SCHUMER PUSHES FOR FED SAFETY AUDIT OF CRUMBLING BRIDGE THAT CARRIES CRUDE OIL TRAINS OVER RONDOUT CREEK IN KINGSTON – CONCRETE FOUNDATION HAS DETERIORATED & FED INSPECTORS MUST STEP IN TO ENSURE BRIDGES NOT AT RISK OF COLLAPSE
Schumer Also Calls For Increase In Number Of Fed Railroad Inspectors; Currently Only 1 Inspector For 3,000 Train Bridges In NYS – Train Companies Like CSX & Norfolk Southern Are Required To Self-Inspect Their Own Train Bridges Once A Year, But Fed Inspectors Play Critical Role in Double-Checking Inspections And Only Enough Staff To Check Up On 1% of Bridges Nationwide
Bridge in Kingston Over Rondout Creek Recently Revealed to Have Significant Decay & Crumbling Foundations; If Bridges Are Not Sound, Results Could Be Disastrous, Since Many Hazardous Materials Are Transported Along The Route – Bridges Are Owned By CSX, Which Is Tasked With Ensuring Structural Integrity; Schumer Says That Fed Inspectors Must Audit, Cannot Just Rely on CSX
Schumer: Feds Must Step In & Ensure Ulster County Train Bridges Are Up To Snuff
Today, at the CSX train tracks over Rondout Creek in Kingston, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer pushed for federal railroad inspectors to audit the train bridge running over the Rondout in Ulster County that was recently revealed to have crumbling concrete foundations. This train bridge transports hazardous materials up and down the Hudson River, including highly flammable crude oil, and Schumer said that any problem with the structural integrity of the bridge could lead to a major disaster. The bridge is owned by CSX, which is tasked with inspecting them each year. Schumer said that given the deplorable state of the bridge, a federal audit is needed.
In addition, Schumer launched his push to increase the number of federal bridge safety inspectors nationwide. He noted that there are currently only 7 inspectors tasked with overseeing audits of all of the privately-owned train bridges across the country, which is only enough to audit 1% of them in any given year. Specifically, there is one inspector assigned to over 3,000 privately owned train bridges across New York State and that inspector is also responsible for bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said that it is unacceptable we have so few rail safety inspectors, and he announced a push to increase the program’s budget and hire more inspectors next year. Schumer said that federal inspectors are critical in ensuring that private companies are keeping bridges safe.
“Many train bridges across the region are deteriorating, including the one over Rondout Creek in Kingston, where the concrete foundation has eroded, vertical cracks have emerged, rebar has become exposed, and bolts that have become loose or have fallen off altogether. These bridges run right along the precious Hudson River and every day there are freight trains carrying hazardous materials and crude oil right over them. Any problem with their structural integrity could lead to a disaster of epic proportions and we must do all we can to avoid that nightmare scenario,” said Schumer. “These bridges are inspected once a year by CSX, but given their deplorable state, I am calling on the Federal Railroad Administration to send an inspector to Ulster County to conduct an independent audit. We must make sure that these bridges are not at risk of collapsing.”
Schumer added, “In addition, we must increase the number of inspectors that are available nationwide. Right now, there are only seven to cover the whole country, including just one to audit the 3,000 privately-owned train bridges in New York State…and that inspector also oversees bridges in 13 other states. It does not take a rail safety expert to know the math doesn’t add up. So I will be fighting to secure an increase in funds to hire more train bridge inspectors so we can ensure that prive companies are keeping these bridges in top-notch shape.”
Schumer explained that there are currently an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 privately owned rail bridges in the U.S., and there are over 3,000 privately owned train bridges across New York State. Many of these bridges are owned by companies like CSX and Norfolk Southern, and used predominantly for freight shipping, including the transport of hazardous material and crude oil. For this reason, Schumer said the safety of the rail bridges across Upstate New York is critical. Schumer explained that, while public roadway bridges must be inspected at least every other year—a task which in New York State falls to the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT)—privately-owned railroad bridges do not have this same requirement. Instead, train companies like CSX or Norfolk Southern are required to self-inspect their own train bridges once a year and are subject to oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). While the FRA bridge safety experts are charged with auditing and reviewing the safety reports conducted by each railroad, they are often unable to review and audit much more than 1% of them in any given year. Schumer said this is because there are currently only 7 federal inspectors for all of the privately owned train bridges across the country.
Schumer said this lack of consistent inspection is concerning, and in the case of this crumbling bridge in Kingston, Schumer wants to make sure it is not leading to problems with the structural integrity of the bridge. According to local environmental experts from Riverkeeper, Inc. in the Hudson Valley, several bridges have been experiencing crumbling concrete foundations for several years now. Based on the NYSDOT railroad bridge inventory database, this bridge in Kingston was built in 1905. This bridge has sustained more than 100 years of use and transport upwards of 30 CSX crude oil shipments per week. Schumer said that these shipments are particularly troubling given the poor condition of the bridge. With an increasing number of freight trains—including those with outdated DOT-111 tank cars, carrying volatile crude oil—traveling across the region, it is critical that communities be reassured that the bridges in their towns and cities are safe and structurally sound. That is why Schumer is calling on FRA Bridge Safety Specialists to inspect the train bridge in Kingston. Schumer said auditing this deteriorating bridge is of the utmost importance, as further deterioration could jeopardize the safety of Ulster County communities and the purity of the Hudson River. By auditing this bridge and reporting back on what needs to be repaired or replaced, these federal inspectors can help the local community in its efforts to keep the area safe.
