Bascule bridge

A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances the span, or "leaf," throughout the entire upward swing in providing clearance for boat traffic. Bascule is a French term for seesaw and balance, and bascule bridges operate along the same principle. They are the most common type of movable bridge in existence because they open quickly and require relatively little energy to operate.

Bascule bridges may be single or double leaf. Double leaf bridges usually have any truss structure and counterweights below the deck, while a single leaf bridge is typically a truss bridge with an elevated counterweight.


Although the bascule bridge has been in use since ancient times, it was not until the 1850s that engineers developed the ability to move very long, heavy spans quickly enough for practical application. Nikolaevsky Bridge across the Neva in Saint Petersburg was the first large bascule bridge, opened in 1850. Since then, all bridges across the Neva and other major rivers in the city (21 in total) were bascule to facilitate navigation, which prevented the city's inhabitants from traveling across the river at night (this remained so until 2003 when the first cable-stayed bridge across the Neva was opened).


Counterweights may be located above the bridge or below the deck of the bridge. There are two common designs of bascule bridge. One is the fixed-trunnion bascule design, which is where the bridge rotates around a large axle called a trunnion to raise. This bridge type is sometimes called the 'Chicago bascule' as this type was developed and perfected there and is used for many of that city's river crossings. Joseph Strauss was a key person who worked on improving the trunnion bascule bridge. Another form of bascule bridge is the Scherzer rolling lift, also known as a Rolling Bascule Bridge. The city of Joliet, Illinois has a number of this structure type. The Scherzer rolling lift bridge essentially rolls or rocks like a simple rocking chair on a track to raise. (See Pegasus_Bridge for an example of this type.)

Types of bascule bridges

  • Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge
  • Rall bascule bridge, patented by Theodore Rall in 1901.
  • Strauss bascule bridge, patented by Joseph Strauss.
  • Chicago or fixed-trunnion bascule bridge.


Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge across the Thames in London, UK is a famous bascule bridge. Originally, Tower Bridge was a hydraulically operated bridge, using steam power from coal-burning boilers to pump river water into six hydraulic accumulators so that power was readily available when required. The water for the boilers was provided by a well. The hydraulic accumulators powered the bascule engines, which raised and lowered the bascules. Today, the bascule mechanism is driven by oil and electricity rather than by water and steam.

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