Work Begins to Repair AT Footbridge at Harpers Ferry; Completion Expected Late July

Repairs to the Appalachian Trail footbridge across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, are expected to be completed by the end of July, the National Park Service said on May 20.

In a statement here, Autumn Cook, public affairs specialist at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said rail line CSX has been issued a permit to repair the Goodloe E. Byron Pedestrian Walkway, which was damaged when several cars of a CSX freight train derailed Dec. 21. The AT footbridge between West Virginia and Maryland, closed since the accident, is part of the CSX rail bridge crossing the Potomac.

CSX and the NPS are working together to provide a free service for Appalachian Trail hikers and other visitors until the bridge reopens. A start date for the shuttle has not been determined.

The footbridge is the only AT crossing at the Potomac River considered safe for  hikers, and is used by thousands of hikers annually. Its closure left thru-hikers wondering how they would get across the river.

The ATC initially recommended using private shuttles to cross the river, but since then has asked hikers not to use the AT because of COVID-19.

The months following the rail accident were filled with uncertainty.

“The timeline for re-opening the footbridge is unknown at this time,” Cook said in an email on Feb. 21.

An update on the park’s website on Monday, March 2, said repairs to the footbridge would take time because it is over a river and attached to a working railroad.

“The National Park Service is committed to finding a solution to restore access across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,” acting National Capital Area Director Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini said. “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.”

The AT footbridge across the Potomac River before it was damaged by derailed train cars. Photo courtesy Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Tyrone Brandyburg, National Park Service superintendent for Harpers Ferry, told the Harpers Ferry Town Council in January that CSX owns the train bridge, but the Park Service owns the walkway, according to the Shepardstown Chronicle.

 

Freight cars toppled into the Potomac River on Dec. 21, damaging the AT footbridge. Photo courtesy Anthony Troxel.

Feature image courtesy of Kadi Hirth.

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Comments 18

  • Stephen Satterwhite : Jan 21st

    Why is CSX’s insurance not paying for a new bridge. They are the ones who destroyed it. National Park Service shouldn’t be flipping the bill.

    Reply
    • Yoda : Jan 27th

      I agree. CSX destroyed the bridge, they need to pay for the repair.

      Reply
    • Brett : Jan 29th

      One thought is the possibility that the footbridge was donated by the railroad, and there may be conditions of limited liability attached.

      I’d say the National Parks have a relationship with the railroads that they don’t want to damage, so they are not going to be playing hardball, at least in public. There are a lot of miles of rail-trails in National Parks (and other parks) across the country, surely some of that land was donated. I wonder how many times the AT crosses railways, there has to be some cooperation there. The AT would not exist in it’s present form if not for the cooperation of hundreds of various entities, and I get the feeling that there are constantly threats to some part of the trail that must be negotiated with some public person or organization.

      It would be nice though if CSX went ahead and got it repaired, they have a PR issue that could be partly mitigated by doing so promptly.

      Reply
    • Robert : Feb 22nd

      The main issue currently is the park service is playing hard ball so to speak. The park service has wanted to build a separate walkway for several years now but does not have the funds.
      Csx offered the park service $800k to help with the new walkway. The park service declined the offer. They replied with wanting csx to repair the current walkway AND build the separate walkway total cost over $2 million . Csx declined and it has been moved to litigation for the past month.

      Reply
      • Brett : Feb 25th

        Interesting! I crossed over on a section hike during the summer of 2018, I thought the walkway was just fine, busy but not overcrowded. Wonder why the want a separate walkway…

        Reply
  • SA Brotherton : Jan 21st

    I was thinking the same thing Stephen – doesn’t matter who owns it, who was the cause of it….

    Reply
  • Peter B : Jan 21st

    This could be an economic hit for the surrounding communities, both the hiking and biking communities use this bridge. Bring back the ferry or a basket, pulley and cable system. They could make the roads safe but citizens don’t have lobbyists.

    Reply
  • Peter B : Jan 21st

    Why doesn’t the Trek and other ventures that rely on this bridge organize a campaign to get this done by the Spring? Who do we call, email, pester? How much money does CSX get in aid, tax breaks, rights of way?

