Rail Bridge Conditions Called into Question, Assembly Bill Proposes Tighter Requirements

With crude oil transported by train through Mercer County, crossing roads on train bridges and through towns including Hopewell and Pennington, local residents have begun to worry about the structural soundness of these aging bridges.

One such local resident, Dan Opdyke, after observing the crumbling facade as he regularly drove under the CSX train bridge at County Route 654 (Hopewell Pennington Road) near the entrance of the Hopewell Valley Golf Club, captured the condition of the bridge on video. Opdyke sent the video to local and state representatives imploring that they investigate further.

And residents are not the only ones who are concerned. “The infrastructure that carries these dirty and dangerous oil trains through Mercer County is old and not up to the burden of the increased oil train traffic being forced across New Jersey,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “These long, heavy trains are carrying right through our towns and countryside volatile and flammable shale oil in substandard tank cars that tend to explode and catch fire in a catastrophic derailment.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a environmental non-profit that aims to protect not only the Delaware River and connected waterways but also raises community awareness about water quality and environmental laws, attended a Hopewell Borough Council meeting last year to inform the council on the dangers riding on the rails.

MercerMe covered an in-depth presentation offered by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network in “Hopewell Borough Hears Oil Train Presentation, Declines Resolution,” regarding the flammability of the transported material and the train car safety regulations.

When reached for comment, in January 2016, CSX Director-Communications and Media Relations Robert Doolittle told MercerMe, ”The CSX bridge you reference received its last full annual inspection in April 2015, consistent with the requirements of CSX’s FRA-compliant bridge management system. The bridge was found to be safe and suitable for the weight and volume of freight that it is used to transport. We appreciate that while the appearance of some CSX bridges may raise questions about their condition, aesthetics are not reliable indicators of their structural soundness.”

Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio’s office stated, when reached for answers, “”According to CSX, bridge was inspected twice in 2015 and meets standards. Based on our (and constituent concerns) they are going to go out there sometime this month and take another look. My contact will be there personally to join the inspection.” Assemblyman Reed Gusciora’s office also responded to Opdyke’s communication indicating that CSX reported that the bridge was last inspected in October 2015.

Bridge base Hopwl 1

Currently, rail bridge owners are not required to submit inspection reports to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

“As required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), CSX has a comprehensive bridge management system that we use to manage the inspection, maintenance and repair of the more than 14,000 bridges on our 21,000-mile network. The system mandates that all bridges receive a complete structural inspection at least annually by a qualified bridge inspector, with detailed reporting and follow-up on any issues noted during the annual inspection. In addition, the tracks that cross the bridge are visually inspected several times each week, and are inspected between 3 and 12 times per year (depending on the volume of freight moved) using sophisticated ultrasound technology to identify potential internal defects in the steel rails. These frequent, multiple reviews help ensure that any issues requiring maintenance or repair are quickly identified and addressed.”

This January, a bill (A4592 – now A2360*) was reintroduced to the State Assembly that would require owners of railroad bridges to submit bridge inspection records to New Jersey Department of Transportation.

“We know many of the bridges being used are already crumbling and represent a very weak link –bridges in the Hopewell and Pennington area and beyond,” continued Carluccio. “Are we going to have to sit and wait for a terrible accident before anything  is done? A4592 is an important safety initiative that will require the inspection and maintenance of railroad bridges so we are not caught by surprise if a derailment occurs due to a bridge defect or a train that is too heavy. The legislature needs to act immediately to get these inspections going.”

*Edited 3/7/16 to update the bill #

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    • Thank you for your comment, Tom. His name was mentioned in the article and this qualifications have in no way been questioned. The discussion is about observed conditions and also serves to inform the public about proposed tightened regulations.

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