MILWAUKEE — FOX6 News has received a copy of a letter sent by the Federal Railroad Administration to United States Senator Tammy Baldwin, after Baldwin drafted a letter to the FRA back in July on concerns regarding Canadian Pacific’s S. 1st Street railroad bridge in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward.
In February, FOX6 showed you the bridge that is corroded and in bad shape. Canadian Pacific refused to release records on that bridge that would show how often the bridge is inspected — something that infuriated some city leaders on the Milwaukee Common Council.
Common Council President Michael Murphy insisted Wisconsin’s lawmakers in Washington needed to get involved, to pressure the Federal Railroad Administration to demand Canadian Pacific turn over its records.
And that’s when Senator Baldwin issued a letter to the FRA.
“To get a representative of the Federal Railroad Administration as soon as we could to put eyes on this bridge,” Senator Baldwin said. “They came out, one of their bridge specialists, accompanied by a (Canadian Pacific) representative and I’m eager to hear what they have to say.”
Baldwin’s letter also asked the FRA to audit the inspections from Canadian Pacific so FOX6, citizens, city leaders, and the federal government itself can finally see what Canadian Pacific was doing in the years before FOX6’s report on the S. 1st Street bridge — as road salt slowly chewed away the steel support columns.
The Federal Railroad Administration has since ordered Canadian Pacific to turn over inspection reports for the S. 1st Street bridge.
Meanwhile, earlier in September, a letter issued by the Federal Railroad Administration urged private railroad companies like Canadian Pacific to update lawmakers and the public, saying railroad companies should: “Provide timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.”
A letter dated September 15th, released to FOX6 News on September 23rd indicates that in July, the FRA did dispatch a bridge safety specialist to evaluate the condition of the bridge that crosses West Oregon Street at S. 1st Street in the Fifth Ward, and audit a May bridge inspection.
That letter says the FRA inspector met with Canadian Pacific personnel at that time, “to ensure the bridge inspection was accurate and in compliance with the FRA’s Bridge Safety Standards.”
It was determined that Canadian Pacific’s inspection report did correspond to the actual condition of the bridge as observed by the FRA.
The letter says the FRA observed the bridge as trains passed over it and found “no excessive or abnormal movement.”
Based on the investigation, the FRA determined the bridge is safe, no immediate corrective action is required (pending the outcome of a load rating analysis) and that Canadian Pacific’s latest inspection report was accurate, and in compliance with the FRA’s “Bridge Safety Standards.”
The FRA says load rating analyses were performed on two occasions — in May and July, and the rating inspection results are now being analyzed. The analysis will determine whether the bridge needs repairs or modifications, according to the FRA.
The FRA says Canadian Pacific has indicated it will make any improvements necessary to the bridge, including any repairs deemed necessary by the analysis.
Additionally, the letter from the FRA says “CP (Canadian Pacific) is taking proactive steps to ensure the safety of the community surrounding this bridge.”
Earlier in September, in a statement issued to FOX6 News, a Canadian Pacific spokesman addressed improvements planned for the bridge later this fall:
“The plans include pouring a concrete encasement around some of the steel columns to protect them from deterioration. The encasements will prevent water and slush mixed with road salt from coming in contact with the steel columns which should prolong the life of the bridge.
The upgrades stem from a process that began in 2014, when CP budgeted money for an evaluative inspection in 2015. That inspection confirmed that the bridge is strong, and continues to safely bear the weight of numerous freight and passenger trains every day, but also noted that measures to protect the columns should be considered to prevent further corrosion and prolong the life of the bridge.
CP owns more than 2,500 bridges along our 14,000-mile rail network. In accordance with Federal Railroad Administration regulations, CP inspects each of our U.S. bridges annually. Those inspections guide us in deciding which structures need further review. We believe our bridge inspection and maintenance practices to be of the highest standards.”
The Federal Railroad Administration says there are 100,000 privately-built and owned railroad bridges in the United States.
The letter indicates the FRA is in the process of re-evaluating its current bridge safety oversight program and identify what more can be done with the current level of funding and resources.
Senator Baldwin issued this statement to FOX6 News on September 23rd:
“I called for an inspection of the bridge in July and I’m pleased that has happened. The Federal Railroad Administration has reviewed Canadian Pacific’s inspection reports and found the bridge satisfactory, however the fact remains that local government officials still do not have access to the inspection reports and they should.
The FRA’s bridge inspection program needs reform to provide further transparency. That is why I fought for rail safety and transparency measures that were included in the bipartisan transportation bill which passed in the Senate over a month ago.
We need to require railroads to furnish inspection reports to state and local officials upon request but Republicans in the House continue to stall the process of putting these reforms in place by not moving transportation legislation forward. In order for these critical oil train safety measures to be implemented, the House is going to have to act – like the Senate did over a month ago – and take bipartisan action on long-term transportation legislation that includes rail safety reforms that provide transparency.”
The Rail Safety Improvement Act, passed in 2008, gives the FRA clear instructions as to how to manage rail bridge safety — including a requirement that railroad companies build bridge management programs (that are audited by the FRA) and conduct annual bridge inspections (that are audited by the FRA).
The S. 1st Street railroad bridge, dubbed “Old Rusty,” turned 99 years old on August 29th.