Higher Speeds From New Bridges Thanks to Federal $

Funds for major Norwalk River and Connecticut River projects on Metro-North and Amtrak

27, October-Washington DC–Two major bridge replacements in Connecticut will get USDOT ‘State of Good Repair’ grants, announced Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, replacing the Norwalk (“walk”) bridge on Metro-North and the Connecticut River bridge on Amtrak between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.  Both movable bridges are long-time priorities, prone to malfunction and their replacement will mean higher speeds.

By Noroton at English Wikipedia –

The 564 foot Norwalk swing bridge, built in 1896 will be replaced with two independent vertical lift bridges, each double track.  The $79.7 million grant will also cover supporting bridge approach embankments and retaining walls, new catenary and signal upgrades.  200 trains a day on Metro-North’s 4 track New Haven line pass including Amtrak northeast regional and Acela as well as a few Shore Line East commuter runs.  Other funding for this $1.1 billion project has previously been awarded from USDOT partnership funds in 2019, by the Federal Transit Administration and Hurricane Sandy relief funds.  The new bridge will replace the existing bridge on the same alignment over a weekend that will see the old bridge floated off and the new floated into place.

In 1853 a train ran through the open draw, killing 48 people and burying the locomotive deep into the mud.  It is presumably still there and may be found during construction.

Amtrak photo

The 1,570 foot steel truss Connecticut River bridge, built in 1907 will be replaced with a higher bascule bridge 52 feet to the south.  Clearances under the closed bridge will increase from 18 to 24 feet.  When trains are not passing, the bridge is legally required to remain open. The bridge is used by 35 daily Amtrak northeast regional and Acela and CDOT Shore Line East passenger trains plus a daily Providence & Worcester freight.  A 45 mph speed restriction will be raised to 70 mph resulting in several minutes of time savings for each train.  Though Amtrak will get a $65.2 million grant, the project is expected to cost $400-800 million.  The replacement was originally planned as part of Amtrak’s electrification to Boston in the late nineties.  It was rehabilitated in 1976, 1981 and 1997.  In 2006 an inspection found it “structurally deficient.”  Fully high-level alternatives were considered but rejected because of cost and the environmental impact of large new embankments.  A 2016 environmental impact study found no significant impact for replacement, clearing construction to proceed.  Sixty percent of design work is completed and design work is expected to conclude in September 2021.  Hardesty and Hanover are lead designers. Construction is expected to last from 2024-2030 including a 10 day closure of the navigation channel.  The bridge was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

At various points Amtrak (and the New Haven railroad previously has floated newly constructed alignments further inland that would speed trains past this bridge and other coastline slowdowns, however powerful locals appear to have taken this off the table, even in dream form.

The grants were part of $297 million in awards for 11 projects nationwide in partnership with states, intended to improve safety and reliability of railroads.

{USDOT press release, October 27, 2020}
{CT Examiner, May 14, 2020}
{Structures, Dredging & Fill license application by MCA Consultants, March 26, 2020}
{Northeast Corridor Commission project listing, October 2019}

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Associate Editor; Consultant for Rail Planning & Development
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Christopher has 15 years of railroad experience, starting as a Conductor on Cape Cod and 15 years of public policy advocacy and outreach work. Christopher is Executive Director of Vermont Rail Action Network, communicating the vision of better trains to elected and government officials, community leaders and the public. Christopher is a consultant for freight and passenger planning and development projects including operating planning, federal grant applications, marketing, and public outreach.