Huey P. Long train trestle repairs underway after container accident

Huey P. Long train trestle repairs underway after container accident

Crews worked to repair guardrails high atop an elevated train track attached to the Huey P. Long Bridge on Tuesday where large containers came tumbling the ground last week during stormy weather.

Union Pacific Railroad, which was running the train, said it is continuing to investigate what happened, including whether anything mechanical contributed to the incident.

"We're still collecting information from that incident, data from the train that will help us identify specific issues that caused the incident, and what changes, if any, are needed to prevent that from happening again" said Jeff DeGraff, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad Company.

Soon after the accident, Jefferson Parish leaders questioned why the train was rolling during heavy thunderstorms.

"If you know that you have the potential for severe weather, such as a severe thunderstorm or a tornado watch or warnings of things of that nature, then it would make sense not to have a train going over the bridge at that time," said Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts.

Roberts wants to make sure railroads are in the communication loop when bad weather is forecast.

"We want to be able to give them real time information, just like we receive from our Emergency Management Department, as it relates to the weather, and by doing so you can mitigate risks," Roberts said.

A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington said the FRA conducted an initial inquiry into the incident and determined that the incident did not meet the threshold for a formal investigation. Union Pacific hopes its own investigation will provide key insight into what went wrong.

"We'll be looking at the containers themselves, the weight of the train, the wind speeds that were impacted by it, making sure that our ratings are accurate so that we can plan for things moving forward," DeGraff said. "We'll check to make sure that there weren't any other breakdowns, mechanically speaking, that may have led to this, just making sure we collect all the information, so we have a clear picture," DeGraff said.

DeGraff said they plan to meet with Jefferson Parish officials, representatives of New Orleans Public Belt which owns and maintains the bridge, and other railroads in the area.

"Union Pacific looks forward to working with all of them to develop communication protocols and practices that will be beneficial to everyone, and especially with an eye towards safety and keeping the men and women on our railroads and on our bridges safe," DeGraff said.

New Orleans Public Belt Railroad is on board with the idea of better communication with Jefferson Parish going forward.

"New Orleans Public Belt Railroad welcomes the opportunity to continue to enhance our coordination with Jefferson Parish. NOPB agrees with the recommendation for better collaboration before a weather event occurs and is working with Jefferson Parish emergency preparedness officials to develop a protocol for weather events in the future," said NOPB CEO and General Manager Jeffrey Davis.

Trains rolling on the elevated tracks in Elmwood play a critical role in commerce.

"This is a gateway that is serviced by a lot of people, there are a lot of folks that have a vested interest in this," said DeGraff.

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