the break and the collapse of the sixth span, by the fifth pillar only a short section of the span remained. The span from 1912, supported by the sixth pillar, was damaged and collapsed as well. Much bigger damage was caused at the western part of the bridge, both spans above the river were broken and collapsed. The Nazi authorities managed to repair the railway bridge quickly but the road bridge, due to the construction of a new one in the nearby Knybawa, was not rebuilt. The road bridge lost its strategic and communicative function and it was used by pedestrians only. In order to help people cross the river, a footbridge was built by the third span, linking both bridges. Above the river, on the first and the second span, a footpath was constructed. The seventh span from 1912 was lifted and supported by means of a new pillar, which was connected with the remaining part of the sixth span by means of a simple footbridge supported by several pillars. In 1941 a report was prepared, where O. Eiselin wrote about the necessity of reconstruction or renovation of the bridge. Because of the war in progress that did not happen, which paradoxically turned out to be positive. The defeat of the Third Reich at the eastern front caused that the Red Army entered the territory of Nazi occupied Poland. On the 8th of March 1945 when the front was approaching the Vistula, German troops blew up the railway bridge, whereas the old road bridge remained untouched. If they had reconstructed it, it would have been completely destroyed just like the railway bridge.

Postwar Times

As a result of World War II Poland suffered incredible material damage, among others all bridges on the Vistula were destroyed by the retreating Nazis. There were several temporary bridges built by the Soviet Army, but they were not stable and were exposed to floods. The old road bridge in Tczew was, compared to other bridges, in relatively good condition, that is why one decided to rebuild it. The bridge was to play a crucial role as a link on the railway connection Warsaw – Gdansk. Trains from Warsaw were to arrive at the right bank of the Vistula, from which the passengers would walk across the road bridge to the railway station in Tczew, where a train to Gdansk would await. Construction works started in March 1946. Two bridgeheads, 10 wooden bents and 9 cutwaters were built. On previously made supports, 10 short steel spans were assembled and a platform was bestead. Instead of the 130-metre-long span above the river, a 50-metre-long truss span of upper parabolic shape and two 40-metre-long military railway spans. To protect the bents of the bridge from the floating ice, cutwaters were constructed of reinforced concrete. The opening of the bridge took place on the 8th of March 1947, unfortunately shortly after the ceremony an enormous flood came. On the 24th of March 1947, after only 16 days, the provisional spans were damaged. Because of destruction of the road bridge, direct railway connection with Gdansk became possible only after the provisional reconstruction of the railway bridge completed on 23rd of December 1947. After the great flood the spans in the river turned out not to be ready for using them again. The road bridge was connected with the railway bridge again next to the second pillar. In order to enable road traffic on the two spans of the railway bridge, a special wooden surface was laid and the traffic was regulated by a special service. The connection was in use until 1958, when the ESTB spans were moved from the railway bridge to the road bridge. The first ESTB span was transported between the 30th of November – 2nd of December 1958 on vessels, which made it possible not to disassemble it. The second ESTB span was disassembled and reconstructed again on the road bridge, connected with the first span on the upper and the lower level, which makes it now a double span beam. Because ESTB spans were designed for railway constructions, solid surface covered with asphalt was laid on them. Due to their width, swinging motion was introduced and traffic lights were fitted. In 1959 the road bridge was open for traffic. Since that moment no changes have been introduced in its construction.