Breakaway Barges Hung Up on Neville Railroad Bridge

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
27 April 2011
By Michael A. Fuoco,

After nearly 12 hours of work, emergency crews were able to safely move and secure a run-away barge carrying coal-tar light oil containing benzene, a highly flammable liquid and known carcinogen, that had been lodged against a CSX railroad bridge on the Ohio River's back channel between Neville Island and Stowe since early this morning.

The barge was one of four that broke free of the tow boat Carl L. Johnson as the vessel was preparing to enter the Emsworth Lock at 4:45 a.m., said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Richard Timme.

All four became lodged against the railroad bridge but one of them, loaded with steel coils, sank. That allowed another of the barges, this one loaded with coal, to move down the Ohio to the Emsworth Dam where it became lodged against concrete piers for a service bridge, said Dan Henderson, acting chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services.

Because the Ohio is running deep and its current is high, that barge will remain there for a week or more until the river subsides so that salvage operations can begin safely, Mr. Henderson said.

Salvage operations on the sunken barge will have to wait as well, Mr. Henderson said. The fourth barge, which was empty, was towed to safety.

The incident did not affect navigation of the river but did cause the closure to vehicular traffic of the Fleming Park Bridge that connects Neville Island to Stowe Township. The county public works department said the bridge will remain closed until further notice because of the continuing salvage operations.

Those operations are being handled by the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and Marathon Petroleum Company, the owner of the barges.

Because of the benzene scare, Sto-Rox middle and elementary school students, 1,000 in all, were bused to the high school as a precaution, and parents were told they could pick up their children early.

No damage was initially reported to the railroad bridge, said Coast Guard Lt. Alanna McGovern.

The barges became loose when safety wires attaching them broke. The failure was attributed to the strength of the current of the river, which is running high because of all the rain the area has experienced, Lt. McGovern said.

Michael A. Fuoco: or 412-263-1968.