Pittsburgh and Norfolk Southern spar over maintenance; Politician seeks investigation

Written by Staff and newswire report
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A Pittsburg politician has suggested that Norfolk Southern fails to follow up when its own inspections show damage to tracks or bridges.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Wayne Fontana has asked the state’s Public Utility Commission to review how the Class 1 railroad responds when problems are detected during track inspection. Fontana’s request comes after a “sinkhole” was discovered, and repaired, along NS track near the Merchant Street Bridge.

“Obviously, if you see a sinkhole next to tracks, and you know there was a derailment last year at Station Square, you get concerned,” Fontana, a Democrat who represents the city’s Brookline neighborhood, said in an interview with local media Monday. “I wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the PUC to see if they could get involved with an investigation or review.”

In a written statement, Norfolk Southern said its “top priority is safe rail operations – it’s both good business and a commitment we make as a responsible corporate neighbor. Norfolk Southern has a rigorous track and bridge inspection program that fully complies with Federal Railroad Administration requirements. If inspection crews discover a condition that requires repair or maintenance, the railroad takes action.”

The railroad confirmed that earlier this month, “personnel inspecting track at the Merchant Street bridge in Pittsburgh discovered a small loss of ballast stone on the deck of the bridge’s superstructure. An inspection determined that some ballast had fallen through a small gap between the ends of two spans on the bridge. Engineering Department personnel sealed the gap using concrete and replaced the ballast. Norfolk Southern’s Engineering Department personnel have determined that the Merchant Street bridge is structurally sound and safe for train operations.”

Fontana’s request for PUC action is the latest volley in an ongoing battle between the railroad and local authorities. In December, Norfolk Southern filed a lawsuit against Pittsburgh seeking $1.1 million to cover damages from two landslides in 2016. In early February, the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania announced it was seeking $3 million in damages from Norfolk Southern in connection with a derailment at Station Square in August of last year.

The legal tangles come as NS prepares to spend a $20 million grant from the state to upgrade 14 bridges throughout Allegheny County to allow for double-stack trains. Norfolk Southern has identified the Merchant Street Bridge for replacement as part of that proposal. An activist group called Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh wants to replace that plan with a more costly one that would lower track across the area.

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