Damaged bridge shuts down barge traffic on Arkansas River

Resized 99263 1b1nw47xcolorbridge 1 99 17967 R180x140

The following is the text of a news report from the Times Record:

(VAN BUREN, Ark.) (Jan. 22) — Two broken cables that tilted the rail bridge of the Arkansas River between Fort Smith and Van Buren have put river traffic at a standstill and forced officials to divert railroad traffic.

Officials with Arkansas & Missouri Railroad are unsure why the lines broke at the northern end of the bridge. Bridge inspectors from a firm in St. Louis have been called out to assess the situation and determine the cause of the break, said railroad Police Chief Ron Sparks.

“With it being catawampus there, that means it’s stuck,” Sparks said. “The problem with that is that means we can’t use it for rail traffic and the river can’t go under with tugboats right now either, so the river and the rail have both stopped until we can get it up or fixed.”

With that section of the rail likely out of commission for the rest of the week, the first order of business is to get the rail back up or level so that barges can make their way through, Sparks said.

Train crews discovered the dysfunctional rail about 11:30 p.m. Monday when a northbound train was heading back from Fort Smith, Sparks said.

“We don’t know if high winds might have played a part in it last night, because it was quite windy,” Sparks said. “We’re not quite sure what caused it to happen, but we’ll know more once the inspectors get here. Everyone has been notified.”

In the meantime, rail traffic has been diverted to surrounding areas, Sparks said.

“Our customers will still be served,” Sparks said. “We’re going to take care of our customers.”

Barge traffic along the river has been put at a standstill. Now is a busy time of the year for inbound fertilizer and outbound grain shipments, said Marty Shell with Five Rivers Distribution.

“There’re probably seven or eight ports above that bridge that are virtually shut off until that bridge suspension rises,” Shell said. “If there’s any equipment that we have or anything that we can do to help expedite it, we’re here to help the A&M get that bridge back up.”

River crews are waiting for the bridge inspectors’ assessment and are hopeful that the bridge gets fixed quickly, Shell said.

“If it’s just a day or two, it’s just going to be a delay in towboat trafficking and stuff of that nature,” Shell said. “If it’s a week or something … you’re probably looking at millions and millions of dollars of lost revenues just because of the fact that customers aren’t getting their products to them in a timely manner.”

The situation is unique, Sparks said.

“I’ve been here 16 years and it’s never had any problems, not like that,” Sparks said. “We maintain it all the time, but we haven’t had any kind of issues like that.”

Sparks said local crews do routine monthly maintenance of the bridge, with a yearly inspection from an outside firm.

“It’s kind of a fluke thing,” Sparks said.

Shell also said that he had never seen anything like it, but that he is confident the bridge will be fixed soon.

“I know that A&M Railroad is a good group and I know they’re doing everything they can possibly do to get this thing up and back in operation as quickly as possible,” Shell said.

By Professional Mariner Staff