North Dakota Roads - Fairview Br./Cartwright Tunnel

Fairview Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel

The 1913 Fairview Bridge, as seen from the parking lot to the north on the west bank of the Yellowstone River. The Great Northern Railway started the Montana Eastern Railway Company in 1912 to beat the Soo and Milwaukee railroads to service in northern MT and ND. This bridge and the Cartwright Tunnel were quickly built to that end, but ultimately only 20% of the line was ever constructed (in pieces) by the time work was suspended in 1917. Great Northern isn't around anymore, but neither are Soo or Milwaukee, so it's not too abject of a failure. Meanwhile, that work produced the only lift span in North Dakota, with a sister span just across the border in Montana across the Missouri River also built by the Montana Eastern Railway Company. The lift was used once in testing, but this section of the Yellowstone River lost steamboat service during construction (1912), so it has never been used since. There was a 3-cylinder kerosene engine used to raise and lower the 570-ton span - imagine.

Starting east across the bridge, ending at my favorite photo on this page for its geometric symmetry, with a couple of photos showing the north side supports for the original telegraph line. From the time then-ND 23 (now ND 200) was built in 1926, an unpaved road connected it to this bridge on the east and it was shared between rail and road traffic. There was also a roadway approach bridge built to the west side. In the 29 years until a separate roadway bridge was finally built, there were zero car crashes with trains, thanks to a watchman who operated a swing gate (and collected tolls until 1937, when the Montana Eastern Railway Co. finally dissolved and the state took over maintenance from the Great Northern Railway). The 1955 bridge, with a deck only 22' wide, was replaced by the current ND 200 bridge in 1997. You can still see the piers in the river from here - check them out on the ND 200 page (linked at bottom). The new bridge alignment removed half of the eastern hillside through which the Cartwright Tunnel passes, obliterating the old eastern approach roadway that snaked around it to get to Fairview Bridge. At the same time, the park on the west side was redone and the old approach on that side became a backyard.

Finishing the EB walk across the bridge, in sight of the Cartwright Tunnel, built at the same time as the Fairview Bridge and completed just a little later in 1913 (since the bridge is useless without it). Just like the Fairview Bridge is unique in ND, so the Cartwright Tunnel is the only rail tunnel in ND. (There is, though, a partial tunnel along the Little Missouri River at Devils Bend that was started and abandoned in 1913. 1913 was quite the year for ND railroads.)

Various views south along the Yellowstone River as I cross, with a main western channel and a smaller eastern channel.

Surveying the scene near the western tunnel portal. There's really not much of a hill here, which makes me wonder why a tunnel was built instead of just dynamiting the earth. Maybe this is why the Montana Eastern Railway Company failed. You can see artifacts of the blasting process at the north side of the east bridge pier where they did blast some of the hill before getting to the tunnel portal, and then you can walk on an old tie or two.

As deep as I dare get into the wood-lined tunnel, which is curved so that I can't see the eastern portal. I'm only here at all because rail service ended in 1986 and ND saw fit to preserve the ROW instead of allowing it to fall into disrepair.

Back out of the Cartwright Tunnel and back to the Fairview Bridge. For some reason, the bridge was named after the next town west (in MT) and the tunnel was named after the next town east, instead of intuitively sharing the same name. The last photo looks up at the path the watchman would have to walk to his watchhouse to manage traffic. The stairs look fine, but I wouldn't trust the suspended walkway.

Back off the bridge to where I started.

Modern ND 200
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