The Goteik viaduct, located in Nawnghkio, is one of Burma’s most stunning engineering marvel. Built by the colonial British in the beginning of the 20th century, this spectacular railway bridge is the highest bridge in Myanmar and when it was completed, in 1900, it was the largest railway trestle in the world.
The Goteik viaduct is located in the center of the country about 100 km northeast of the largest city of Mandalay, between the two towns of Pyin U Lwin, the summer capital of the former British colonial administrators of Burma, and Lashio, the principal town of northern Shan State. The rail line was built as a way for the British Empire to expand their influence in the region. Constructed when the country was originally called Burma, the bridge was designed and fabricated by the Pennsylvania Steel Company and shipped overseas.
The viaduct stretches 689 meters from end to end supported by 15 towers. Many sources have put the height of the bridge at 250 meters. This is supposedly a measurement to the river level as it flows underground through a tunnel at the point it passes underneath the trestle. The true height of the bridge as measured from the rail deck to the ground on the downstream side of the tallest tower is 102 meters.
Although larger concrete viaducts and steel cantilever bridges were constructed before and after Gokteik, no other conventional box tower and girder type steel trestle has ever exceeded it in size except for the monstrous Lethbridge Viaduct in Alberta, Canada which is about the same in height but more than twice the length. The Joso bridge in the U.S. state of Washington, the Poughkeepsie bridge in the U.S. state of New York and the original Kinzua viaduct in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania are the only other traditional steel trestles that are equal in size to Gokteik.
Gokteik also had the tallest bridge piers in the world at the time of its completion at 97.5 meters. The current record is now held by France's Millau Viaduct at a record breaking height of 245 meters.
Gokteik bridge can be reached by taking a train from Mandalay or Pyin U Lwin north towards Nawnghkio where the bridge is located about 5 km further east. Crossing the bridge by train is a high-wire act. The bridge is more than a century old, a rather crumbling antique, which adds to the white-knuckle experience. The train moves at walking speed across the bridge to avoid the rocking motion that will further damage the bridge and, possibly, plunge the train into the river below.
The crossing takes about 25 minutes. The slow, high passage give ample opportunities for photos. Once you make the crossing, don’t put away the camera. The northbound train likely will be crossing immediately afterward, giving photographers a chance to catch a shot of a train on the bridge.
A small trestle is located beneath the Gokteik Viaduct and was probably used to bring in materials to build the massive trestle. Photo credit
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