    Reply
  • Fireman : Jan 22nd

    I’m looking at the Google Street View for US-340 and it looks like there is a protected walkway on either side on the bridge. It’s only about 1 person wide, but there’s a concrete divider to protect from traffic.

    Reply
    • Jeff : Jan 24th

      @Fireman – I think you’re right but I think the pedestrian approaches to those paths are the problem. I’m actually supposed to drive that bridge tonight and on Sunday and I’ll see if I can get a glimpse. I drive across it about once a month.

      Reply
    • Jeff : Jan 25th

      Drove through last night. As I suspected, the problem is not so much the bridge, which does has a narrow path behind a Jersey barrier, but 340 itself: As I recalled, there are locations on the VA side of the bridge where there is absolutely no shoulder and there are guardrails right up against embankments or cliffs. It’s really a non-starter as a walking route.

      Reply
  • RYAN KRIER : Jan 25th

    Does anyone know if there are approvals/plans to fix it, think it will reopen by later April 2020?

    Reply
    • Yoda : Jan 27th

      There is no schedule for repairing at this point in time. I wouldn’t count on the bridge being fixed by April. Probably more like June.

      Reply
  • Yoda : Jan 27th

    I live close to the Harper’s Ferry and help maintain the AT. There are TWO 340 bridges. The first one into Harper’s Ferry can easily be crossed and has a walk way on it. Once you go to the ATC you would need to recross the first bridge and the second 340 bridge that would need to crossed is very narrow and doesn’t have room for pedestrians. Also hikers would have to walk a section of 340 to get to the second bridge that has little or no shoulder. With people texting and reading their phones on that section of the 340 highway it’s not recommended. Can it be done? Yes. Is there a high risk you’ll get hit? Yes. I’m sure trail angels around that area will be happy help AT hikers get to other side safely. We love AT hikers.

    Reply
  • Bob : Feb 12th

    I moved to Harpers Ferry 7 months ago and retired last month with the goal to walking and biking the trails by crossing over the footbridge. My work in the military and for the military as a civilian after I completed active duty was extremely stressful. Hiking and biking was going to be my way to enjoy the rest of my life and get away from the stress of my previous military vocation. Now those plans are put on indefinite hold until the footbridge is fixed/replaced. I have spoken to the national parks service here in Harpers Ferry on several occasions; however, every employee I spoke with said that the parks service does not own the bridge and has nothing to do with it. They acted as if they could care less. Is there anyone that we should talk to, in order to get something done to replace the footbridge?

    Reply
  • Russ1663 : Feb 22nd

    From my point of view, in the interim, it would be beneficial for Trail Angel’s to band together. Set up a shuttle system NB and SB with 24 hr call line or text. Contributions to the drivers to off-set the cost of fuel. Waiting for bureaucracies to move is like watching paint dry.

    Reply
  • CAPT Gary Andres USN ret : Feb 26th

    I worked in management and law enforcement for NPS’ sister agency (USFWS) for 25 years… after a 30+ year Navy career. Suffice it to say, while frustrating to AT hikers, (which I am one) C&O bikers, (again, I am one) runners, (yes, I’m one too) birders(yes), rafter/kayakers, (yes) tourism.(again, yes)….I have to side with NPS “slow and steady wins the race” approach. When the CSX lawyers and NPS Solicitors finally get to the table…NPS will no doubt reach out to the pertinent NGOs for assist. Federal agencies are forbidden from lobbying….however, each and every one of us have access to our legislative representatives….particularly important are those in WV and MD. Both with the military and FWS, I have seen insurmountable odds overcome (dam removals, fishery restoration, wetlands protection, endangered species reintroduction, protection and management) countless times by a few relatively small organized vocal groups and their influence with members of Congress. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it. But at this point, I tend to side with the NPS approach, as only two and a half months has passed —-and frankly, that is nothing in “bureaucracy time”…and my guess without inside knowledge…NPS is still strategizing their approach and outreach efforts. Just my 2 cents. I said good bye to my wife at that bridge at the start of my flip flop…really sad to see / hear of this.

    Reply
  • Doug : Apr 23rd

    Glad to see repairs. In 1974 when I went through, there was no footbridge. You just listened for train whistle, and then hustled across on the tracks. 😁

    Reply

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