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How safe is it?

FRA says bridge safety is a priority

Bureau County is covered with railroad tracks, and the chug of trains moving through is a common sound.

Since residents don’t use the railroad bridges, they’re rarely thought of, but sometimes residents can look at a bridge and consider its safety.

They might think, “It’s covered with rust, so it must be falling apart,” or “The plate says this bridge was built in 1899!”

Residents concerned about highway and road bridge safety can learn everything they would like and more by visiting the Illinois Department of Transportation’s website at http://wrc.dot.il.gov/bridgeinformation. The website provides detailed inventory and inspection data on all bridges and structures in Illinois.

However, railroad bridges aren’t included on that site because the state doesn’t oversee the bridges.

Information on railroad bridges also isn’t provided on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website because the maintenance of the bridges is the responsibility of the railroads that own them. According to the website, “Railroads have a vital interest in maintaining their bridges in a serviceable condition, not only considering the cost of potential accidents, but also considering the cost of replacing a bridge and the loss of service of the track over the bridge.”

Mike England, FRA public affairs specialist, said one of the reasons the information is not on its website is because there hasn’t been a demand for the information.

“We rarely receive any calls,” he said.

But if residents are concerned about the safety of a bridge, he encouraged them to call the FRA at 202-493-6304 or send at email to rrswebinquiries@dot.gov.

According to FRA Railroad Bridge Safety Fact Sheet, issued in July, Amtrak and the large and small freight railroads own and maintain about 77,000 bridges across the country.

In addition to the railroads inspecting their own bridges, FRA inspectors conduct regular evaluations of railroads’ bridge management programs, which includes observations of railroad bridges and review of bridge inspection reports.

FRA bridge safety specialists also respond to public complaints regarding the structural integrity of railroad bridges by conducting thorough evaluations when necessary. “While many of the older bridges in the U.S. were designed to carry loads that equal those of the trains of today, that capacity is diminished by deterioration and/or damage. Proper, frequent inspection should detect these conditions and allow repair or other remedial action before they cause a structural problem.”

England said that just because a bridge is rusted doesn’t mean it isn’t safe. According to the FRA website, “In most cases, the rust on the surface of a bridge actually coats the steel and prevents further corrosion.”

England said the FRA has a robust bridge inspection program and would send someone out to inspect a bridge if residents have any concerns.

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