Collapsed bridge was not structurally deficient

May 25, 2013

A Union Pacific train
Credit ianmunroe / flickr

The bridge that collapsed in Scott County, Missouri was not structurally deficient, said district engineer Mark Shelton in an interview on Saturday.

"The bridge was in good condition," said Shelton. "It was certainly not in danger of any kind of failure."

At 2:30 a.m. a Union Pacific train t-boned a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at a four-way rail intersection. The reason for the crash is not yet clear. As St. Louis Public Radio reported, it's not easy for a crash like this to happen on a modern railroad:

Trooper Clark Parrott, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said the circumstances surrounding the collision are highly unusual.

“It just doesn’t happen,” Parrott said. “These train lines have warning lights and things all the way down the line for them. I’m just having a hard time getting it processed that two trains hit at basically a four way intersection.”

A derailed train, it could be suggested, is capable of collapsing a bridge whether it's structurally deficient or not. But concerns around bridge safety are growing in Missouri. Earlier this week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released it's annual scorecard, giving Missouri a grade of C- for the state of its bridges, highways and other infrastructure. Then, advocacy group Transportation For America published a list ranking states by the condition of their bridges. Missouri was the 7th worst.

And, of course, one can't help but think of the similar bridge collapse in Washington State earlier this week.

The southeast Missouri bridge lies along Route M between Chaffee and Scott City just a few miles from Cape Girardeau. Two cars fell with the bridge, injuring seven people but causing no fatalities. Although the derailed train only collapsed two of the five spans on the bridge, Shelton said that cracks in the other spans suggest the structure is a total loss. MoDOT's next step, said Shelton, is to immediately design and build a replacement bridge.

Shelton would not speculate on the cost of the project but suggested that the train company could be liable for a good amount of it. "The bridge was just standing there doing its thing and the train ran into it," he said. "Certainly we'll be pursing all the liabilities that are involved."

In February, President Obama proposed a plan called "fix it first" that would immediately spend $50 billion in transportation infrastructure. That plan fell flat when congress failed to pass a budget that would avert the sequester, resulting in a $1.9 billion decrease in spending for infrastructure repair.