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Train Derailment Affects the C&O

Old 12-23-19, 09:05 AM
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indyfabz
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Train Derailment Affects the C&O

Don't know the area personally, but the park alert says the derailment destroyed the footbridge that connects the trail with Harpers Ferry:

https://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvis...er-21-2019.htm
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Old 12-23-19, 10:59 AM
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That’s the only bridge leading directly into Harpers Ferry. Not sure if the 340 bridge is rideable, but it would add many miles of highway riding to get into town. No loss to me, as I never cross into town when riding the C&O.
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Old 12-23-19, 11:04 AM
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Itís also part of the AT.
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Old 12-23-19, 11:11 AM
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Hopefully it can be repaired quickly for the hikers. Looks like a couple hundred feet were destroyed on the WV end of the footbridge.
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Old 12-23-19, 11:46 AM
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The option to go into HF is nice. I've stayed on both sides of the Potomac there.
That accident could have been terrible, look at picture 6 here->
https://wtop.com/local/2019/12/cargo...ferry-west-va/
That is the walk way you walk/ride on.
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Old 12-23-19, 11:55 AM
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Dang! Glad no one was on it. In the second and fifth photos you can see a lone set of trucks still on the rails.
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Old 12-23-19, 07:24 PM
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It's very fortunate that this accident happened overnight when there were apparently no pedestrians on the bridge. I've personally walked across this bridge a number of times, including to walk across into town for refreshments when biking the C&O. I understand the pedestrian bridge will be closed "indefinitely", though I imagine repairs will have some urgency, given how often this bridge is used for tourism, AT hikers, etc.
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Old 12-24-19, 05:56 AM
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Being in the rail biz I am wondering what sort of agreement is in place for the pedestrian walkway. Whoís financially responsible for repairs could drive timing. Working on bridges can be quite expensive. Working on rail bridges even more so.
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Old 12-24-19, 09:34 AM
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Yeah, several legal interests and financial stakeholders are potentially involved. I imagine the National Park Service has some sort of easement or agreement to host pedestrians on that bridge (because CSX would have no motivation to do so). Nearly all of the bridge is on the Maryland side of the state line, as Maryland "owns" the Potomac River, with the WV and VA state lines lying along the south bank. Of course, the town of Harpers Ferry wants that pedestrian bridge, as it supports a lot of foot traffic to and from retailers and shops in town. Since the pedestrian bridge is so critical to local tourism, I wouldn't be surprised if the town of Harpers Ferry would be interested in financially supporting the repairs, at least in part. However, as the bridge is almost entirely within the state of Maryland, I'm not sure how that would work. I imagine the NPS has the ultimate authority over the bridge and its sustainment and repair, even though multiple states and towns are involved.
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Old 12-24-19, 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by hokiefyd View Post
I imagine the NPS has the ultimate authority over the bridge and its sustainment and repair, even though multiple states and towns are involved.
That might be bad news. The NPS is broke. But as you note, other interests may step up, even if they are not contractually on the hook for repairs.
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Old 12-24-19, 01:00 PM
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I've walked across that footbridge, and I've also biked from Harpers Ferry into Maryland on route 340. Biking on that part of 340 was awful. It's a high-speed road. There was a very narrow shoulder, but it was overgrown with a massive amount of poison ivy when I was there, so I biked in the lane. I was very happy to get back onto the C&O Canal towpath.
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Old 12-24-19, 03:38 PM
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This is from the Google Maps' Street View of the US-340 bridge. It's not one I'd want to bike or walk across.


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Old 12-24-19, 09:37 PM
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Wouldn’t CSX be responsible for repairing the bridge, as they are the ones who caused the damage?
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Old 12-25-19, 05:09 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Wouldnít CSX be responsible for repairing the bridge, as they are the ones who caused the damage?
Not likely. More likely there is an easement or license for the walkway which absolves CSX from liability even for its own negligence. Thatís how I would have drafted it, and such a provision is common in the industry.
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Old 12-25-19, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by hokiefyd View Post
This is from the Google Maps' Street View of the US-340 bridge. It's not one I'd want to bike or walk across.


I cross this bridge to go to work in MD. It's not safe for a biker. But the concrete barrier to right of picture is a walkway between it and the green steel rail. Still, way too close to traffic that does not obey speed limit, especially semi's that cross this bridge. But there are people whom do it for great photo ops.

