By Dari Kotzker
It’s been three months since Conrail’s train derailment in Paulsboro forced hundreds of residents to evacuate because of the toxic chemical vinyl chloride was released into the air. While the National Transportation Safety Board still hasn’t issued its final report, Conrail announced it will be building a new movable bridge.
“The amount of time it would take Conrail to construct a new bridge is basically the same amount of time it would take to prepare the existing bridge, and so we made a decision to move forward with the construction of a new bridge,” said Conrail Spokesman Mike Hotra.
“I think that’s exactly what they need to do. This bridge has been repaired so many times, it was just rebuilt three years ago and still didn’t do the job that it should have done. I think it’s the right move. It’s what they need to do over the long-term for the safety of the residents and the workers and everybody,” said Paulsboro resident Gary Stevenson.
Local officials are in favor of the new structure.
“I think it’s a good thing to do, because one, the residents did want that bridge to be built and also the mayor and council have been fighting for that for the longest time,” said Paulsboro Mayor W. Jeff Hamilton.
“That route is vital to the industries it serves but it dissects our town, and people have to have confidence that this kind of incident which, in my opinion, was one of negligence and human error, was entirely avoidable, so a new bridge is essential,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a Paulsboro resident and business owner.
Community members are still dealing with the after-effects of the derailment. Some have already collected cash settlements from Conrail. While one law firm is representing 600 residents, more than 50 of them have already filed lawsuits related to health and property concerns.
“We’re going to respond to the lawsuits that have been filed in the appropriate forum, which we believe is a court of law,” Hotra said.
One local business that was hard hit recently filed a claim with Conrail.
“Our December was down just under 25 percent in sales. Now we’re sitting and waiting to be contacted by them to sit down and come up with a figure,” said True Value Manager Phil Weiss.
Conrail officials say the new bridge should be operational by September 2014, but Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-3) has a major issue with that timeline.
“We realize that they don’t have a bridge sitting on a shelf somewhere but this isn’t a complicated structure, it’s only 160 feet there’s no grade to it and the fact that it should take this long, speaks volume about what’s going on with our infrastructure across the the country,” Burzichelli said.
“We want to make sure that the process is one that moves forward efficiently, but we think that’s a realistic deadline,” Hotra said.
The current bridge is permanently locked, so boats which normally pass through between March and November, will not be able to until the new one is constructed. Conrail is working with local marinas and boat owners on an individual basis.