ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – The aging rail infrastructure in New York and across the country needs immediate attention before a “nightmare scenario” occurs, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The senator said Wednesday that is why he’s pushing to hire more railroad bridge safety specialists.
He said there are only five specialists with the Federal Railroad Administration who oversee audits of privately owned train bridges. Schumer said that number is only enough to audit about 1 percent of the bridges in any given year.
“That’s astounding,” he said.
Comparing the practice to the “fox guarding the henhouse,” Schumer said it’s not enough for private rail companies to inspect their own train bridges to ensure they’re structurally sound.
“In the state of New York, publicly owned rail bridges must be inspected once every other year by DOT — New York state’s DOT,” he said. “However, privately owned train bridges are not held to the same standard. The private train bridges are only required by the federal government to self-inspect.”
The senator says if the private companies deem the bridges unsafe during their own inspection, they would be saddled with repair costs.
“So they sort of have a bias to declare that the bridge is safe and say all is well even if it may not be,” he said.
Schumer said the partial collapse of a sidewall on an elevated railroad track in downtown Syracuse on July 5 is “the perfect example” of why more safety measures are needed.
“Thank God no lives were lost. No one was injured,” he said. “But it’s a shot across our bow. It’s a warning about what could happen in the future because we may not be so lucky.”
He says the rail lines in upstate New York have deteriorated because of their age and how frequently they are used. Schumer also said they might not have been designed to last as long as they have.
“We can’t afford to wait any longer,” Schumer said about adding inspectors. “The amount of cost is small, the amount of savings in terms of safety is large, and we gotta do it and do it right away.”