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Norfolk Southern rail bridge collapses in Missouri flooding

Image: Norfolk Southern

A railroad bridge used by Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) has collapsed into the Grand River in Missouri.

According to the Railway Track and Structures (RT&S) website, Norfolk Southern has suspended service in Missouri between Moberly and Kansas City. The bridge and track weight capacity on this stretch is 286,000 pounds. The Class 1 railroad issued a service alert saying that it is “working with our interline partners to detour freight traffic over alternative gateways. Customers with traffic operating to and from the Kansas City area should expect a 48- to 72-hour delay.”

Debris and high flood waters have been issues for the past several days near the Grand River Bridge in Brunswick, Missouri. National Weather Service (NWS) Flood Warnings, housed inside the FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events platform, remain posted along the Missouri River. A Twitter video shows the bridge dropping into the river on the evening of October 2. The NWS Missouri Basin River forecast center tweeted earlier today, October 3, that backwater from debris caused the Brunswick gauge to rise.

“Just before dark, the railroad bridge west of Brunswick, the Norfolk Southern rail line, their main line, the bridge has washed out,” Brunswick emergency management director Brent Dickerson told KWIX radio.

SONAR Critical Events: Flood Warnings continue on the Missouri River where the Norfolk Southern rail bridge collapse occurred on October 2, 2019.

Due to a logjam underneath the bridge, Norfolk Southern decided to cut the rails on the span so it could control the collapse. Earlier reports cited a barge striking the bridge, which turned out to be false.

Flooding in the area is making it difficult for crews to repair the damage. The flood stage at Brunswick is 19.0 feet, and on October 1 the Grand River had risen to 25.35 feet. The NWS considered that minor flood level, but it was less than two feet from reaching moderate flood stage. The river has dropped over the last 24 hours, but may rise again by this weekend.

Grand River stage at Brunswick, Missouri. (Source: NWS)

While nobody has reported injuries, Brunswick marine access has been closed for safety reasons. Norfolk Southern crews are working with Chariton County officials to to keep boaters away. Dickerson said barricades have been set up to protect people.

“So let the railroad have their barrier to work with whatever they need to do,” stated Dickerson. “And for safety reasons is the main thing, because we don’t know where the bridge went. We do know it went down, most of the middle sections did go down to the south. We don’t know if it’s there sticking up or whatever.”

Norfolk Southern officials don’t know when the bridge will be back in service. This could affect farmers in the region during harvest time because the railroad carries grain out of Chariton County.

Jim Blaze, FreightWaves contributor and rail expert, said railroads have long term contracts for using each other’s tracks for “emergency train detours”. But these detours take added time.

“If the bridge is west of where the two Norfolk Southern [NS] main lines join at Moberly, then two of NS’s main line corridors between the Midwest and Kansas City are impacted,” added Blaze.

Blaze also said that both Norfolk Southern corridors are true main lines, with “each likely seeing more than three to seven main line long distance freights each day.” The 48- to 72-hour shipper delay message by NS is a standard language, and delays could be longer for some shippers.

According to the company’s website, Norfolk Southern is “a major transporter of industrial products including chemicals, agriculture, and metals and construction materials.” It operates approximately 19,500 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serving every major container port in the eastern United States.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.