Many Carbon County residents probably have never heard of the "High Bridge," especially if they aren't railroad buffs.
The railroad bridge, although owned by Carbon County, is located in Schuylkill County near Marian Catholic High School. It's a 185-long span which takes rail traffic 157-feet above the Little Schuylkill River.
Besides being a necessity for local freight train service, it serves as a popular attraction for sightseers on excursion rides on the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad. Many of these excursions depart from Jim Thorpe.
Trains with tourists are filled to capacity each fall foliage season.
The problem is that the bridge is in need of repairs. Those repairs will cost about $1 million.
The Carbon County Commissioners said that $700,000 is available through a Capital Project grant while another $300,000 will be provided by the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad.
This is great cooperation between the railroad and the county. All parties involved are to be applauded for their efforts.
The High Bridge, also known as the Hometown Trestle, was built in the early 1880s of wood. It was rebuilt in 1931of steel by Central Railroad of New Jersey.
The railroad is a vital link for trains servicing such major industries as Ametek, Transwestern Polymers, and the Panther Creek Cogeneration Plant.
The repair project has been an ordeal that has taken years to put together. The bridge is still safe, but engineers who inspected it agree that work has to be done for the trains to keep using it.
County officials have done a commendable job in retaining rail service in Carbon. After the former Lehigh Valley Railroad and Jersey Central Railroad went belly-up, miles and miles of tracks were abandoned.
One individual who was especially vital in keeping railroads on track in Carbon was the late George Hart. His company, Rail Tours, Inc., provided train rides to visitors in Jim Thorpe for over 30 years.
Then the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, a subsidiary of Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad, acquired Hart's scenic tour business and expanded it.
Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad is also responsible for freight service in Carbon and surrounding counties.
With gas prices projected to increase 20-to-30 cents within the next month, and glimpses of renewed interest nationwide in rail lines, it's obvious the repairs to the High Bridge is a good move especially since those repairs won't be a burden on local taxpayers.
The work includes the replacement of 875 bridge timbers, installing new ties, resurfacing the bridge approaches, replacing rails, and repairing railings and walkways.
Such repairs can lead to an increase in both freight traffic and scenic tours both which are very beneficial to the entire region.
The Carbon County Commissioners, Carbon County Railroad Commission, and Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad are to be commended for this combined improvement venture.
By Ron Gower