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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Collapse of the Kinzua Viaduct

A combination of design oversight and material fatigue left a century-old railroad bridge vulnerable to an F-1 tornado

Thomas Leech

Figure 6. By analyzing the direction of debris fall...Click to Enlarge Image

On July 21, 2003, a 300-foot-tall railroad structure spanning a gorge in north-central Pennsylvania collapsed dramatically. A bridge that had carried trains for more than a century was gone in just 30 seconds. The historic Kinzua Viaduct, the world’s tallest bridge when it was originally built in 1882, had been crumpled by a tornado. How? This question was answered by a high-tech forensic reconstruction that provides an example of what modeling and visualization can reveal—and how vulnerable tall railroad bridges can be to high winds.


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