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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Post-Katrina update: Railroads continue to rebound from hurricane's wrath


It took 16 days to repair, but Norfolk Southern Railway has reopened the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, restoring freight-rail service to New Orleans and reopening interchange points with western railroads in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The storm washed away nearly five miles of track on top of the 5.8-mile bridge. NS used nine cranes on barges to lift the track out of the water and back onto the bridge. The railroad also repaired nine miles of track running through New Orleans that were washed out or damaged.

“With the reopening of the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, we are ready to assist in the transportation of supplies and materials in and out of the city,” said NS President Wick Moorman in a prepared statement.

Since the hurricane, NS workers have inspected 1,400 track miles, removed 5,500 downed trees, installed 11,000 ties, and unloaded and surfaced track on 55,000 tons of ballast. During repair work, NS rerouted New Orleans traffic to other gateways.

“The resumption of rail service following this disaster is a tribute to the dedication and efforts of Norfolk Southern people,” said NS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Goode.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana’s neighboring state, Mississippi Southern Railroad (MSR) has resumed partial operations in a Bay Springs area damaged by the storm. The short line operates a line between Bay Springs and Newton.

John Blaylock, chief engineer of the Gulf Region for MSR parent The Watco Cos. Inc., and MSR Engineer Pat Foster and Conductor Justin Rhodes spent days cutting down trees and limbs with chainsaws while walking along 28 track miles.

“Many of the trees were 60 feet tall, so when they fell, the limbs and branches spanned 30 feet wide,” said Blaylock in a statement. “We had a difficult time finding equipment to clear the track — so many individuals and businesses were hit by this hurricane that equipment and fuel for the equipment was scarce.”

During the next two weeks, MSR officials expect to complete an assessment of track and bridge damage. Fast-moving water caused ties and track surfaces to deteriorate.

“Today, we can operate on the line at a safe, but slow manner, and we are able to provide service to our customers so that they, in turn, can get our local communities working again,” said Blaylock.

A solar-powered LED lighting product supplier also is trying to assist rebuilding efforts in the Gulf region. Carmanah Technologies Inc. has been rushing to fill orders for hundreds of lights needed to rebuild facilities and transportation infrastructure.

The week after the storm, the company received orders for more than 500 solar-powered LEDs for railroad, marine and aviation lights. CSX Corp. ordered 100 lights for damaged bridges along its 100-mile line between Pascagoula, Miss., and New Orleans.

Carmanah has diverted all its inventory and production to the region, said Carmanah CEO Art Aylesworth. The company previously provided solar-powered LED lights for crisis relief efforts in Sudan and Haiti.

“All of Carmanah's marine distributors worldwide have volunteered to forego shipments so that everything in stock and all production can be rushed to the hurricane zone,” he said.