[Railway reconstruction Italy 1943-1946 published by Royal Engineers, 1946]

Prev Contents

Chapter II

Section III.
Railway Construction considered in relation to the ultimate Railway system

12. - Line 85. Bologna - Ferrara - Padua.

Description of the Line.

Drawings illustrating sections of this line and the bridge repairs carried out thereon are included as under.
Bologna to RovigoPlate N.º 33
Rovigo to PaduaPlate Nº. 34

This line is double track, steam operated throughout its length of 123 Kms., except for two short sections of about 3 Kms. each, one of which includes the Po crossing at Pontelagoscuro; the other is at the Padua end.

It is an important route, connecting, as it does, Bologna (the hub of communications for traffic between North and South Italy) and the rich North-Eastern provinces and ports.

Throughout its length, the railway is in cutting only once (for about 400 metres), and in tunnel once for about 670 metres ; for the whole of the remainder, it is on bank, across the broad alluvial plains of the Po.

The line runs North from Bologna for some 15 Kms., then gradually sweeps round in a NorthEasterly direction to the town of Ferrara, crossing only one river of any importance, the Reno, and the Burano Canal. From Ferrara, it again takes a Northerly course, crossing the river Po at Pontelagoscuro, then follows this river in a North-Easterly direction as far as Polesella, where it once more turns North, crossing the Canale Bianco and coming to the town of Rovigo. Beyond Rovigo, the River Adige is traversed, and the line then bears North-West, crossing the River Gorgone and coming to the town of Monselice whence it finally swings North-East for Padua, the ancient university cathedral town, some 20 Kms. distant. The Cattaio Tunnel and the Flume Bacchiglione are traversed in this last 20 Km. lap.


Track and structure damage was fairly heavy on this line, mainly clue to the heavy pounding given it by our Air Forces, and the fact that at the final stages of the campaign in Italy, the tide of battle surged along in the direction this route follows.

The Germans had made strenous efforts to keep the line open and, as a result, had cannibalised the most seriously damaged track in any one section, to repair the other, over a distance of approx. 5/6 of the total length of 123 Kms. In addition, all the track had been removed for a distance of 26 Kms., of which 7 kms. were stripped by British forces and the formation used as a roadway.

Of the 29 bridges, of span of 5 metres or greater, 14 were destroyed or seriously damaged There is one twin tunnel on the route. The North portal of one of these tunnels was damaged by bombing; the other tunnel was intact. Stations, though heavily bombed, could easily be given minimum repairs without excessive work.

Repair of the Line.

The repair of the line was carried out in two stages.

Firstly by the South African Railway Construction Group, who opened up the line from Bologna to San Pietro in Casale (at Km. 24 from Bologna) to provide a railhead for 8 Army. 39 Railway Construction Company, S.A.E.C., carried out this work and the line was opened by 3 June 1945, but the by time the railhead was complete, in the middle of June, San Pietro was no longer of importance.

As the skeleton rail network for Northern Italy provided a rail crossing of the Po on Line 69, at Ostiglia, continuance of repair works on Line 85 lapsed until the middle of July, when consideration was given for the reconstruction to continue, in order to facilitate and provide more economical rail movement to North-East Italy and furthermore provide an alternative crossing to the River Po. This second stage of the repair, from San Pietro to Padua, was carried out by Nº. 1 Railway Construction and Maintenance Group, R.E., with a nucleus of British personnel from detachments of 161 Railway Construction Company, R.E., and Nº. 2 Railway Bridging Section, R.E. By this time, work on the repair of the Brenner Route, 69, between Verona and Brennero, by a Group of German Railway Construction units stationed there, was well in hand and the employment of redundant units of this latter organisation on Line 85 reconstruction, was therefore considered. The transfer of these German units to Line 85 proved awkward and the first units did not start arriving in the Ferrara area before the last week in August, and not before the middle of October was a force of 85 British and 1,000 German troops built up for the reconstruction programme. The second stage of this reconstruction can therefore be said to have commenced about the end of August 1945 and by reason of holdups due to flooding of the Rivers Po and Adige and miscellaneous other reasons, included in which is the reduction in numbers of skilled British personnel available, the works programme envisages an opening date on the line at the end of April 1946.

The repairs are being carried out by the organisation under R.C.E.I, referred to above and I.S.R. Contractors; the British organisation being concerned with the repair of the major bridges whereas track renewals and track repairs are in the hands of I.S.R. Contractors, who are also repairing the minor masonry structures and less damaged steel bridges. In the case of the Adige, I.S.R. Contractors are carrying out the works with military assistance. The repairs of main interest on this line are:
31.7785/7Fiume Reno2 R'ly. Br. Sec.
R.E. & German
2 bridges of 3
lattice Truss
spans each,
(up & down
lines), comple-
-tely destroyed
2.150' Standard
Through Truss
spans; 2-85'
Deck U.C.R.B
29. Aug. 19452. Feb. 1946 
46.185/11Canale Burano2 Rly. Br. Sec.
R.E. & German
Double track
reinforced con-
crete bridge
of approx. 28
metre span.
1-95' Deck
type U.C.R.B
8. Oct. 194521. Dic. 1945 
52.185/14River Po161 Rly. Con-
str. Coy. RE,
2 Rly. Br. Sec.
RE & German
6 span single
track contin-
-uous Lattice
Truss of total
length 1389'.
17-80' Deck
type U.C.R.B
27. Aug. 1945Completion date
at end April 1946
See separate
report Chapter III
Section 9.
69.885/18Canale Bianco2 Rly. Br. Sec.
RE. & German
Double track
steel truss
bridge of.38.15
metre span.
1-130' Standard
Through Truss
23. Aug. 19451. March 1946 
81.785/21Fiume Adige161 Rly. Con
str. Coy. RE,
German P.O.
W. & I. S. R.
See Report after this Table.
98.185/25Canale di Monselice2 Rly. Br. Sec.
RE & German
2 skew bridges
(up & down
lines) of span
23.65 metres.
1-85' Deck
U.C R.B. with
10 ft. skew
11. Nov. 19459. Feb. 1946 

The Adige Bridge.

