Pennsylvania Senator Casey pushes for railroad bridge inspectors
Spending as little as $1 million to double the federal government’s small, underfunded force of railroad bridge inspectors could go a long way toward preventing “catastrophic” derailments, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday.
The Federal Railroad Administration employs six bridge inspectors and one supervisor responsible for covering about 77,000 railroad bridges nationwide. Pennsylvania has about 900 bridges, which fall under the responsibility of a lone inspector who must examine spans in other states as well. Federal data indicate there are 93 rail bridges in Allegheny County.
Casey’s proposal would add seven inspectors. The department merits an increase, he said, since trains are carrying crude oil across the country more frequently out of the Bakken formation in North Dakota.
“One of these tanker cars falling off of one of these bridges would be beyond catastrophic,” the senator said.
In mid-July, a train traveling through Montana with crude oil derailed and leaked 35,000 gallons of oil, The Associated Press reported. In February, more than 3 million gallons of oil spilled in West Virginia because of a derailment, causing a stubborn fire and evacuations.
In June 2014, a CSX freight train derailed on a bridge overlooking a marina in McKeesport. No one was hurt, and no chemicals spilled into the Youghiogheny River.
Forty-seven people were killed in a fiery explosion when a train derailed in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Casey, D-Scranton, said he supports a variety of increased precautions for crude oil transport, including increasing the number of bridge inspectors.
“These specialists, they’re charged with making sure that these train bridges are safe,” Casey said, “and the investment we’ve made in their work is inadequate.”
A federal law passed in 2008 required the FRA to establish bridge management programs. Railroads are required to send regular inspection reports to the administration, which are reviewed by the inspectors.
Michael Booth, an administration spokesman, said more resources from Congress would lead to a more “robust” monitoring program.
“The Federal Railroad Administration is in the process of re-evaluating its current bridge management program to identity what more, if anything, can be done with our current level of funding and resources, which is limited,” Booth said in a statement.
Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the American Association of Railroads, said the industry has followed extra safety precautions for crude transportation on its own, including slowing trains and making additional inspections.
This year, the federal government issued a stricter set of policies that apply to trains carrying crude through heavily populated areas, including Pittsburgh.
Greenberg declined to comment on whether the FRA requires more bridge inspectors. However, he said railroads typically inspect tracks and bridges more often than required.
Railroads are “24/7” in reviewing and repairing their lines, he said, in addition to sending daily, weekly and annual reports to the administration.
“This is a partnership, a shared responsibility we take very seriously,” Greenberg said.
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].