Now, the City of Cleveland is calling for action by issuing a letter to big rail companies, asking for immediate repairs.
Mayor Justin Bibb ordered a city-wide survey of railroad-owned bridges to assess how bad this problem is. That survey produced a list of nearly 100 bridges in need of repairs.
“Class 1 railroad-owned bridge condition emerged as a prominent and widespread problem affecting nearly every ward across the city of Cleveland,” Ward 15 Cleveland City Councilwoman Jenny Spencer said.
The survey shows that 23 bridges need critical repairs for issues ranging from cracking concrete columns to failing bridge bearings.
“Not only for the lighting for our pedestrians, but you can actually see the leaking, there is some debris that is coming through,” Ward 7 Cleveland City Councilwoman Stephanie Howse said. “We know this should not be a standard here, not only in Ward 7, but it shouldn’t be a standard in Cleveland.”
The City has sent its findings in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the rail companies that own the bridges.
Currently, there is no estimate on how much it will cost to repair the bridges on the list created by the city survey, but the City of Cleveland said the rail companies are responsible.
“We’re sending these letters directly to the primary railway companies to CSX and Norfolk Southern,” Cleveland City Law Director Mark Griffin said. “So to them, we say, ‘Don’t tell us you don’t know, because now you do. We expect you to fix those bridges, and if you don’t, we will hold you responsible.’”
Norfolk Southern owns 14 of 23 bridges on the list needing critical repairs. In a statement, the company said it plans to cooperate with the demand from the city, but it will take time.
“Our bridges in Ohio are often landmarks in our local communities – and how they look can be a resident’s first perception of how safe they are. Our inspection program, which fully complies with FRA regulations, is designed to regularly review bridges across our network and uncover any safety issues. In Ohio, we’ve invested $100 million in installation, rehabilitation, and replacement projects over the last five years. In the next five, we anticipate more than $240 million in bridge projects in Ohio, many of which are referenced in recent reports. While those take time, we will continue to quickly address community concerns alongside our regular inspections to ensure our bridges remain safe,” the statement said.
Griffin said this is the next step in the process to make change, but the city is not ruling out civil or criminal action if the large rail companies do not act.
“These are major corporations with significant profits,” Spencer said. “And in my conversations with Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, at this point, they’re operating with the assumption that the railroads should take responsibility. A lot of that remains to be seen.”
The Railway Safety Act of 2023 is a bill sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown and co-sponsored by Senator J.D. Vance. In short, the bill would, “Strengthen rail safety requirements, improve train inspections, boost support for first responders & increase penalties on rail companies for wrongdoing.”
It is currently on the Senate floor.