I hate getting stuck on this bridge. It's happened to me three times the past three years due to accidents or one driver whom ran out of gas in middle of the bridge.
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Old 12-26-19, 05:02 AM
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On Tuesday I biked from Brunswick MD to north of Harper's Ferry on the C&O Towpath, mainly to see the bridge damage.

First off, the resurfacing work is pretty much complete all the way up to mile 67 or so where I turned around, about 7 mile upstream from the bridge to Harpers Ferry. The good news is that the new crushed stone has made the path surface very flat. The bad news is that even though it hasn't rained in close to a week where I am in MD, many resurfaced sections were wet or even puddled - it was like biking on oatmeal for close to half the 25 mile round trip. I'm not sure whether the greasy spots were just more shaded (that seemed to be mostly the case) or just more newly worked on sections that hadn't gotten their final rolling, or if that area just got more rain/snow than we have recently.. There are also a few short zig zag detours upstream from HF where small culverts washed out or sinkholes happened. Nothing major but a few hundred feet of dirt path and a wooden bridge.

From the press photos, the damage was on the WVa side of the bridge. From the MD side on the towpath, I couldn't actually see the damage. I did walk up the steel spiral staircase. The gate at the top is locked to keep people off the bridge. I did take a picture - from that side the bridge looks fine.


Pedestrian bridge into Harper's Ferry from the Towpath side.

Given how long it took the Park Service to put up a temporary bridge for the culvert washout downstream from Brunswick, I'd be happily surprised if that bridge was repaired by the summer. As someone else pointed out, the 340 bridge does have a pedestrian walkway - that used to be the way the Appalachian Trail got over the river. I've biked it but it isn't fun - it just collects tire penetrating objects, and the rest of 340 to the park entrance has no shoulder and lots of traffic that is not happy to share with bikes. There will be shuttle services set up for getting folks between HF and the towpath, I'm sure.


Beautiful 50 degree December day.

It was a beautiful day to ride, thought by the time I got home my bike looked like it was covered in cement, as did my back, my butt and my helmet. Somewhere I have a fender I could have put on but I wasn't anticipating the muck.


Guess I have to turn the water \back on at my hose bibs when I get home.
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Old 12-26-19, 06:29 AM
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Wow -- that is a lot of muck!! Thanks for the route report.
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Old 12-26-19, 07:49 AM
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If you're on a bicycle doing the C&O you don't need harpers ferry. There are lots of goods and services in brunswick just 6 miles away.

There are something like 20 miles of the new trail surface. The new surface was built around existing washouts, at least the ones I've seen (I'm a local). 2017-2018 was very tough on this section of the C&O. I had many runs during that time frame where my feet were in a couple inches or more of water for 50% of the run. I bought running shoes specifically for dealing with those conditions (water channels in the footbed to let the water out). The new surface is super awesome for running although I do end up with little bits of rock in my shoes pretty much every run (I've probably got over 1600 miles of running on the new surface this year). I bought a bike recently to get back into cycling and will be putting lots of miles on the C&O. I'm planning to put fenders on the bike.
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Old 12-26-19, 08:29 AM
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Originally Posted by jpescatore View Post
On Tuesday I biked from Brunswick MD to north of Harper's Ferry on the C&O Towpath, mainly to see the bridge damage.

First off, the resurfacing work is pretty much complete all the way up to mile 67 or so where I turned around, about 7 mile upstream from the bridge to Harpers Ferry. The good news is that the new crushed stone has made the path surface very flat. The bad news is that even though it hasn't rained in close to a week where I am in MD, many resurfaced sections were wet or even puddled - it was like biking on oatmeal for close to half the 25 mile round trip. I'm not sure whether the greasy spots were just more shaded (that seemed to be mostly the case) or just more newly worked on sections that hadn't gotten their final rolling, or if that area just got more rain/snow than we have recently.. There are also a few short zig zag detours upstream from HF where small culverts washed out or sinkholes happened. Nothing major but a few hundred feet of dirt path and a wooden bridge.
Good to know. I haven't been north of Brunswick since May. I remember just north of HF being dirt like with a lot of ruts. I don't remember the details of the surface between HF and Brunswick but it was different. I do ride the southern section a lot. They did a 5 mile section from Whites Ferry south with the crushed stone liek you described this year too. It was done in phases over a few months. It ended up settling out to a decent surface but for a while it was like oatmeal and loose. Eventually the excess fines bed in or wash off and and the slurry subsides, at least it did there. I prefer the random packed larger gravel over the new crushed they are doing but that's me.

