Park service may shuttle visitors while Potomac bridge is repaired

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Park service may shuttle visitors while Potomac bridge is repaired
The footbridge over the Potomac at Harpers Ferry was damaged during a derailment (at left). NPS Photo: Autumn Cook

National Park Service officials may consider shuttling hikers and visitors between Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights while a bridge over the Potomac River there is being repaired.

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Damaged by a train derailment in December, a pedestrian footbridge that linked the national park with recreational resources in Maryland may require extensive repairs and no date for its completion has been set, according to park officials.

Train cars derailed in December, destroying the adjacent footbridge over the Potomac River. (NPS Photo: T. Troxel)

Planning is underway, though repairs will take time given the complexity and safety issues associated with its location over a river and the fact that it is attached to an active railroad bridge, said Lisa Mendelson-Lelmini, acting director for the service's National Capital Area.

“The National Park Service is committed to finding a solution to restore access across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,” Mendelson-Lelmini said of the park, which is located some 50 miles from downtown Washington, D.C.

“We know the local communities and visitors to the park rely on the footbridge daily, and we are eager to have it back in place.”

In the early morning of December 21, multiple cars owned by CSX derailed from the railroad bridge, damaging the attached Goodloe E. Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway.

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Since the derailment the park service has been communicating with CSX to determine next steps, Mendelson-Lelmini said, adding that safe access for visitors and preservation of historic resources were the service's top priorities.

The bridge connects the national historical park at Harpers Ferry, with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Hikers on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail also use the bridge.

Although funding for the repairs has not yet been determined, the park service has been endowed with damage-assessment-and-restoration authorities that allow it to seek damages for injured resources and allow it to retain those damages to restore or replace the injured resource.

Cooperation with the responsible party can expedite assessments and repairs, thus the park service has been in contact with CSX with this as a goal.

The National Park Service will post updates about the footbridge, as they become available, .

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