PEARL RIVER, La. -- A short boat ride down the Old Pearl River, from the Pump Slough Road boat launch, will bring you to the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge.
When you get close, the structure, which carries freight cars and Amtrak trains daily, appears to have more rusted pilings than not, a number of those actually corroded through and crumbling.
Pearl River resident, and Honey Island Swamp advocate, Janice O'Berry said when a train crosses, she's seen the bridge sag slightly. She said she watched pieces of material fall into the river.
'It concerns me for the safety of all the people that use the track, as well as the toxic chemicals they haul over the track,' she said.
When Eyewitness News presented pictures of the bridge to the railroad company, it sent inspectors to the bridge immediately. We caught the workers in action, but they quickly tried to put themselves out of view of our camera.
Later, a spokesperson responded in an email saying, 'All of your photos show rust/oxidization on pilings that are not supporting the bridge. Each one of these old pilings has been replaced with new steel pilings that are supporting the bridge. This is not an unusual practice to leave some of the pilings in place. The bridge is structurally safe for train and passenger traffic.'
Norfolk Southern also says those inspectors did not see falling debris when watching the train cross the tracks. Yet on our trip to the bridge, we saw several pieces of material that appeared to have broken off and fallen, at some point in time.
Regardless, the railway says it will be removing the old pilings within the month to prevent the potential for material to fall. St. Tammany leaders are also looking into the concerns.
O'Berry is counting on both.
'My hope at this point is to see something done to the bridge,' she said, 'to ensure the safety of the citizens in this town that use this waterway as well as the people who use this railroad line.'
We requested the most recent inspection report for the bridge from both the railway and the Federal Railroad Administration. A railway spokesperson said the report is not public record, while the FRA said a Freedom of Information submission was required, which we completed.
To read more on this story from our partners at the New Orleans Advocate, pick up a copy of tomorrow's paper.