Vol. 8 No. 4
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Is this a bridge too far gone?
Like arched spider webs, the graceful steel structure of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Bridge was once a major rail link in the northeastern United States, carrying passengers and freight east and west across the Hudson River.
Today, the century old bridge is a charred and rusting relic, damaged by a fire in 1974 and rendered unusable. Its fate and future are uncertain.
Photo: Library of Congress HAER archive, Historic American Engineering Record collection.Overall view looking downstream with eastern shore of Hudson in background.
Various groups and individuals have put forth a variety of ideas for the future of the bridge. According to an article in the NY Times on January 21, one of the most talked-about plans is to rebuild it for pedestrian and bicycle use, a gleaming walkway offering magnificent views of the Hudson. A non-profit group, Walkway on the Hudson, was deeded the bridge in 1998 and has been working to open the pedestrian span. Their vision of preserving an important historic structure for use as a walkway in such a spectacular setting has captivated politicians, history buffs and ordinary citizens alike.
Others would like restoration of passenger rail in that corridor, formerly the Maybrook line which runs from Poughkeepsie to Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County east of the river and from Highland to Maybrook on the west side. Proponents of this idea also support the pedestrian walkway and would support a rail-trail combination such as those offered by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
The New York State Department of Transportation is sponsoring a study concerning the viability and potential use of the Maybrook line corridor for passenger rail.
Dion Sunderland, a senior engineer at Anatech Corp. in Poughkeepsie, has made proposals for rebuilding the Maybrook line for rail service and has suggested that the bridge superstructure could be rebuilt for rail, highway, and pedestrian traffic while maintaining the original piers. Sunderlands article on the history and on his proposal for the rebuilding of the bridge appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal.
The bridges history is a story of struggles, reflective of the difficulties experienced by railroads in the 19th and 20th centuries. Built in the 1880s, it was the vision of a Poughkeepsie mayor, Harvey Eastman, who saw his city as an important crossroads in the Hudson Valley. At that time, the nearest railroad crossing of the Hudson River was between Albany and Troy. In the Poughkeepsie region passengers and freight had to cross the river by ferry -- a slow, inefficient process.
For years, battles over the bridge - who would build it ? should it be built at all ? - were fought in Albany. Finally, the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company was incorporated in May 1872 with a capital of $2 million and a charter authorizing them to start construction that summer. There were delays. The cornerstone was finally placed on the western shore in 1973 and the first train crossed the bridge in December of 1888.
It was the first bridge to span the Hudson south of Albany and it was considered a technological wonder. Built five years after the Brooklyn Bridge, it was higher over the water, deeper in the water, and longer 6,767 feet. Its promoters claimed it was the longest bridge in the world. It had to be designed so as not to obstruct navigation on the Hudson River, hence the height and minimal clearance of 130 feet above the high water level.
It initially served passengers and freight and was the primary rail route for goods traveling from New England to points west of the Hudson. However, after the completion of the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City in 1917, its role diminished and its use was restricted to freight only.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, railroad companies struggled to survive, became insolvent, were absorbed by other companies, and often went bankrupt all together. The Poughkeepsie Bridge Railroad was absorbed by the Central New England, which itself was partly controlled by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Later, Penn Central took over the New Haven Railroad, thereby taking ownership of the Poughkeepsie Bridge. In the 1960s, Penn Central went bankrupt and was folded into Conrail.
Neither Penn Central nor Conrail ever had the means to maintain the bridge properly, nor could they repair it after the fire in 1974.
For more than a decade after the fire, there were disputes over ownership, liability and access. In 1984, for liability reasons, Conrail disposed of the bridge and several miles of right-of-way for $1. In 1998, as mentioned above, the deed to the bridge was turned over to Walkway Over the Hudson.
The challenges to converting the bridge to a walkway are considerable. The cost could be more than $10 million and as high as $30 million. In addition, an elevator needs to be built.
A feasibility study, commissioned and paid for by Walkway, will be completed in a few months. As part of the study, engineers found that the underwater piers are sound, but the structure is in dire need of a paint job, and thats not a task that can be done by volunteers.
Proponents, including Poughkeepsie Mayor Nancy Cozean and local congressman Maurice Hinchey, see the project as an inspiration for older cities who are looking to reinvent themselves.
It would be an enhancement to the quality of life for residents of the area and for visitors, a way to tie the Hudson Valley together, said Walkways president Fred Schaeffer. Members of the non-profit group see it as the centerpiece connecting bike paths and green space with shops and restaurants dotting the surrounding areas.
An $874,000 grant from the federal government in 2005 was a boost to the Walkway group, as was $155,000 from the governors. But, David Rocco, a member of Walkway and dedicated supporter of the project, said they are a long way from their financial goal.
DF interviewed Dick Carpenter, member of the East of Hudson Rail Freight Operations Task Force and of the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission, about the feasibility of rebuilding the Poughkeepsie Bridge for rail freight operations. That is highly unlikely, Dick said. He believes the connections in Albany, which has the modern Selkirk Yards, and the two planned trans Hudson tunnels, the Trans Hudson Express (THE) tunnel and the Cross Harbor Tunnel, which will give rail freight direct service into Brooklyn and Queens, are better locations for improved east-west freight rail service. It is vital to provide expanded rail freight service into New York City, he said.
