Many of you wrote to your City, County, and State representatives after reading our September 6th "Deadly Crossings" email calling out the safety concerns regarding the Ft. Wayne Bridge above the Allegheny River which leads to the Convention Center. Thank you!
However, to date, none of your representatives have written to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) asking for special oversight and inspections into the safety of that or of any other of Norfolk Southern’s bridges. The PUC has jurisdiction over and joint oversight with the Federal Government regarding bridge safety.
If you want more details on the background and a chronology on the issue you can find them below. If you are concerned for the safety of your family and property, please write directly to:
Suggested language for your correspondence:
“The integrity of Norfolk Southern’s rail and bridge infrastructure through the city and Allegheny County is crucial to our safety and well-being. I am writing to you to request that additional rail safety inspection oversight be performed by both the Pennsylvania Utility Commission and the Federal Rail Administration for the reasons and examples previously cited here.”
Thank you for helping to make our community safe for all.
Further Background and a Chronology of the Issue
Norfolk Southern has a history of serious rail bridge accidents in our region. For example, in October 2006, an 83-car Norfolk Southern train derailed while crossing the Beaver River railroad bridge in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Twenty-three tank cars filled with flammable ethanol derailed, ignited, and burned for 48 hours. Some of the unburned ethanol liquid was released into the river and the surrounding soil. Homes and businesses in New Brighton were evacuated for two days. Damages reached $5.8 million. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the derailment was Norfolk Southern‘s “inadequate rail inspection and maintenance program that resulted in a rail fracture from an undetected internal defect. Contributing to the accident were the Federal Railroad Administration’s inadequate oversight of the internal rail inspection process and its insufficient requirements for internal rail inspection.” Notwithstanding the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations, nothing appears to have changed in this regard. Read the accident report here.
With respect to the current corroded condition of the Ft. Wayne rail bridge it was designated a “Deadly Crossing” in the 2015 nationwide review of dangerous rail bridges in the Riverkeeper Report of that name. See page 23, https://waterkeeper.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Deadly-Crossing-Web-Version.pdf.
The Federal Rail Administration again found “serious oversights” in Norfolk Southern’s operations, maintenance, and inspections in connection with the 2018 Southside derailment where an old, already worn plug rail was installed and failed: http://eepurl.com/gCTQMf.
A sinkhole grew through the Merchant Street Bridge in early January 2019 http://eepurl.com/ggM82X.
Norfolk Southern slashed a record number of maintenance and inspection personnel in a year where they had record profits according to The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/railroads-are-slashing-workers-cheered-on-by-wall-street-to-stay-profitable-amid-trumps-trade-war/2020/01/02/dc757ed4-1603-11ea-a659-7d69641c6ff7_story.html.
According to Norfolk Southern’s most recent Shareholder Report, it has now laid off 24% of its staff between the first quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020 even though daily carloads have increased 4% because of longer trains - a factor which raises its own safety concerns. Special inspection oversight is warranted since Norfolk Southern projects that rail traffic will increase over 84% going forward.
Notwithstanding the New Brighton and Southside derailments, railroads are allowed to continue to self-regulate how far down they can wear their rails. Meantime, allowable individual rail car weight has increased to 284,000 pounds. Heavier cars and the fact that train length is doubling make track wear and failure more likely—and this regularly compromises our safety, especially at rail bridges which are the most vulnerable point on a route.
Also know that over the past ten years, instead of performing additional preventive maintenance, Norfolk Southern bought back $13.7 billion worth of stock, enriching executives while its rail bridges have further deteriorated.
As you have seen, we have amassed many hundreds of images of missing bolts, unconnected cross ties, corroded-through steel plates, cracked supports, crumbling concrete contained in our previous communications. It is clear that money is going to railroad executives and stockholders while their rail bridges continue to deteriorate—thereby jeopardizing your safety, property, and drinking water.
The Wall Street Journal determined that each train car of volatile crude carries the equivalent explosive force of two million sticks of dynamite. Rail cars are now approved to carry much more explosive Liquid Natural Gas under pressure on unit trains on these same rail lines over antiquated crumbling water and sewer lines made of hand-laid brick.
Ask your city, county, state, and federal representatives to demand special inspection oversight by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Federal Rail Administration. You can find your other representatives here https://live.cicerodata.com/.
The foregoing constitutes RP3’s sincere opinions and beliefs.