Tammy Baldwin urges Federal Railroad Administration to inspect S. 1st Street railroad bridge

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has sent a letter to Sarah Feinberg, the acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration regarding the S. 1st Street railroad bridge -- a  bridge FOX6 News first spotlighted this past spring. Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy is applauding Baldwin for drafting this letter. This, after members of the Milwaukee Common Council last week heard from the city's engineer as to the bridge's safety. Many of them, including Murphy, were stunned to learn the railroad bridge's inspection reports are unavailable. Baldwin has now urged the FRA to send an inspector to check the bridge as soon as possible.

S. 1st Street Bridge

Baldwin's letter reads as follows:

Dear Administrator Feinberg:

I am writing to express concerns raised by Milwaukee citizens and elected officials over a Canadian Pacific bridge crossing the city's densely populated 5th Ward district. The bridge crosses West Oregon Street at South 1st Street and carries crude oil from the Bakken up to 11 times per week. I would strongly urge you to send bridge safety specialists to inspect the bridge as quickly as possible. I also request your confirmation that Canadian Pacific has provided adequate inspection documentation necessary to satisfy the requirements of the bridge management safety program.

The dramatic increase in train traffic has surely increased the structural demands on the rail networks' bridge infrastructure and I believe a thorough and immediate inspection is warranted. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked to increase funding for the Federal Railroad Agency (FRA) to inspect freight rail infrastructure, specifically along crude oil routes. It is critical that the FRA put its resources to use, increasing the safety of rail lines that run through communities in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

I appreciate your attention to this matter. Please keep my staff and me apprised of your efforts.


Tammy Baldwin

Common Council President Murphy has issued this statement:

I would like to commend Senator Tammy Baldwin for her leadership in requesting that federal bridge safety specialists conduct a thorough inspection as soon as possible of the visibly worn train bridge located at S. 1st and W. Oregon Streets in the 5th Ward (please see attached letter).

The Federal Railroad Administration will be able to adequately determine whether the bridge is safe to shoulder the repeated loads of highly combustible Bakken crude oil going over its tracks nearly a dozen times each week.

I was shocked last week to learn that the bridge’s owner, Canadian Pacific, was unwilling to share with the city the results of an inspection of the bridge conducted a few months ago. I was also very disappointed when the railroad refused to send a representative to address the matter in a public meeting with members of the Common Council last week.

Senator Baldwin’s willingness to step up and help the City of Milwaukee in this matter is much appreciated.

FOX6 News was there last Thursday, July 9th, when Common Council members heard from the city's engineer.

Jeffrey Polenske, city of Milwaukee engineer

The engineer was called before the Common Council to explain what he has been able to find out about Canadian Pacific's claims the bridge has been inspected, and it's safe.

FOX6 News exposed serious concerns with the century-old span over S. 1st Street -- including vertical support beams rusted away at the base from road salt.

Canadian Pacific officials insisted they had inspected the bridge, but refused to show us any of the inspection reports.

Now, we've learned the city engineer has had the same experience.

"After a couple communications via email they did come back -- that we would not be getting it," Jeffrey Polenske, city of Milwaukee engineer said.

By law, the railroad company is required to inspect the bridge each year, but the Federal Railroad Administration is the only agency that can audit those inspection reports.

S. 1st Street bridge - Fifth Ward

"So can we get a copy from them?" Alderman Bob Donovan asked the city's engineer.

"I have not pursued that," Polenske said.

FOX6 News has. Four months ago, FOX6 sent the Federal Railroad Administration a Freedom of Information Act request for the inspection reports on the bridge -- going back 25 years. The FRA finally responded this month -- saying it doesn't have any.

The railroad company doesn't automatically send those reports in, and apparently, the federal government has never asked for them. In other words, the government has allowed the railroad company to regulate itself.

Common Council President Michael Murphy

It's a fact that floored Common Council President Michael Murphy.

"Doesn't it strike everyone as odd? We allow a private company to determine public safety," Murphy said.

Murphy has called for a three-point plan: urging Wisconsin's lawmakers in Washington to demand the inspection report, hiring an outside engineer if Canadian Pacific won't comply, and changing federal law.

"Quite honestly, I think that's the only way to get the attention of the Canadian Pacific company. Obviously they don't take this very serious,"

Canadian Pacific representatives were invited to attend the Common Council meeting Thursday, July 9th. The company declined.

Meanwhile, Matthew Lehner, the associate administrator for communications for the Federal Railroad Administration issued this statement to FOX6 News:

"The Federal Railroad Administration has requested Canadian Pacific’s bridge inspection records for the S. First Street bridge. Our bridge specialists will review those records to verify that the bridge has been inspected in the last calendar year as required by law and that the inspection was accurate and complete.”

S. 1st Street railroad bridge