Dozens of Minnesota Rail Bridges Found to Be Structurally Deficient

July 24, 2015

About one in five railroad bridges that pass over Minnesota roadways are structurally deficient, according to state and local inspections last year.

Railroad bridges are in worse condition than road bridges, with just over 10 percent of the state’s highway bridges considered to be in “poor” condition, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Of the more than 330 railroad bridges over roads, 71 were declared to be in “poor” condition, and 12 others were found to be in worse condition with “serious” problems.

Inspectors discovered cracks in concrete columns and steel anchor plates, rusting girders and bolts, and holes in railroad bridge decks.

Minnesota has more than 1,300 railroad bridges, but only those crossing over roadways are subject to inspection by the state. Inspections conducted by the railroads aren’t included in public records.

Local and state inspectors have complained for years about deteriorating railroad bridges and the lack of action by railroads to resolve the issues, Minnesota Public Radio News found in its examination of public inspection reports.

Minneapolis bridge inspector Kent Madsen said he has no authority and that railroads often refuse access to inspectors.

“The railroad tells us, if we don’t feel safe, close the road underneath,” Madsen said. “That’s our only option.”

Maintaining railroad bridges is complicated by the lack of publicly available information on their condition. The Federal Railroad Administration doesn’t keep a database of rail bridges. The Federal Highway Administration has a database of highway bridges with information about their condition.

BNSF Railway, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway Limited and Union Pacific — the four largest railroad companies operating in Minnesota — declined requests for interviews but said in emails that they maintain rigorous inspection and bridge repair programs.

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