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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: NORFOLK SOUTHERN New Portageville Bridge Is Key to Southern Tier Rebirth

THE PORTAGEVILLE BRIDGE OVER THE Genesee River, located in Letchworth State Park near that western New York hamlet, is at the cusp of its useful life. The spindly structure, known as the Portage High Bridge when it was built in 1875 on the Erie Railroad’s main line between Buffalo and Hornell, N.Y. (today’s Nor- folk Southern Southern Tier line), has support- ed motive power ranging from sprightly five- foot gauge 4-4-0s through ponderous Berk- shires to today’s high horsepower diesels which embody the power of three or four early units in a single locomotive. It’s 136 years old, an 819- foot long viaduct which rises 245 feet above the river. The six wrought iron support towers were erected in 1875, while the three main pin-con- nected deck truss spans and ten deck girder spans replaced the originals in 1903. Time has taken its toll on the old steel and

iron, and corrosion and metal fatigue limit the bridge to carrying cars with a maximum gross weight of 273,000 lbs, compared to the current standard of 286,000 lbs. The freight trains that do traverse its single track must reduce speed from 35 m.p.h. no more than ten in order to min- imize stresses on the ancient metallic skeleton. In addition to the time and weight penalties im- posed by operating over Portageville, since it ac- quired the Tier in 1999’s Conrail breakup, the


railroad has spent approximately $1 million on maintenance and inspections, and has installed extensive instrumentation to monitor the struc- ture’s condition. The bridge suffers from broken rivets as well as cracked and bent eyebars and other structural members. In addition, the con- crete-encased masonry piers that support the viaduct towers were date from the original wooden trestle that spanned the river in 1852! Back when Conrail operated the Tier, the

line mostly carried local traffic for on-line con- nections and industries, while high priority through freight used the former New York Central Water Level Route to the north or the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad main line to the south. In fact, for a time Conrail served the line with a series of long-distance locals and it car- ried almost no through freight. However, as a condition of the Conrail merger, the Delaware & Hudson was awarded trackage rights over the Tier between its own lines to Albany and Harrisburg, Penn., at Binghamton and west- ern connections in Buffalo, and so D&H did use the Tier as a through route.. Since the Conrail breakup in 1999, the ex-

NYC Water Level Route is in the hands of CSX and with the explosion of traffic related to tap- ping the Marcellus Shale gas fields of northern Pennsylvania, the Southern Tier has gained

new importance. (Canadian Pacific inherited the D&H trackage rights when it purchased the road in 1991.) Ten short lines depend on the Southern Tier for access to the national network, and it also handles a good amount of Canadian National interchange traffic to and from Buffalo. Since NS created the Pan Am Southern joint venture and the “Patriot Corri- dor” with Pan Am Railways in 2009, the route has gained importance as a funnel for inter- modal and automotive traffic, which operates in haulage trains over CPR track north of Bing- hamton to Schenectady, Mechanicville, and destinations in central New England. Portageville’s weight restriction has meant

that cars carrying coal, salt, grain, and other bulk commodities can not be loaded to their maximum capacity for destinations on the Tier, which adds expense and reduces efficien- cy. To sidestep this issue, in 2002 NS leased the dormant former Erie main line between Hornell and Meadville, Penn., to the new Western New York & Pennsylvania, which used its own money and state grants to reha- bilitate the route and restore through service, creating a Portageville bypass. WNYP had just a handful of local customers in the begin- ning, but in March 2003 Norfolk Southern coal trains, fully loaded to their maximum gross

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