PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In the canyon that is the Norfolk Southern Rail line through Allegheny Commons West Park, a westbound freight train rumbled through Thursday afternoon.
The double engines sliding beneath the North Avenue – Brighton Road intersection bridge. From rail top to bridge the distance is 19-feet and Norfolk Southern’s Rudy Husband says, “The bridge needs to be raised by about three feet.”
That would bring it to a level double-stack trains could use the route.
Pittsburgh Director of Mobility and Infrastructure, Karina Ricks says the railroad is pushing a plan without considering all the options.
“There are other construction methods that could be pursued that could achieve the vertical clearance without altering the bridge,” she says.
Husband says, “Lowering the tracks through Allegheny Commons is not feasible.”
The railroad has filed a plan to rebuild the bridge with the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and Pittsburgh has filed an objection.
The two sides are also at odds at the PUC over the Merchant Street bridge behind the Clark Bar Building. The city wants the railroad to find a way to raise the current nine-foot clearance that doesn’t allow trucks and some emergency vehicles to use the street.
Previous litigation resulted in the city’s plan to rebuild the West Ohio Street bridge over the tracks to a height that will allow double stacks.
Ricks says they have had little success trying to get the railroad to consider sending the double stacks elsewhere.
“They do have other alignments that can meet their double stack needs so we’ve asked them to explore those.”
Norfolk Southern’s Husband says, “Well, from a transit time standpoint just through Pittsburgh it will save us about an hour in transit time.”
And multiplied over the number of trains that will use the route that represents a lot of money.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto didn’t pull any punches, “For the Northside I don’t think it’s appropriate I think it’s the wrong area to double stack. I think we put people first and their safety. We know that double stacks have the capacity of tipping more readily than a single.”
Mayor Peduto went on to point out those Northside tracks take the trains through Penn Station, the Strip District, Bloomfield, along the east busway and through the eastern neighborhoods and suburbs.
He says that’s a path, “Through densely populated areas we’re talking about a possibility of a catastrophe that could impact tens of thousands of people.”
Norfolk Southern’s Rudy Husband finds the Mayor’s words surprising, “I guess that shows a lack of awareness of what double-stack trains carry cause they carry consumer products clothing, electronics, mail order packages. It’s not a hazardous material route for double stacks.”
Husband says the railroad is willing to continue to try and work with the city, but the fight by Pittsburgh to prevent double-stack trains from traveling through the Northside is only delaying the inevitable.
“Well, the fact is double stack trains will be running through the Northside sometime in the future. The bridges will have to be replaced and under PUC regulations the clearance for those bridge have to be 22 feet. So we’re going to have a double stack route at some point.”