Are South Bend's railroad bridges safe?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Some of the railroad bridges found around South Bend are nearly 100-years-old.  Drive underneath them and you’ll find rust and cracked concrete.  Some residents are concerned.

“Lots of bridge collapses in the United States these days,” said Tammy Hamilton, who lives near the bridge over Western Avenue.  “It is a questionable item.”

Hamilton is concerned about the weight of passing trains on the decades old bridge.  But, city engineer Carl Littrell said he’s not concerned about the bridges.

“Basically these bridges are way, way overbuilt,” Littrell explained.  “The engines that drove the trains in the old days were even heavier than they are now.”

Trains have gotten lighter, meaning there’s less pressure on the bridges that were designed to take much heavier loads.  Littrell said the public shouldn’t be concerned about rust or cracks in concrete.

“About a third of this bridge could rust away and it’d be plenty for what’s on it,” Littrell explained.  “Maybe even two-thirds.”

Federal regulations require railroads to inspect bridges at least once every year, and South Bend has only seen a few minor problems.  Maintaining the bridge’s stability is the responsibility of the railroads that use them, keeping the bridges looking good is the responsibility of the city.

“The railroad doesn’t accept the responsibility for aesthetics, they’re only interested in achieving safety in operations,” Littrell explained.

A few years ago the city spent about $300,000 to repaint the Michigan Street, Main Street and Bronson Street bridges.

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