The Adige down line bridge consisted of a 3-span continuous through lattice iron girder of French design, erected in 1879. The up line bridge was erected at the time when the track was doubled, approximately 1930, and was a modern steel structure of the Warren Truss type. The end spans were 168' 6" and the centre span 203' 6". The height of rail level above normal water level was 24. feet The piers were of stone, founded on caissons sunk about 75 feet below the bed of the river.

The bridge was extensively damaged by bombing. The destruction of the Up line span was completed when it was removed to make way for a Bailey Road bridge seated on its piers. The Down line span was damaged by shell fire in addition to bombing, and the piers were cracked and slightly displaced as far down as water level.

Figure 90. - Line 85. Adige Bridge, Job Nº. 85/21. A diagram giving original span details and indication of extent and position of damage. Piers were very seriously damaged and the original steelwork was completely unserviceable. This reconstruction was carried out between the end of August 1945 and an estimated completion date of the end of April 1946. Work is being carried out by I.S.R. Contractor with assistance and direction from R.C.E. 1.

The use of U.C.R.B. or Roth Waagner was considered for this repair, after hopes of repairing the original structure were abandoned due to lack of skilled personnel, time, etc. However, information was received from the I.S.R. that complete, fabricated members of new spans for this bridge were available at Ilva Steelworks, Venice, as part of an earlier reconstruction programme. It was therefore decided to make use of these new spans. The steel was transported to the site by rail and road tank transporters, the centre and South spans being delivered to the South bank and the North span to the North bank of the river.

Assembly and rivetting of the spans was to be carried out by I.S.R. Contractor. Meanwhile, R.C.E. 1 and the British and German personnel under his command removed the existing damaged spans, and repaired the abutments and piers.

Since the new structure was of civilian pattern, the method of erection had to be specially considered:
a) by the use of falsework
b) using intermediate trestle piers and launching.

Scheme (a), was rejected because of the danger from floods.

Scheme (b), which was adopted involved, intermediate trestle piers on piled bents, at 1/3rd span distance from each pier. Launching rollers were mounted on these intermediate piers.

Figure 91. - Line 85. Adige Bridge, Job Nº. 85/21. View showing the new central span launched with the intermediate launching trestles in position. The new bridge is on the down line side.

To produce a flat surface for the launching rollers, on the underside of the bottom chords a channel was bolted and packed at the ends of the spans to overcome differences caused by varying thicknesses and number of cover plates.

Work started, at the beginning of September 1945, cutting up the existing spans using oxyacetylene burners. This part of the work was delayed by lack of industrial gases.

As work proceeded, it became increasingly obvious that the piers were in worse condition than was originally thought, and, that their reconstruction was necessary. This involved the demolition of the existing piers, and removal of the Bailey Road bridge became essential. This caused a further delay, and it was not until the beginging of February 1946 that this road bridge was removed. A good found was discovered 6" below water level, and on this, a reinforced concrete slab was poured. As the piers were only 11'-6"thick, trestles had to be designed to fit on this and carry a maximum load of goo tons. A 5 x 1 bay light steel trestle was chosen, using doubled columns braced together with L. 30's and under each bearing the columns were quadrupled. This was done to reduce bending in the R.S.J. bearers.

With the main trestles erected, the stage was set for launching the spans : this was problematical. The I.S.R. stated that rigging for a 16 tons horizontal pull would be required. This was considered high, but equipment and rigging were called forward for that load, if required. The actual launch was performed by a D.8 with Hyster winch, using one return of 3" S.W.R. The extreme ease with which the spans were launched was the most notable feature of the whole job.

Figure 92. - Line 85. Adige Bridge, Job Nº. 85/21. View showing the double column type of trestle Piers used to take the great weight of the bridge.

The progress of the works was as follows:
a) Erection of spans on site - 20 Sept. 1946 to 15 March 1946.
Work entirely by Italian contractor,
b) Preparatory work : Clearing steel, piling temporary bents and erecting launching trestles, construction of two abutments - 7 Sept. 1945 to 10 March 1946. (this was slow, but timed to coincide with Italian steel contractor. Lack of industrial gases, removal of road bridge and floods were delaying factors). Work by R.C.Ei.
c) Erecting main trestle piers complete - 10 Feb. 1946 to 15 March 1946 (this includes demolition of existing stone piers to water level). Work by R.C.E1.
d) Launching - One day per span.
e) Seating and trackwork - One week.

Date of Completion : 4 April 1946.

Figure 93. - Line 85. Adige Bridge, showing the central span and one of the end spans launched and in position.

Prev Contents

[Railway reconstruction Italy 1943-1946 published by Royal Engineers, 1946]

Alessandro Tuzza