Photo of NJT train on drawbridge
NJT uses this Amtrak drawbridge in Newark

Bridges on highways need to be safe, and information about their condition is publicly available.  Train bridges need to be safe too, and many of them are very old, some of the oldest structure's in the nation's transportation infrastructure. But, according to reporting by Curtis Tate in the Bergen Record and other Gannett papers (April 30), there is one big difference: NJ Transit refuses to disclose the condition of its bridges, despite reporters' requests through the Freedom of Information Act. NJT cites security concerns in stiffing the requests.  After all, if a bridge were about to fall down . . . it might encourage a terrorist to give it that last shove. NJT's refusal to disclose the information began under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, and has continued into the Murphy administration, according to Tate's article.  NJT says that the Department of Homeland Security advised that release of bridge information could be used to "identify and exploit vulnerabilities" in the 600 or so rail bridges that NJT maintains.  NJT further cites the 2007 collapse of the I-35W highway bridge in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people, as an example; but that event seems irrelevant, since it was ascribed to construction flaws, not terrorist attack.  In campaigning for office, Gov. Murphy said NJT was "a national disgrace" and also promised more open government, citing NJT's obfuscation of financial data. But the secrecy regarding bridges has continued under Murphy, despite the openness pledge.

The earlier stories prompted an editorial (May 3) in the Star-Ledger, headlined "NJT's dodge on rail safety is disturbing," and quoted NJ Association of Railroad Passengers president Len Resto, "Riders have a right to know the conditions of the entire infrastructure. It allows them to make an informed decision as to whether to ride the system or not. This includes concrete stairs, viaducts, archways, bridge steel, platforms, rail equipment, etc. Whether it's a safety issue or a reliability issue of being (able) to get to work on time, a rider has a right to know as they are paying for their service."

The attempt by reporters to secure rail bridge information continues.  Meanwhile, perhaps rail riders might consider riding a bus instead: buses use highway bridges, and information regarding their condition is readily available.