JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Railway safety is a major concern following the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Right now, work is going on in Jacksonville to improve safety on some of the tracks, and that work is causing some concern — not for drivers — but for boaters.
Florida East Coast Railway is doing work on the railway bridge next to the Acosta Bridge in downtown Jacksonville crossing the St. Johns River, so that has kept the bridge down. Boaters say they have had to sit and wait until the bridge is lifted. They say this happened throughout the weekend.
On Monday, boater Brian Sullivan radioed ahead to try to find out how long he might be stuck waiting in order to sail past the railway bridge. Sullivan said he has never had a problem like this before.
“I come up and down the river all the time. The railroad bridge is the first one to open. It’s pretty rare besides if the train is crossing,” Sullivan said.
News4JAX saw several boats Monday morning in Sullivan’s situation, and there were other industrial barges and vessels that had to wait, as well.
The reason, News4JAX learned, is there is maintenance work going on. Over the weekend, there were problems with the bridge that caused train delays. And that was a traffic concern for drivers. But on Monday, the delay was for boaters while work went on. The bridge was opened to boat traffic for a short time at noon, but it came down again a half-hour later and was closed again for several hours. It was supposed to reopen at 3 p.m., but that was not the case. It did not reopen until around 4 p.m.
News4JAX has also learned this is something that could go on for several weeks. According to the Coast Guard, Florida East Coast Railway is authorized to temporarily deviate from drawbridge operation regulation and operate as follows from Monday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 17:
- Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., the drawbridge need not open to marine traffic except that an opening will be provided from noon to 12:30 p.m. each day.
- Saturday and Sunday the bridge will operate per its normal operating regulation.
The railway bridge is nearly 100 years old, and work like this has been done in the past.
This area was also the scene where, on the tracks under the Acosta Bridge, a Norfolk Southern train tanker car derailed in 2014. It is the same company that is involved in the Ohio incident. The car was holding 28,000 gallons of ethanol, a highly flammable liquid. In that incident, News4JAX was told only a few gallons seeped out. Still, employees working in the area were evacuated for safety reasons, but no one was injured.
News4JAX has reached out numerous times to Florida East Coast Railway, but no one has returned repeated calls.