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Harpers Ferry council receives update on pedestrian bridge status

By Staff | Jan 14, 2020

One-third of the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry was damaged last month in a train derailment. A timeline for repair of that portion of the Appalachian Trail is uncertain. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY-During the Jan. 13 Harpers Ferry Town Council meeting, National Park Service Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg gave a status report on the pedestrian bridge crossing the Potomac River, which was partially destroyed in December when a CSX freight train derailed in Harpers Ferry.

One-third of the pedestrian bridge, connecting West Virginia to Maryland as part of the Appalachian Trail, was destroyed in the accident.

Brandyburg said he has been in meetings with CSX officials about the repair schedule of the bridge.

“The first thing we had to do was determine who owns what. CSX owns the rails but the National Park Service owns the walkway,” he said.

Also uncertain is whether the repair funding will come solely from the park service, or will be reimbursed by CSX.

According to Brandyburg, before any repair could begin on the walkway, the soundness of the railway trusses supporting it must be confirmed.

“We are looking at the structural integrity of that part of the bridge,” Brandyburg said. “CSX says it’s stable and any further study on that would have to come at National Park Service expense.”

As all these details are worked out between CSX and the National Park, no firm timeline has been set for the repairs.

Mayor Wayne Bishop voiced his concern, stressing the importance of the bridge to visitors to the area.

“It helps drive our local economy with all of the tourism here. It’s a high priority for our town,” he said, mentioning he has reached out to West Virginia’s congressional delegation for assistance and input.

Discussions are continuing on the possibility of providing shuttle service for those who wish to access the C&O canal or Maryland Heights from Harpers Ferry.

While National Park Service buses are too large to travel on the road at Sandy Hook, possible modes of transportation are being discussed with organizations such as the Canal Town Partnership.

In the meantime, Brandyburg stressed that safety is key, and NPS personnel will be on alert to those who may decide they can cross the river using the railroad bridge.

“People have been reported to be walking across the train bridge,” Brandyburg said. “That is still an active train bridge and we don’t want visitors crossing security fences to those tracks to get to Maryland.”

CSX has not yet released a cause for the train derailment.