A $1 million project to repair the Carbon County-owned High Bridge in Hometown is going full-steam ahead now that Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad has promised to contribute the required local matching funds to obtain a government grant.
The $700,000 Capital Project grant is through the state Department of Transportation's Rail Freight Assistance Program. The railroad will provide the $300,000 local match, county commissioners said Tuesday.
"There will be a million dollars worth of work done on the High Bridge," said Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.
The work, expected to be done this year, includes the replacement of 875 bridge timbers, installing new ties and resurfacing the bridge approaches; replacing rail with new welded rail, repairing all hand railings and walkways, and perform any repairs necessary from a full inspection, including substructure defects and deck replacement, O'Gurek said.
The bridge is a crucial connection for the rail line and for local manufacturers.
"if we're going to have shipping by rail, it's important that that bridge is in capable shape to handle that traffic," he said.
According to the grant application, "The Hometown High Bridge project will enable the railroad to safely continue service to customers along the line including through traffic. The bridge is key to accessing interchanges that allow the railroad to efficiently serve customers. Completion of this project will ensure continuous removal of hundreds of trucks from the road."
The railroad needs the bridge to connect to its Reading and Lehigh division. "The bridge is vital for efficient train movements. Lack of this bridge will also affect key customers such as Ametek, Transwestern Polymers and Panther Creek Cogeneration Plant," the grant application states.
'That's a vital, vital link," said county Railroad Commission member Richard Forgay.
The county owns the 185-foot long bridge, in Schuylkill County, as part of its railroad land. The repair project has been chugging along for years as commissioners worked to obtain all the money needed through government grants.
The bridge, near Marian High School, was built in the early 1880s of wood. It was rebuilt in 1931 of steel by Central Railroad of New Jersey and crosses 157 feet above the Little Schuylkill River.
The bridge, also known as the Hometown Trestle, is a thrilling part of passenger excursions trains making fall foliage tours from Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua.