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SoNo jammed by Metro-North traffic after Walk Bridge again fails

Metro North Norwalk Walk Bridge SNAFU
Railroad passengers hoof past Liberty Square on a brilliant Friday evening in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Chaos enveloped SoNo as the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River failed to close properly Friday, forcing thousands of Metro-North passengers out of their halted rail cars and onto the streets.

This was the second time in nine days that the bridge has malfunctioned after swinging wide to let a boat through, causing headaches for New Haven Line rush hour commuters.

Metro North Norwalk Walk Bridge June 6
Metro-North workers attempt to close the Walk Bridge all the way Friday in Norwalk.

“Let me be clear, this is outrageous,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a press release, calling for a crisis summit to be held in the coming days with the state of Connecticut, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North. “In speaking with MTA and Metro-North, my administration has stressed that every procedure, protocol and engineering solution must get the immediate attention of the most qualified team of experts. It is of the utmost importance that these operating, maintenance, alternative service and customer protocols be completely critiqued and that near-term solutions be found to ensure reliable service for Connecticut commuters.”

The Walk Bridge, which was built in 1896, is owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and maintained by Metro-North. Malloy recently announced that Connecticut applied for $600 million in federal funding, of which $349 million would go to cover 75 percent of the cost of replacing the Walk Bridge.

The railroad company cannot, by law, refuse a request to open the bridge. “If there is a vessel that needs to transit through that space, as long as there is enough advance notice, we are required to open the bridge for the vessel,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

There are special rules for both the Walk Bridge and the Stroffolino Bridge on Washington Street, according to the U.S. Government Printing Office. As an example, Metro-North can refuse to open the bridge on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A PDF is attached below.

The bridge failed to close at 4 a.m. May 29, causing backups on Interstate 95 during the morning rush hour, according to reports. On Friday, Metro-North sent out its first tweet saying that the bridge had again malfunctioned at about 2:44 p.m. The railroad tweeted at 6:18 p.m. that the bridge was closed, and at 7:16 p.m. a tweet was sent saying that service was on schedule.

In between, thousands of railroad customers walked from the South Norwalk train station to the East Norwalk train station, and vica versa. Metro-North announced that it had sent 24 buses to Norwalk, but the buses struggled to make it over the jammed Stroffolino Bridge and through the congested streets. Norwalk Police briefly stopped allowing traffic to go south on Washington Street through the heart of SoNo, without explanation. Pedestrians with rolling suitcases were everywhere.

A woman who was out jogging stopped to ask what was going on, her jaw dropping when she heard the explanation. She had been rowing, she said, and everyone on the water had been wondering what was going on. Two news helicopters circled overhead. More than 20 men in orange vests stood on the Walk Bridge, working to align the railroad tracks correctly. Similarly garbed workers made efforts from under the bridge.

A line of vehicles were parked under the Monroe Street railroad bridge, just outside the entrance to the South Norwalk train station, as vehicles tried to pass and pedestrians walked in both directions. A Norwalk man sitting closest to the entrance said he was scared as he sat in his SUV with his two young children. A Wheels bus was attempting to turn into the station parking lot and he indicated that he felt squeezed, and wondered if the bus would make it past the MTA police without hitting his vehicle.

“This is a town trying to act like a city,” he said, a commonly expressed Norwalk observation.

He conceded the Walk Bridge was a state issue but said dealing with the hoards of people trying to get into and out of the train station was local. He was there to try to find his wife and give her a ride home, he said. He didn’t know where she was and could not contact her.

The trains began moving. On the train platform, a man in an orange vest announced that an incoming train was going to Bridgeport.

A short while later, two senior citizens and a young woman stood on the corner of South Main and Henry streets, asking how to get to the train station. They had walked from East Norwalk, they said.

One man speculated that the day of reckoning may have come due. The bridge was finally giving out after decades of neglect, he said.

A woman who usually rides the train said in a text message that she was glad she had gotten a lift from a co-worker. She said it wasn’t Norwalk’s fault.

“It’s state funds and nobody’s been keeping an eye on Metro-North,” she said. “The whole damned system is failing at once like bad electronics after the warranty.”

