Norfolk Southern dedicates new Genesee Arch Bridge in upstate New York

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A Norfolk Southern train passes south (railroad east) over the new Genesee Arch Bridge officials dedicated on May 24, 2018.
Norfolk Southern/John Kucko Digital
CASTILE, N.Y. — Ushering in a modern era for freight rail in New York’s Southern Tier, Norfolk Southern and New York State officials, along with supporters, today dedicated a new steel arch railroad bridge that spans the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

Surrounded by scenic Letchworth State Park, the $75-million bridge expands freight rail capacity and economic opportunities for businesses and communities across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. Built with a public-private partnership, the single-track arch structure replaced a 19th-century-era bridge that restricted train speeds and rail car weights and had become a major transportation bottleneck.

In recognition of a new beginning, Norfolk Southern CEO James A. Squires announced that the bridge, which spans the 235-foot-deep Genesee River Gorge, has been named the Genesee Arch Bridge. That name received the most votes during a bridge-naming campaign on social media.

“The successful partnership we are here to celebrate demonstrates that big things can be accomplished when the private sector and the public sector work together to achieve common goals,” Squires said. “The new Genesee Arch Bridge is literally a bridge to the future. It represents our shared commitment to support jobs and economic growth that will benefit businesses and communities across New York for generations to come.”

Norfolk Southern partnered on the project with the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, and the Federal Highway Administration.

“This beautiful new rail bridge is going to help modernize freight rail service and improve the safety and reliability of this critical connection,” said New York State Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is improving transportation infrastructure across New York State and this new bridge is an important step that will boost commerce in the region and across the state.”

Located between Buffalo and Binghamton on the railroad’s Southern Tier Line, the 963-foot-long bridge connects New York businesses to markets in the Midwest and New England, trade with Canada, and access to New York City. After two years of construction, Norfolk Southern began operating trains in December over the new span, built 75 feet south of the former bridge.

In addition to enhancing rail safety and operating efficiencies, the new span enables Norfolk Southern to transport rail cars loaded to the industry standard 286,000 pounds, an important benefit for shippers. The old iron truss bridge it replaced — built in 1875 by the Erie Railroad and unable to support modern freight rail needs — created supply-chain inefficiencies. Rail car weights had to be reduced 13,000 pounds below the standard, and train speed was restricted to 10 mph. Trains crossing the new bridge are operating at up to 30 mph with fully loaded cars.

New York-based businesses benefitting include 10 short line railroads that service and connect local industries to Norfolk Southern’s network. Norfolk Southern transports freight across the Southern Tier for about 1,100 customers in more than 20 states.

New York State funded $15.5 million for the bridge’s design and construction, including a $2 million grant from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and $13.5 million in state and federal funds through the New York State Department of Transportation. Norfolk Southern invested $59.5 million. The project qualified for funding through the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality improvement program, in recognition of freight rail’s environmental benefits of reduced carbon emissions compared with shipping goods by truck.

“This modern engineering marvel demonstrates Norfolk Southern’s commitment to meet our customers’ transportation needs while being good stewards of the environment,” said Vice President Engineering Phil Merilli. “Only a few arch bridges of this type have been built by the rail industry in the past century, making this a truly unique experience.”

Through the partnership, Norfolk Southern improved trails and public access to Letchworth State Park and preserved portions of the old bridge for use in historical exhibits. The new bridge’s arch design minimizes the railroad’s environmental footprint in the Genesee River and frames a striking view of the river gorge.

“The completion of this new rail bridge complements the beauty of Letchworth State Park as park visitors will continue to marvel at one of the more impressive structures spanning the picturesque Genesee River gorge,” said New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. “I applaud Gov. Cuomo for taking the necessary actions that have resulted in a safer, more efficient rail bridge that will serve the Genesee and Finger Lakes communities for many years to come.”

— A Norfolk Southern news release. May 24, 2018.

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