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Old 12-26-19, 09:19 AM
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Regardless who is legally responsible for fixing the footbridge, CSX should do the right thing and have it repaired. They are solely to blame for the damage and will take the brunt of bad PR.



Last edited by alan s; 12-26-19 at 09:25 AM.
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Old 12-26-19, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Regardless who is legally responsible for fixing the footbridge, CSX should do the right thing and have it repaired. They are solely to blame for the damage and will take the brunt of bad PR.
Totally agree. On the flip side I can see their point as well. They know any addition or agreement they make for people to share or add on to their property becomes an expense and liability to them. They can just say... We don't want a walkway attached to our bridge because we don't want to be at risk or responsible in an accident if people die or as a minimum we have to pay to repair it. Look at this case.. If there was no foot bridge in HF.. Other than the recovery of their own cars and some cleanup and minimal landscaping, they would be done now. Back in the day we used to ride BMX and dirt bikes/ATV on the active Norfolk Southern rail access roads to get between old abandon mine and slag dumps (common in western PA). Both the state of PA and the NS police? often chased us down. These areas were totally useless and wasteland with no houses or anything within miles but they did not want to deal with liability. Granted we were young punk kids, not a family enjoying a casual stroll and the view of Harpers Ferry but the underlying reasons remain the same. Again.. let me restate.. I do agree CSX could throw a bone for good PR but much worse PR when a train derails and a family of 5 enjoying their vacation are thrown off a bridge.

As a side note.. Coming down from Frostburg on the GAP is this. Most people probably don't think about it but the first thing that crossed my mind was someone had to jump through hoops for this setup. I don't know the logistics behind the casual tourist train that runs on these tracks and maybe they are locally owned so less red tape but I have no doubt there was some serious discussion about this setup.



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Old 12-26-19, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Regardless who is legally responsible for fixing the footbridge, CSX should do the right thing and have it repaired. They are solely to blame for the damage and will take the brunt of bad PR.
Not necessarily. Derailment could have been caused by something like a broken car axle. That appears to be a BNSF-owned or leased unit grain train.
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Old 12-26-19, 10:11 AM
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Not having any expertise with trains, the engine says CSX on the side, and trains aren’t known for randomly derailing. Either the axle broke or the train was going too fast or the track had a problem, but all I can say for sure (as a layman) is the train with CSX emblazoned on the side damaged the footbridge. No one was hurt, so any liability will be limited and the responsible party can be determined later. CSX should get a crew out there pronto and repair the bridge. Have a big bridge reopening ceremony this spring with the mayor of Harpers Ferry and smiling children.
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Old 12-26-19, 10:17 AM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
They can just say... We don't want a walkway attached to our bridge because we don't want to be at risk or responsible in an accident if people die or as a minimum we have to pay to repair it. Look at this case.. If there was no foot bridge in HF.. Other than the recovery of their own cars and some cleanup and minimal landscaping, they would be done now.
That's precisely how we look at it: If your facility is not there we have no additional exposure if something goes awry, whether due to negligence or not. (Sometimes stuff happens without any negligence on anyone's part.) And it's not just in cases of derailments. If, for example, someone wipes out on their bike when the walkway is wet and their is a law suit, everyone involved with the bridge is going to get sued. The railroad is seen as having deep pockets. so full indemnification by the facility's "sponsor" is demanded. It's also not limited to people-related facilities. We take the same stance when someone wants to put something as simple as a sewer or water line under our right of way.
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Old 12-26-19, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Not having any expertise with trains, the engine says CSX on the side, and trains arenít known for randomly derailing. Either the axle broke or the train was going too fast or the track had a problem, but all I can say for sure (as a layman) is the train with CSX emblazoned on the side damaged the footbridge.
The train was being operated by CSX, but those cars are decidedly not owned or leased by CSX. Also, one news report I read said there was no track damage, so it doesn't sound track-caused, but it could have been (e.g., wide gauge).

As for repairs, they will likely have to be made by a contractor, which means someone is going to have to hire that contractor. That should be the entity who is contractually responsible (I would be shocked to learn these is no contract governing the existence of the walkway.) for the cost of repairs. The ultimate cost will almost certainly have a railroad labor component due to federal regs. governing working around railroad rights of way.
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