Boaters Upset Over NS Handling of Drawbridge

Boats wait for an NS train to clear the drawbridge on the Chicago Line near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland in Sept. 24, 2017. The view is looking northward toward Lake Erie.

A Cleveland TV station recently reported that boaters and Great Lakes freighters operating on Lake Erie are disenchanted with Norfolk Southern’s handling of opening and closing its drawbridge over the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland.

The I-Team of WJW-TV said it was told by the U.S. Coast Guard that the bridge being closed when boats want to pass has been a chronic problem for years.

Blair Stanifer of the Coast Guard told Channel 8 that the agency has seen delays of two hours and even three hours when the bridge was closed.

He said if a train isn’t coming close to going over the bridge it must go up for boats and ships.

 “Once you make a request, provided it’s safe to do so, the bridge is supposed to open promptly and fully.,” he said.

The Coast Guard has the legal authority to fine the railroad up to $30,000 per complaint.

However, the WJW report said that it can take months and even years for the Coast Guard to hear and decide on complaints with some complaints filed in 2019 having been dismissed.

“They open when they feel like they want to . . . not by the law which is a requirement when a signal is sounded by a vessel coming through,” said Eric Peace, vice president of of the Lake Carriers Association, a shipping industry trade group.

“You bring a 700-foot ship, and you put them inside this break wall, they have to be able to hold position if they can’t get through that bridge. You actually have to tread water. It becomes a safety problem.”

Peace said the only way to get NS to be more responsive to boaters is to continue to raise the fines.

In a statement NS said it works with the Coast Guard and others to ensure that rail and marine traffic keeps moving. The statement said the railroad seeks to balance the needs of both.

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