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.
“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.”
Click on the thumbnails to see the full photo:
Last but not least, the Walk Bridge on a good day: