Schumer working on railroad to improve Kingston trestle safety

With, from left, Mayor Steve Noble, County Executive Pat Ryan and Mary Ranges — whose car was damaged by rocks falling from the Abeel Street trestle — Sen. Schumer calls out CSX at a press conference last week. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Five weeks after stones falling from a CSX train damaged vehicles and injured two people on Abeel Street, and one day after U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer held a press conference in Kingston to demand action from the company, railroad workers cleared debris from a trestle across the Rondout Creek. But CSX officials have yet to respond to Schumer’s demand for safety netting under the bridge — and a full accounting of the July 30 incident.

The rail trestle, which dates to the late 19th century, crosses the Rondout Creek and spans Abeel Street on the Kingston side. On July 30, a work train dropping ballast rocks along the rail line continued discharging the material as it crossed the open-deck trestle. On Abeel Street, four vehicles were struck by rocks falling 140 feet. Two occupants of one car suffered injuries in the accident. It is unclear whether the incident was the result of a mechanical failure or human error.

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This week, Mayor Steve Noble said that there have been at least three reports of debris falling from or hanging off of the trestle since the July 30 incident. “This is not the first time this has happened,” said Noble. “Things have been falling off of that bridge for years and CSX knows that.”

Following the July 30 incident, Noble said he contacted CSX to ask for safety netting to be placed under the bridge and for a full report on the incident. Their response, Noble said, was “crickets.”

That changed over the weekend after Schumer held a press conference at the Abeel Street residence of developer Robert Iannucci. Flanked by Noble, County Executive Pat Ryan and a woman injured in the July 30 incident, Schumer said that he planned to reach out to top officials at the rail carrier to demand action.

“CSX makes a ton of profit and they come to me for all sorts of things,” said Schumer at the Sept. 6 press conference. “And I will go all the way to the top to get them to fix this.” 

About 40 CSX trains cross the trestle each day, a number that has increased in recent years with the boom in oil and natural gas shipped from oil fields in the Dakotas. The span across the Rondout also has a troubled history. Schumer said that his staff had turned up a report issued in the wake of a 1992 incident when a large piece of a Conrail train fell from the trestle and injured two people below. The report indicated that at one point there was netting installed beneath the bridge, but by the time of the 1992 incident it was no longer in place. The report recommended that the netting be reinstalled and that the company use “canopies, plates or wooden flooring” to shield Abeel Street from falling debris. None of the work recommended in the 1992 report was ever done.

“Though much may have changed over the past 27 years, the desire and necessity of protecting motorists and pedestrians on Abeel Street remained the same,” Schumer wrote in a letter to CSX officials. “Yet has been unfruitful.” 

Noble said CSX contacted him on Monday to tell him that crews had inspected the trestle and cleared rocks and other debris over the weekend. In a statement emailed to the Kingston Times, CSX officials called the July 30 incident “extremely unfortunate.”

“We will continue engaging with elected officials regarding our remedial measures and plans to ensure this will not happen again,” the email read. 

But Noble said this week that he had still not received a commitment from the rail carrier regarding safety netting or a full safety report on the bridge. Noble contrasted CSX actions with the state Department of Transportation, which swiftly installed netting under the Route 9W bridge after a piece of the span fell onto the street below. Noble also noted that CSX had installed netting under its trestle which crosses the Hudson River in Castelton.

“If there’s some engineering reason why they can’t put netting there, I want them to prove it to me,” said Noble. “And if there’s not, then they need to do it.”

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