Schumer is also pushing to increase the total number of federal bridge safety inspectors around New York State and the country. Schumer said that given their meager staff and dense caseload, it is nearly impossible for the seven federal inspectors to address all of the potential safety concerns surrounding these bridges and, as a result, it is possible that issues may be slipping through the cracks. Specifically, there is one inspector assigned to the over 3,000 private train bridges in New York State alone, and that inspector is also responsible for auditing bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said these federal inspectors play a critical role in double-checking the inspections conducted by private railroad companies, but they cannot perform anywhere near the number of audits they should be performing because they are so short-staffed. If an FRA specialist finds a problem, they may require additional review by the railroad or upgrades or maintenance. In emergency situations, they may shut the bridge down entirely. Schumer said that it is unacceptable to have so few rail safety inspectors, and he announced a push to increase the program’s budget and hire more federal inspectors next year. Schumer said that federal inspectors are critical in ensuring that private companies are keeping bridges safe, and to ensure bridges like the one in Kingston – which has deteriorated significantly over the years – is not at risk of collapsing.
Schumer said there is not enough federal oversight over these bridges and the FRA must be provided the resources needed to audit more bridges. In addition, Schumer noted the FRA currently has no set of engineering standards for railroad bridges, relying almost entirely on individual railroads to inspect, maintain and repair their own bridges and trestles, some of them built more than a century ago like the ones in Cornwall. Schumer said the funding level for the rail bridge safety specialist program is currently just over $1 million per year. Schumer said that doubling this federal allocation would enable FRA to add at least seven more inspectors and help cut down on the heavy caseload. Doing this would in turn drastically increase the number of federal reviews and audits that could occur per year. Schumer said this would improve the level of safety for the residents and businesses within the vicinity of these rail bridges. In Fiscal Year 2015, as a part of the appropriations process, Schumer says he will be pushing for increased federal funding that would allow the FRA to hire additional Rail Bridge Safety Specialists.
Schumer was joined by local and county officials, as well as John Lipscomb, boat captain for Riverkeeper.
“The transport of crude oil in the Hudson, Champlain and Mohawk Valleys is new to New York State and puts these waterbodies, and the public, at grave risk of a catastrophic accident such as we’ve seen across the continent in the last two years. It’s a fact that our oil spill response and recovery infrastructure are far from adequate in the event of a spill such as the ones which have occurred in the James River at Lynchburg, Virginia or in Aliceville Alabama,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper boat captain. “The risk to our waterways and communities is too great. Preventing an accident is our only and best hope. It’s essential that rail companies, rail lines, rail bridges and all other equipment receive the same independent oversight as 18 wheelers on our highways, crude oil barges on our rivers and commercial aircraft in our skies. Decaying, inadequate or compromised rail bridges, as well as other equipment, must be taken off line immediately, not studied interminably, to protect society and the environment.”
“I commend Senator Schumer on his attention to this matter,” said Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. “With the ever present danger accompanying the growing number of `Oil Trains´ it is critical that the Federal Government step up efforts to ensure the public’s safety and I am urging Federal intervention. The Citizens of Ulster County have a right to feel confident that the railroad bridges that support a growing amount of freight traffic through our communities are safe, have been inspected thoroughly and are properly maintained.”
The Roundout Creek is an important scenic location for Kingston, Ulster County, and all of the Hudson Valley. The creek brings hundreds of tourists to the lower Hudson Valley every year. Schumer said businesses, art centers and other tourist destinations rely on the environmental beauty of Rondout Creek, and any damage to this bridge – particularly if it put train cars at risk – could be disastrous for the surrounding communities and the local economy. Tourists and residents alike visit the area to enjoy historical sites, including the Roundout Lighthouse. Boaters and fishers also flock to the waterfront to enjoy the beautiful scenery and Kingston has invested heavily in new waterfront development, parks and trail ways.
Riverkeeper is a watchdog organization located in the Hudson Valley that is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River, its tributaries, and the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. Recently, Riverkeeper’s John Lipscomb used a small boat to visit two rail bridges along the Hudson River in Cornwall, where he documented the deplorable conditions of the concrete foundation, as well as the eroded vertical cracks, exposed rebar, and the bolts that have become loose or were missing altogether. This report has prompted many rail bridges in the Hudson Valley to be questioned for structural integrity, including the one over the Rondout Creek in Kingston. For more information on Riverkeeper, Inc.’s report on the state of the two bridges near Storm King, click here.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Federal Railroad Administration appears below:
Dear Administrator Szabo:
I write to urge you to inspect three railroad bridges in the Hudson Valley: two bridges south of Storm King Mountain, along the Hudson River, and the Kingston Bridge, which is located over Roundout Creek in Kingston. Recent reports have indicated that these bridges are in poor condition, with crumbling concrete foundations, vertical cracks, and other worrying signs of disrepair. Members of these communities are concerned about the safety of these bridges, and I am requesting your help to ensure that they meet all necessary safety standards.
As you know, American railroad companies are responsible for inspecting their own bridges. They are also tasked with submitting lists of their bridges, bridge management plans, and other important records to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). A 2013 report released by the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, however, found gaps in the bridge inspection and reporting process. With an increasing number of freight trains—including those with outdated DOT-111 tank cars, carrying volatile crude oil—traveling across the region, it is critical that communities be reassured that the bridges in their towns and cities are safe and structurally sound.
I appreciate your consideration of this request and your continued to commitment to making our nation’s railways as safe as possible. Should you have any questions or need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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