For the very first time, the state of California is going to inspect thousands of railroad bridges.
This comes after a century of the state entrusting railroad companies to monitor bridge safety for themselves.
The state has had to sit back for so long because most of the 5,000 railroads in California are privately owned and are regulated by the federal government, according to reporter Tony Biziak, who covers the topic for the Sacramento Bee.
“The state’s in an interesting, awkward position,” Biziak said. “The railroads run across state lines, and the concept has always been that they don't want 50 states telling the railroads to do this and do that.”
The thinking of private railroads owners has also played a role.
“The railroads’ attitude is interesting. They generally say, ‘Leave us alone. We’re doing our thing. Trust us,’” Biziak said. “The thought has been the railroads are smart enough. They have a lot of financial stake in making sure their bridges are sturdy enough. They have their own inspection crews.”
But now that railroads are starting to run more crude oil trains, the state is concerned and wants to do more.
The state’s plan is to hire two inspectors who will first examine bridges believed to be most at-risk. Biziak says that criteria includes bridges over critical waterways, bridges that go through urban areas, near hospitals and population centers, or bridges that are expected to carry crude oil trains. The state's goal is to hit 30 of those bridges in the next year.