Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Haverhill railroad bridge won't get repairs it needs

The city of Haverhill, the MBTA, Amtrak, and PanAm Railways are all going to have to wait a little longer for the bridge that runs over the Merrimack River and connects downtown Haverhill to Bradford to be replaced. The bridge, which is currently 92 years old, is in DIRE need of repairs!

The Downeaster crossing the bridge 
Currently, the bridge sees a plentiful amount of train travel each day. The bridge serves the MBTA's Haverhill Commuter Rail Line which runs 26 times a day (13 inbound, 13 outbound). Amtrak's "Train to Maine" or the Downeaster, which makes five round trip journeys each day travels over the bridge as well. The bridge also sees regular freight rail service from PanAm Railways.

In early March the City of Haverhill applied for a portion of the $2.5 Billon federal high-speed rail funding that Florida governor Rick Scott turned down in February. The city applied for a $110 million portion of the funding in order for them to fully demolish and replace the bridge. Early this month though, the city, to their disappointment, found out their application for the $110 million was rejected. Instead of receiving the full amount to rebuild the bridge, the city acquired only $20.8 Million in funding. This money will be used to build a second set of trackage that will run the 10.4 miles between Andover and Wilmington. It will be designed to help speed up travel and eliminate the bottle neck on the Haverhill commuter rail line and also the Downeaster line.

The bridge is so rickety and in need of repairs that some city officials greatly believe that the bridge is unsafe and very likely to collapse. Councilor William Macek said "Vibrations or something else is eventually going to take it down.......There's probably nothing in our area that's more in need of repairs. It's obviously very unsafe." Another reason why there is fear in the minds of many of the counselors is because the bridge is very similar in design to the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 which killed 13 people and left dozens injured. 

At the present time the MBTA,which owns the tracks, has put in place numerous restrictions for travel over the bridge. Commuter Rail trains and Amtrak Downeaster trains are limited to 15 mph while crossing the bridge but two trains can cross the bridge at the same time. PanAm Railways freight trains are limited to 5 mph while crossing the bridge and only one train can cross at a time. 

According to MBTA General Manager Richard Davey the bridge is safe for train travel at this time. Davey was quoted as saying; "I can tell you unequivocally that we would not be running train service over that bridge if there were any questions about its safety". The bridge was last inspected in March and the engineering firm that is helping to plan for the bridges eventual replacement has been reviewing the bridge on a monthly basis. In 2008 the MBTA did some repair work on the bridge. They replaced the entire deck which included 1,600 bridge timbers, installing railings and walkways, and also laying about 8,000 feet of track. These were not meant as long term repairs, though. 

William Macek
Haverhill officials are wondering if the elected congressional delegation did enough to acquire the money. They want to invite a few officials (Niki Tsongas) down to Haverhill to tour the span and see how serious the situation really is. Councilor William Macek stated that he and his fellow counselors have a duty to speak out about the situation before there is a disaster. 

Until full funding can be found for the project Rich Davey said that the MBTA will be making as many interim repairs as they can to the bridge in order for it to stay safe for rail travel. Those of you who ride the Haverhill line or the Downeaster, keep for fingers crossed that the money comes soon!

Source: Eagletribune.com

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