Delaware short line loses half its track after bridge is deemed unsafe

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Lewes, Del.
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LEWES, Del. — The Delaware Coast Line Railroad train departed Lewes for the last time on Dec. 15, hauling three empty tank cars stranded in nearby Cape Henlopen since September 2016, when the elderly swing bridge over the Lewes & Rehobeth Canal was found to be unsafe. The tank cars were trucked from the pharmaceutical plant where they had been stranded for over a year into Lewes, where they were placed back on the rails.

The bridge, dating from 1916, was among the last hand-cranked railroad swing bridges in the country. Its eastern abutment, which supported it when closed, was found to have sunk seven to eight inches due to erosion in the canal bed, according to a state inspector. It is normally open to allow boat traffic on the waterway. The line served a single customer, which received two or three cars monthly, east of the bridge.

The Delaware Department of Transportation, which owns the railroad, decided it was too costly to repair the bridge and will scrap the railroad from Cape Henlopen to Cool Spring, cutting the line from 16 to eight miles in length. The bridge will be removed, and part of the line will become a pedestrian trail.

The state will seek abandonment approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board, and assuming approval is received, will solicit bids to remove about eight miles of track next spring. The line will end near the village of Cool Spring, is about half way to Georgetown, where the Delaware Coast Line interchanges with the Delmarva Central Railroad.

Dan Herholdt, Delaware Coast Line general manager, told local media the loss of business wouldn't hurt the railroad's bottom line. “We’re fine,” he said. “We’ll have less track to maintain. Now we can focus on what we have to do to make it better."

He said the line has increased its business by 18 percent in 2017 and had a new customer coming on line in 2018.
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