Pittsburgh and five other municipalities from southwestern Pennsylvania will request inspection reports on rail infrastructure, part of a wave of increased scrutiny following the February derailment of a Norfolk Southern train just over the Ohio border.
The latest inspection details on the tens of thousands of railroad bridges crisscrossing the country — including the 368 in Allegheny County, the most of any county in Pennsylvania — are privately held in the owning railroads’ offices.
Most other bridges, including all over 20 feet that carry roads, are included in the easily accessible National Bridge Inventory. The database contains detailed inspection information for each bridge, with dozens of required fields.
Officials from all levels of government can request a simplified version of bridge inspection reports from railroads through a provision of federal law, which is required to include a “general statement” on a bridge’s condition.
“This critical information will help us gain a clear picture of the state of rail infrastructure so we can safeguard our communities and hold the railroad companies accountable for any repairs that may need to be made,” read a joint statement Tuesday from the mayors of Pittsburgh, East Pittsburgh, Beaver Falls, Farrell, Homestead and Rankin.
The 182 railroad bridges in Pittsburgh are split among seven owners, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics: Norfolk Southern, Allegheny Valley, Wheeling & Lake Erie, Canadian National, CSX, Pittsburgh & Ohio Central, and Pittsburgh Regional Transit. Two bridges are listed with unknown owners.
City Councilwoman Erika Strassburger sponsored a will of council to support the mayors’ move, which was unanimously approved at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“It's just as much of a travesty in East Palestine or a small town as it would be in Pittsburgh, just kind of a greater scale here in Pittsburgh,” she said.
City Councilman Bruce Kraus, whose South Side district faced a train derailment several years ago, noted railroad regulations are largely in the hands of the federal government.
“I’d love to open up a conversation with fellow colleagues about how we might bring Congressperson Summer Lee into a broader conversation about the federal responsibility,” he said.
Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.