EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


May 22, 2011

Councilors fear train bridge will collapse

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HAVERHILL — City councilors say they fear the old bridge that carries dozens of trains over the Merrimack River each day will eventually collapse.

Councilor William Macek said it's a matter of time before "vibrations or something else" cause the bridge to fall apart.

"Its condition is obvious by the fact they only let trains go 5 mph on it," Councilor William Ryan said. "It's basically been condemned. ... God forbid that bridge goes down with a commuter train on it."

Their comments were in response to news the federal government recently rejected Massachusetts' request for $110 million to replace the 92-year-old railroad bridge at the edge of downtown.

"I was sad to see we won't be getting any money for the railroad bridge," Ryan said.

The two-track span, which is similar in design to one that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007, has been repaired several times recently and has forced trains to slow to a crawl while crossing it — freight trains are limited to 5 mph and commuter trains may not exceed 15 mph.

Richard Davey, general manager for the MBTA, said the bridge is "absolutely safe for train service."

"I can tell you unequivocally that we would not be running train service over that bridge if there were any questions about its safety," Davey said.

MBTA commuter trains cross the steel "deck and through truss" design bridge 26 times each weekday, 13 times arriving at the downtown Haverhill station and 13 times leaving for Boston. It is also used daily by the Amtrak Downeaster that runs between Boston and Maine and by Pan American freight trains.

Davey said the bridge was inspected in March and that an engineering firm that is planning for its eventual replacement has been reviewing the span at least monthly for some time.

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