Norwalk River bridge opening

Click on the thumbnails to see the full photo:

Last but not least, the Walk Bridge on a good day: 

Comments

16 responses to “SoNo jammed by Metro-North traffic after Walk Bridge again fails”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Thank you NON. The only coverage that explained the law regarding the opening of the bridge and what the helicopters were doing over Norwalk. Kudos.

  2. John Levin

    What’s missing? Who operates the Walk Bridge? A human? If so, who does that human work for? And who is responsible for administering the bridge and the river? Is a toll charged for boat transit requiring the bridge to open? This strikes me as a relatively simple economics problem: opening of the Walk Bridge is a scarce resource. But it is given away for free? With the added externality of the bridge sometimes not closing? The answer: boat operators wishing to have the bridge opened must pay for that. The only question is how much. What does it cost to properly maintain the bridge, and what it is the cost to train riders when the bridge gets stuck?

  3. New Era

    That a shame this keeps on happening

  4. John Hamlin

    This is a problem about which Metro North and our politicians have been aware for a long time — it’s no secret. And now our classically reactive, non-leader politicians may finally do something about it — or more likely talk about it for a day or two while the photo opportunities are available and then get back to business as usual, which seems to be pandering to special interests. Our infrastructure is falling apart, and so our roadways are a mess, our transportation is unreliable, and Metro North is an emblem for what’s wrong with our state government. Until we change priorities and elect a very different set of politicians, or insist that those in power fix these problems (which are fixable), we will keep seeing this happening over and over, indefinitely. Look at this past winter with Metro North — constant delays, power outages, equipment breakdowns — and we still don’t have the ancient railcars replaced. It’s the whole system that’s failing — the rail system and the political system. For those of you who like the incumbent politicians and the status quo, are you prepared to lose all the revenue that will disappear when many of the taxpayers commuting to NYC move to other states? The way we are going, that’s inevitable and entirely predictable.

  5. Oldtimer

    Sounds like metro north needs to buy a lot of WD-40.
    The requirement to open bridges for boats is a federal law dating back to a time when boats carried all of our interstate commerce and railroads were all privately owned businesses. There are bridges that are not required to open on demand. They are built high enough over the water to allow clearance for whatever commercial vessels can be reasonably expected to need to pass under them. Metro North might be smart to explore raising the tracks, and the bridge, high enough to avoid the need to open. It would be expensive, but so will replacing that old bridge. How high would they need be to clear empty barges with big tugs, and the occasional small sailboat ? If they raised enough track, it would solve a number of low-RR-bridge problems in Norwalk.

  6. srb

    If it cost 300 or 400 million to replace the bridge because it gets stuck so often, it would seem much wiser to spend the $$$ on buying out those few businesses dependent upon the water.

  7. Oldtimer

    SRB
    Even if buying out all the businesses that require barge traffic were possible, Metro North would still be left with a very old steel bridge over a salt water river. The bridge will need to be replaced to keep it from collapsing at some point in the not very distant future. The private boat owners that occasionally need to pass under the bridge also have a right to pass that requires opening the bridge. There is no real practical way to avoid replacing that bridge. Any fixes they do now are like bandaids on a really severe injury. They may buy a little time, but they do not solve the problem. How long is a forged steel bridge safe for heavy train traffic ?

  8. Don’t Panic

    @oldtimer,
    Apparently, at least 118 years. The state has already appropriated money to replace this bridge. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain to commuters that will be caused by a full scale replacement. How do you maintain continuous rail travel from New Haven to Grand Central if you have to replace the whole bridge???

  9. Oldtimer

    Don’t Panic
    Sooner or later we are going to see just how that is done. I’m guessing the best plans they can devise will require a whole lot of buses for a long time.

  10. One and Done.

    Ride in the last car. Stay dry and give yourself half a chance.

  11. piberman

    Isn’t the Bridge a poster child for CT’s government ? Maybe rail commuters need petition the Governor. Our elected officials can’t seem to get his attention. Maybe the Mayors of cities along the rail line need to ho to Hartford and say “Governor we have a problem”. Maybe the repeated bridge failures during an election year is an omen from the gods !

