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Railroad sidewall collapse prompts call for more inspectors

Tom Magnarelli
Sen. Chuck Schumer stands in front of the elevated railroad in Syracuse.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) is calling for changes from the Federal Railroad Administration, after an elevated railroad’s sidewall collapsed in Syracuse last month. Schumer wants the FRA to hire more inspectors and change its policy on releasing inspection reports.

Schumer said even though no one was hurt, the sidewall collapse raises serious concerns regarding the safety of rail bridges.

“The number of collapses is going to increase as the bridges get older and the inspections get less frequent,” Schumer said.

The railroad companies are in charge of inspecting the bridges. But last year, the NYSW Railway rated the section with the sidewall collapse to be in fair to good condition.

“Now you can see they have a self-interest," Schumer said. "They’re not going to let a bridge that’s totally unsafe exist, unchanged. But let’s say we’re on the edge, let’s say it’s heading to lack of safety, their inclination would be to do nothing because it would cost money to shore it up.”

There are only three federal bridge inspectors in the Northeast that check the railroads themselves. Schumer said he wants to add another 20 inspectors so bridges can be checked once a year. He also wants the FRA to change their policy that requires railroad companies to only provide a summary and not a full report of their inspections.

"We'd like the FRA to make a regulatory change," Schumer said. "If they don't, we'll do legislation on the next transportation bill to do this." 

Only weeks after the Syracuse collapse, another railroad bridge in New Jersey, also owned by NYSW, collapsed as well.

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