Old crumbling Amherst railroad bridges raise safety concerns among residents

AMHERST, Ohio - Crumbling railroad bridges in the city of Amherst are causing concern for some residents. There are five railroad bridges that run through town, all of them under the jurisdiction of the railroad company Norfolk Southern.

Mayor Mark Costilow said that even though the bridges — some more than a century old — may look bad, they are still structurally safe and sound.

“I think its a challenge to make something like this look better,” Costilow said. “They [the railroad company] are very good to work with when there's an emergency or when there’s public safety involved, but I would have to think just solely to make the bridge look better, it’s been difficult.”

Amherst resident Todd Mizen said he gets an uneasy feeling each time he walks under the Milan Street bridge, where stones are scattered on the sidewalk, the pillars are rusted, and the walls are crumbling. A sign on the bridge says it was built in 1912.

“It’s an antique bridge, yeah, we have an antique city, but let’s do something about the deplorable condition,” Mizen said. “The maintenance on these bridges is poor. There’s a lot of pressure on these old bridges, they need to be fixed before something happens.”

Four years ago, the North Lake bridge was completely redone by Norfolk Southern, with the city partnering to paint and put in sidewalks.

Mayor Costilow said he hopes to work with the railroad company and fix the facades on the two bridges downtown first.

“Be patient, these things take time. Government and railroads, they’ve got a long history,” Costilow said.

Norfolk Southern sent News 5 the statement below:

Norfolk Southern is strongly committed to keeping our bridges and track infrastructure safe for our employees, our customers, and the communities we serve. As part of our safety program, Norfolk Southern performs comprehensive inspections of every railroad bridge at least once a year, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration. In addition to these comprehensive inspections, employees in our bridges and buildings and engineering groups constantly monitor our bridges for issues that might affect safe rail operations or public safety.

Employees in our bridges and buildings group last inspected the railroad bridge over Milan Street on Nov. 29, 2017. The bridge was determined to be safe and structurally sound for train operations.

Based on inspection records, Norfolk Southern is developing plans to perform rehabilitation work on the bridge in 2019 or 2020. That work will include rehabbing the steel and concrete substructure to address the rusting and areas where concrete spalling is occurring.

In the meantime, Norfolk Southern expects to perform some maintenance work such as installing new cover plates on the columns and “scaling” the concrete surface to prevent loose concrete from falling on the sidewalk.

If someone has a concern that a Norfolk Southern bridge poses an immediate safety risk, they can contact the railroad’s Police Communications Center at 800-453-2530.

You can learn more about how Norfolk Southern inspects and maintains bridges in the video and infographic below.

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