[ Editors note: DF has an interest in following the progress of this project, particularly the possibility of rebuilding the bridge for multiple uses - rail, walkway and highway. Follow-up news will be published. ]
Selected Rail Stocks...
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CSX offers residents $100
People put out by crash in Bullitt
form long line
LOUISVILLE, KY, JANUARY 23 -- This will cover all of my mileage, Tim Bowlin told the reporter from Courier-Journal who was covering the story. Tim was among those who waited in line for up to four hours to file a claim with the CSX Outreach Center at the Hearthstone Inn and Suites in Brooks.
Since making the offer on Sunday, the company has handled about 1,800 claims, said spokesman Gary Sease, including some for more than $100 when people can prove a greater disruption. Recipients don't have to sign any type of waiver.
The cash offerings wont prevent lawsuits but it might help prevent permanent damage to their image, experts say.
Study after study shows that when there are crises or disasters, and companies run to the crisis, there is much less likelihood of liability, said Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, which provides crisis counseling to corporations and governments around the world.
Severe weather shuts down German rail system
Cologne - For the first time since World War II Germany's railroad network was shut down completely from approximately 4:00 PM on the 18th until about 5:00 AM on the 19th of January. The decision to suspend all train movements nationwide was made in Deutsche Bahn's (DB) operations center in response to the massive winter storm called Kyrill which lashed Germany, Holland, Belgium, England and Poland with hurricane force winds for two days last week. DB management took the action to avoid stranding numerous passenger trains in between stations in case of loss of electrical power, signals, or obstructions in the right of way. The shut-down decision left many thousands of travelers stranded overnight in dozens of different train stations across Germany. The lucky ones were able to sleep in trains parked in numerous stations during the nationwide shut down.
Photo: Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung
Fallen steel beam lying near entrance to Berlin Hauptbahnhof
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Although the action itself brought praise from various consumer advocacy groups, passenger rail supporters and government officials, they were at the same time highly critical of the lack of communication and information provided by DB to the travelers during the period. A spokesman from Pro Bahn a Germany based rail transit advocacy group similar to NARP in the USA stated: We are totally dismayed with the lack of news and information Deutsche Bahn provided to train travelers during the storm. There is no excuse for the lack of information about the planned shut down of the nation's rail system on the day of the storm. Thousands of travelers were not allowed to know what was happening or when it was planned to begin to move trains again. There were also numerous reports that a hotline which was set up by DB to provide information to rail travelers during the crisis was mostly unavailable or busy during the storm.
After the storm was largely over on Friday afternoon, the extent of the damage to the rail system was slowly realized. Dozens of rail lines, especially numerous routes in the German states of Nordrhein Westfallen, Thurgin and Schleswig Holstein were impassible due to downed catenary and/or trees fallen on the right of way. However damage to basic infrastructure such as bridges, causeways, embankments and track was minimal. The damage to electrification infrastructure due to fallen trees in the areas around Cologne, Dortmund, Bonn and Düsseldorf was quite extensive.
By Tuesday (23rd January) most of the system was back in operation again, but a number of commuter rail lines in the Dortmund and Cologne area were still out of service as of mid-week due to ongoing repairs to downed or severed overhead electric power supply lines. Elsewhere in Europe passenger train services were severely disrupted in much of England, parts of Scotland, Holland, Belgium and Poland for similar reasons as in Germany. Services in these countries had mostly returned to normal by the start of new week on 21st of January. The storm also caused havoc with Germany's highway system and airports. Numerous highways and autobahns were closed for 24 - 48 hours or longer due to overturned trucks, fallen trees, piled up debris or wind damaged bridges.
Fierce Winter Weather Results in Evacuation
Berlin - Winter Storm Kyrill inflicted damage to the roof of the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central station) during the night of 18th January, thereby unleashing considerable concern about the design and stability of the billion dollar train station's unusual glass roof and its supporting structure. A steel beam weighing several tons fell from the roof of the train station and crashed down onto concrete steps on the station's exterior during the height of the storm, which had wind gusts approaching 120 km/h (75 mph) in the Berlin area. Two other beams separated partially from the roof structure but they did not fall. The incident prompted police to evacuate the entire station in the middle of the wind storm. No one was injured during the incident.
Photo: Deutsche BahnPicture taken during the construction phase of the immense glass roof of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Then on the following Sunday evening another winter storm with high winds again blew across Germany, thus prompting a second evacuation of the station, although the national rail system continued to operate more or less normally in the Berlin area. Police ordered the upper part of the station, where the damaged roof over the east-west tracks is located, to be closed off and evacuated, although trains continued to roll through the upper track level.
The weather related incidents come on the heals of an engineering and accounting report released just after the new year's holiday which was critical of the design of the station's elaborate glass roof and pointed out design and construction defects in the roof structure which could cost nearly US $100 million to rectify before the storm related damage occurred.
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