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Schumer Renews Call For More Bridge Inspectors

Sen. Schumer in Menands, NY (May 2015)
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Sen. Schumer in Menands, NY (May 2015)

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has launched a push to expand railroad bridge inspections and increase the number of federal bridge safety specialists nationwide.

Nearly two weeks after a portion of a railroad bridge collapsed onto a busy street in downtown Syracuse, Schumer wants targeted inspections of upstate New York’s 2,158 private rail bridges.  "281 in the Capital in the Capital Region, 261 in Central New York, 232 in Rochester/Finger Lakes,  487 in western New York, 446 in the Southern Tier, 307 in the Hudson Valley and 144 in North Country.”

From the press release: According to Schumer, only 1% of the 70,000 to 100,000 privately-owned train bridges across the entire country are audited in any given year. In New York State, there are only three specialists assigned to over 3,000 privately owned train bridges, and the specialists are also responsible for bridges in over a dozen other states. Schumer said that, given dense caseload, it is nearly impossible for these federal specialists to address all of the potential safety concerns surrounding these bridges and, as a result, safety issues across New York State and the country may be slipping through the cracks. Many of these bridges are owned by companies like CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian Pacific and used predominantly for freight shipping, including the transport of hazardous material and crude oil. However, under current law, 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 every year and are subject to oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). For this reason and the fact that these bridges crisscross popular local roads traveled by thousands of New Yorkers daily, Schumer said the safety of the rail bridges across Upstate New York is a priority and, therefore, announced he will continue to push for an increase in FRA rail bridge inspector staff. Schumer said that federal inspectors are imperative in ensuring that private railroad companies are keeping bridges safe and there must be more manpower to ensure bridges across Upstate New York are not deteriorating or at risk of collapsing.

Schumer says the bridges are in desperate need of inspection and auditing – he says the Syracuse incident sheds even more light on the fact that only six specialists are tasked with overseeing rail bridge inspections & audits nationwide for the Federal Railroad Administration.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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