  12. spanner

    I found the response Norwalk had was somewhat lean in emergency plans,leaving the city in chaos costing us taxpayers thousands of dollars in overtime and response dollars.

    Norwalk ambulance crew almost two hours into the bridge game were called to the South Norwalk tain station,asking dispatch why are there so many people crowding the station making it hard to pick up the victim at the train station?With a crisp response they were told bridge in South Norwalk is broken.A good thing no one else needed a ride the the hospital before that.This was only one example of Norwalks emergency response plans falling short of its mark.

    This weekend starting with friday night drew more overtime that any other weekend for the the police in recent months and no extra hiring was for road jobs,where are our State reps,no one in Norwalks politics will cry foul with that much overtime.Overtime produces votes in the next election who is going to complain,good job Bob,Bruce and Chris.

    Good information on the bridge,the one feet away in Sono is older and needs replacing as well,another well kept secret of our State house reps it seem.The rail bridge took many lives during a vicious accident so when it was rebuilt it was because of a major train accident leaving many dead and injured.

    Air pollution seems so stupid to talk about but where did the exhaust from the 70 or so busses go when they came to Norwalk?Some States now limit 5 minutes to a bus idling in one spot Norwalks busses never shut off no matter how long they sit there,wasn’t there an evironmental band of outlaws or inlaws formed in Norwalk?

    Why not replace both bridges at the same time? Norwalk has waited and will wait another 5 or ten years is what has been suggested for just one new one.Washinton st bridge is older folks and needs replacing as well.

    Meanwhile the car break ins and very little police protetction left its mark on the city,a few robberies were thrown in for good measure this weekend making Norwalk the place to ignore for a destination.You would think almost every cruiser directing traffic left the city safe during the bridge incident published police calls afterwoods tell another story.

    We know this bridge is tough shape ao isn’t Norwalk whats the solution?

    Norwalk is lucky Metro North police have made Norwalk a priority,right after this last bridge incident after they first took care of crowd control in Bridgeport did they focus on Norwalks troubles.Metro police is now at South Norwalks train station in force all the time and not just for future bridge mishaps perhaps they consider crime another reason to patrol Norwalk.

    Where is the urgency from our politicians,are they too busy getting ready for the next election to ignore us? At least with Moccia he knew that the quality of life stinks in South Norwalk whats our current politicians problems?What are they waiting for a ribbon cutting on the new bridge that isn’t even planned yet?

    The State reps that rerouted money for any work on the rail should take credit for the failure and owe not only the commuters an apoligy but us who live along the line.Suppose that can wait until they are elected again to say anything its the way they operate isn’t it?

    Norwalk police did a great job knowing the busses had to get here and get out of here with the riders so a big thanks to them.

  13. One and Done.

    Where’s Harry?

  14. M. Murray’s

    The interesting quote was that Norwalk is a town that is trying to act like a city.” The reality is that Norwalk is a city that has some residents thinking it is still a town. It is a city like any other, with city problems. Some people fail to realize this and expect that there should only be small town problems within it’s borders.

  15. Oldtimer

    Not all that long ago, the Railroad was a privately owned company called NY, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad. At some point it was determined that it was getting less profitable and would soon be facing large capital expenditures, new cars, new bridges, etc. A deal was worked out to transfer ownership of the right of way to the State with ownership of stations going to the towns. Now we are dealing with the predictable results. The state is looking at a major capital expense replacing that bridge. Does the state make any money on train service, or did the railroad company retain the profitable part of the business ?

  16. spanner

    Old Timer maybe its time for Amtrack to step in and make a deal,they cant do any worse than Ct.This bridge carries a lot of commercial traffic as well aside from Amtrack,they talk tolls on 95 again why not on the bridge?

    These laws on opening the bridge came into effect after the fatal bridge accident and have never been addresed since when the accident?

    In 1896, the New Haven Railroad built the bridge and widened its route to four tracks, as it simultaneously built its South Norwalk Railroad Bridge over the intersection of Washington Street with North Main and South Main streets. The 562-foot (171 m) span, with a rotating swing span 202 feet (62 m) long was provided by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of East Berlin, Connecticut. This type of swing bridge is one of just two on the Northeast Corridor

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