Pittsburgh objects to Norfolk Southern plans to raise bridges for double stack trains
Pittsburgh has filed a formal objection with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to Norfolk Southern Railroad’s plans to reconstruct a city street bridge in the North Side so double stack trains can pass underneath.
Norfolk Southern is seeking PUC permission to raze the bridge at Brighton Road and North Avenue and build a new one with 22-foot clearance.
The railroad runs double-stacked trains through an alternative, longer route paralleling the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. It wants to use a shorter route through the city, but four bridges, including the one at Brighton Road and North Avenue, are too low for trains to pass underneath.
In its PUC filing, the railroad contends the Brighton Road bridge needs significant repairs and presents a danger for trains.
City officials, including Mayor Bill Peduto, have objected, saying double stack trains running through dense Pittsburgh neighborhoods would be a public safety hazard. They also say raising the bridge would adversely impact the North Side and its residents.
“We’re dealing with a highly dense populated area that could be transporting dangerous materials, and the track basically is not a straight line,” Peduto said. “It has many turns and we know that double stack trains have the capacity of tipping more readily than a single stacked train. We’re talking about the possibility of a catastrophe that would impact 10s of thousands of people should something go wrong on a track that is not a straight line track.”
Norfolk Southern declined comment on the city’s objections.
“Norfolk Southern is committed to an open and transparent process as we progress with the railroad’s proposal to increase rail clearance heights to enable double-stack intermodal trains to operate through Pittsburgh’s North Side,” spokesman Jonathan Glass said in a statement.
The rail line runs through the North Side, crosses the Allegheny River near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and generally parallels the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway through East End neighborhoods.
Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, disputed the railroads contention that the Brighton Road bridge needed significant repairs.
She said the city has asked Norfolk Southern repeatedly over the past year to thoroughly explore other alternatives to meet clearance requirements, such as lowering the railroad bed, and explain why alternatives won’t meet its needs.
“We have not gotten the appropriate responses in these requests to Norfolk Southern, so we’ve articulated to the PUC that we would like to see responses to those before we provide direct comment on the action that they’re proposing now, which is altering the bridge,” she said.
Glass said the railroad has had numerous discussions with Pittsburgh over the bridge projects.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .