Who Pays the Fiddler?
There is little to no oversight from the Department of Transportation in establishing policy for railway bridges. Their recommendations are only advisory. The only real requirement is that the railway put a maintenance plan in effect. Inspections of the railways are done by the owners. Most maintenance plans call for at least weekly inspection of the rails, and annual inspections for bridges.
In other words, railroads are allowed to self-regulate with no outside supervision or accountability. The railroads can refuse to release records of inspections. In matters like we face here in Springfield, it comes down to a matter of negotiation between the highway authority, in this case the City, and the railroad.
Some excerpts from the Federal Railroad Administration FAQ sheet:
Q-3. The bridge that carries a railroad over my street has a vertical clearance of only 10 feet 6 inches, and my truck will not fit under the bridge. Can FRA require the railroad to raise the bridge and improve the clearance?
A. As in Question 2 above, FRA does not take jurisdiction over clearances or the condition of the highway under a railroad bridge. Improvements to clearances and the condition of the highway under the bridge are issues to be resolved between the railroad and the highway agency.
Q-7. Does FRA require or recommend that bridges be re-rated at a particular interval?
A. No. As in Q-6 above, FRA holds the track owner responsible for the adequacy of the bridges that carry its track. If the bridge design records show that the bridge is designed to carry a load at least as heavy as the loads to be operated, and if the condition of the bridge has not changed appreciably, it is probably not necessary to re-rate the bridge. However, if an inspection shows deterioration of a component of the bridge, it might be necessary to revise the rating of the bridge.
Q-9. How can I get a copy of FRA’s database of all railroad bridges in the United States?
A. FRA does not maintain a database of railroad bridges. There is no reason for FRA to do so from a safety standpoint, and it would be an unnecessary expense for both FRA and the reporting railroads. FRA guidelines call for railroads to keep an accurate inventory of their own bridges for effective maintenance management.
Q-10. Why won’t a railroad send me copies of the inspection reports on its bridges?
A. Railroad bridge inspection and evaluation is a multi-level effort. Inspectors observe, measure, and report on the condition of a bridge and its components, but a full evaluation of the safety and serviceability of the bridge requires the training and experience of a competent engineer. Inspection reports from inspectors to the engineer are an intermediate step in that process. A person who is not familiar with the terminology and reporting methods used by that particular railroad, and who is not competent by education and experience to evaluate railroad bridges, could easily draw incorrect conclusions from raw bridge inspection reports. FRA reviews those reports on a case-by-case basis, but considers them only as a part of the full inspection and evaluation process.
If the railroad gets what they want now, there is little to nothing the citizens of Springfield can do to rectify shortcomings in the conditions of the underpasses along Commercial St. Future plans for renewal of Commercial Street will be hampered. Center City Springfield will be stuck with these eyesores as long as the railroad pleases.
It's up to the City Council to address these problems in negotiation with the railroad. If the City Council spends all it's bargaining chips to get the railroad property for the Jordan Valley projects, there won't be anything left to address the low clearances, poor conditions, and unappealing appearence of the underpasses.
And guess who pays the price for it.