AmeriStar Rail and Others Send Letters to Amtrak and MDE to Halt Historic Bridge Pier Demolition

Written by Jennifer McLawhorn, Managing Editor
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“New P,W&B Railroad Bridge Across the Susquehanna,” Harper’s Weekly Magazine, December 22, 1866

PERRYVILLE, Md. – AmeriStar Rail, the town of Perryville, and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association are trying to stop Amtrak’s demolition project along the Susquehanna River.

AmeriStar Rail says that Amtrak’s attempts to demolish surviving structures dating back to the Civil War violates Federal EIS findings, and the “Historic Bridge Piers are not in the way of the alignment of the proposed Amtrak bridge replacement.”

The P,W&B Railroad bridge piers were built between 1850 and 1866, and an “application to the National Park Service (NPS) seeks to preserve the Historic Bridge Piers as the Underground Railroad Monuments of Freedom as part of the NPS Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.”

In response to Amtrak’s proposed plans, the Mayor of Perryville and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association sent letters to Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE). These letters, which can be read below, request demolition be halted “due to several errors, omissions, and deficiencies in the Wetlands License.”

Perryville Mayor Matt Roath said, “The town of Perryville and our residents are deeply concerned by the lack of involvement we have been afforded regarding the Amtrak Susquehanna Rail Bridge Replacement project. There is little secret that we’ve long valued our local historical assets and resources. We are troubled by the way in which this demolition plan has been dictated to and thrust upon us. Our concerns lie not only in the potential loss of our history but in the potential damage to our environment, potential loss of access to our waterways and Amtrak’s continued dismissal of our community in all phases of a construction project that promises to negatively impact our community for the next 15-20 years.”

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association Executive Director Ted Evegeniadis said, “There is no good reason or purpose for demolition of these railroad bridge piers. An environmental assessment explains that these piers should be preserved, not destroyed. Improvements should rather be made to keep the historical significance of these piers intact. These piers have been used as colonial water bird nesting areas as noted by the Lower Susquehanna’s historic populations. Amtrak’s presumed authority for demolition and the license they received should be revoked and any project plans should be scrapped immediately.”

AmeriStar Rail Chief Operating Officer Scott Spencer said, “AmeriStarRail is proud to join this effort to save, from senseless destruction, Underground Railroad Monuments of Freedom. Built during the depths of the Civil War, these historic railroad bridge piers tell a powerful story, for our lives and future generations, about the formidable path of the Underground Railroad ferries across the Susquehanna, the trains that Black Americans, freed from slavery after the Civil war, rode across these piers to new lives of freedom, jobs and opportunity in the North, countless trips by train of abolitionist Frederick Douglass before his death in 1895 and the railroad bridge’s innovative conversion into America’s first double decker highway bridge in the 1920s. Our generation will be judged not by the monuments we build. Instead the irreplaceable monuments that we save will tell the most powerful stories for generations to come.”

Amtrak Statement

The Susquehanna River Bridge Replacement Project is fully funded and will soon begin early construction work to advance this critical upgrade along America’s busiest rail corridor. 

The existing bridge – which turns 118 years old at the end of this month – has reached the end of its useful life. It will be replaced with a modern structure that allows for high-speed travel up to 160 mph, while also improving operations for MARC commuter and freight services. 

The rigorous four-year environmental study conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and Maryland Department of Transportation – and supported by Amtrak – included extensive stakeholder outreach and consideration of 25 different alternatives. 

FRA, MDOT, and Amtrak already went through a comprehensive consultation process in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, in which the Town of Perryville was a Section 106 Concurring Party. As part of this process, the Maryland Historical Trust confirmed that the remnant bridge piers are not historic.

This project – and the more than 12 million annual rail passengers who rely on it for their travel between each city and town along the Northeast Corridor – cannot wait.

Background Information

Public involvement and agency coordination began early in the process and represented both sides of the river, including a June 2013 meeting with elected officials of Perryville and Havre de Grace. This was followed by multiple agency coordination meetings, public outreach information sessions, and public hearings throughout the environmental process that influenced the current bridge replacement plan.

The environmental documentation (including the Environmental Assessment and the Finding of No Significant Impact) clearly identified that removal of the remnant bridge piers is necessary to build the new and improved bridge, and that removal of the remnant bridge piers will also improve navigation along this portion of the Susquehanna River.”

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