By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- CSX officials today told a City Council committee that despite a January freight train derailment on a bridge over the Schuylkill River, the aging bridge itself is safe.
But lawmakers and residents are skeptical.
Seven cars at the end of a 101-car freight train derailed on January 20th while on the 25th Street Bridge over the river (see related story). The Schuylkill Expressway was shut down for a couple of hours as a result.
At a hearing today of City Council's public safety committee, lawmakers and residents of the Greys Ferry section of the city voiced worries about the overall poor condition of the bridge, which is owned by CSX, and which is bearing an increased amount of freight traffic.
Second District councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents that area of the city, is concerned about the 86-year-old bridge further crumbling and endangering drivers and pedestrians.
"You have slabs of concrete falling. You have in the winter icicles falling. And it's putting people's lives in danger," Johnson said. "We're trying to be on the front end. We just skipped a catastrophe by the grace of God, and we're trying to be proactive -- because usually we're on the back end after something happens."
Nutter administration officials testified that the Streets Department cannot inspect the bridge since CSX owns it, and that firm is overseen only by federal transportation officials.
Johnson was not pleased:
"We dodged a catastrophe. And if you're going to allow a private company to do business in the city, there has to be some level of accountability, even if it's not under your jurisdiction. Because at the end of the day, they're still operating in the city, and the residents who are the taxpayers could be impacted if something negative takes place."
At the hearing, CSX vice president Quintin Kendall said water penetration on the bridge over many years has caused the concrete to spall. But the bridge, he insisted, remains structurally sound.
"This spalling has not affected the integrity of the structure, so it is safe and sound for the trains that it carries," Kendall testified. "But we're committed to ensuring that the structure is equally safe for the community using the crossing at 25th Street."
The CSX official said the bridge continues to undergo maintenance and inspections. He said a contractor is currently removing loose concrete.
That said, Kendall admitted that CSX could do more.
"In order to full address this ongoing issue, more extensive work needs to be done on the 25th Street structure," he said. "There's a high-level awareness of the condition of this structure among the CSX engineering department and our company's management."
But Councilman Johnson complained that the CSX focus is on the safety of trains, not the residents.
"As long as the train is going back and forth, everything else regarding the people who live in the surrounding community or the neighborhoods are not being a part of this conversation. That's really what I'm getting at," he said.
Kendall, the CSX official, did not disagree.
"There needs to be a greater focus, and there is now a greater focus, not only on ensuring that the rail traffic is safe, but also ensuring that the communities are safe as well."
Kendall also explained that the derailment occurred because maintenance workers failed to anchor temporary fasteners to the rail ties.
"The crew performing the upgrade finished work without following CSX engineering protocols, which specify the procedure for sufficiently anchoring the temporary fasteners to the ties," he noted.
No one was injured in the derailment, but the Schuylkill Expressway was closed down for several hours during the morning rush hour.
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