In April, nine months after it began operations, the Shanghai-Suzhou-Nantong Yangtze River Bridge－the world’s first such structure with a single span of more than 1,000 meters that can accommodate both cars and trains－won the George Richardson Medal, often dubbed the “Nobel Prize of the Bridge Industry”.
The prize was awarded by the International Bridge Conference, which is sponsored by the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania.
The conference has great renown and influence among industry professionals across the world, according to the China Railway Group, which operates the bridge.
The structure holds several world records. While it stretches 11,072 meters from Nantong city to Zhangjiagang, a city in Suzhou, one single span is 1,092 meters, the longest in the world. Also, its main tower is the world’s tallest at 330 meters.
According to Li Juntang, chief engineer of the construction program, many technologies were invented and used for the first time during the six years and four months it took to build the bridge. They include the precise positioning of a giant caisson－a watertight structure weighing 15,000 metric tons that allowed foundations to be laid in the river－cables with the greatest tensile strength in the world and an advanced anti-collision system.
The caisson was the size of 12 basketball courts, while the main tower is as high as a 110-story building. Each of the bridge’s 432 cables can bear up to 1,000 tons, roughly the weight of more than 600 cars.
Because more than 30,000 ships sail under the bridge every day, the anti-collision system is crucial to guaranteeing safety of passage. It can warn the river traffic authority within 3 kilometers if a ship is likely to strike a bridge pier.
“The anti-collision technology used on the bridge is a milestone in the history of railway bridge construction in China and even the world,” Li said.
About 37,500 vehicles cross the bridge every day, helping to integrate and boost the economy of the Yangtze River Delta, one of China’s most developed regions.
Zhang Zhizhong, executive assistant of the railway bureau in Nantong, said that before the bridge was opened, millions of people in the North of Jiangsu had to transfer in Nanjing, the capital, to get to the south of the province, Shanghai and Zhejiang province.
“Thanks to the bridge, the travel time from Nantong to Shanghai has been cut from 3.5 hours to one hour and six minutes. It has also greatly eased the burden on two neighboring Yangtze River bridges, which always take drivers hours to cross during holiday periods,” Zhang said.
The upper tier of the bridge is a six-lane highway, while the lower level has four rail lines with a designed speed of 200 kilometers per hour. From Nantong, the 143-km railway enters Shanghai via three county-level cities.
According to Zhang, Nantong’s travel industry has seen great benefits as a result of the bridge, and many tourist agencies arranged new routes to the city as soon as the structure was opened to traffic.