The section of the new AAR report on rail bridges opens with the statement “Don’t judge a book by its cover” — arguing that just because a bridge looks unsafe doesn’t mean it is. The report then goes on to describe industry programs to inspect rail bridges.
Railroads have been leaders in bridge safety practices for decades. In fact, long before the federal government began its highway bridge inspection program, the railroads inspected railroad bridges routinely. These inspections require detailed annual checks of each bridge. Safety inspectors sometimes need to scale bridges — often hundreds of feet in the air — to examine the health of bridge members and components.
So the rail industry claims detailed annual checks of each bridge are standard practice. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. And even if it is the case, the industry has only allowed the public to “judge a book by its cover” because it wouldn’t share these reports with the public.