They stop dead in tracks

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER CSX maintains the tracks along 25th Street in South Philly. A spokesman said a set of repairs is due in the next week or two.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER CSX maintains the tracks along 25th Street in South Philly. A spokesman said a set of repairs is due in the next week or two.
Posted: June 16, 2013

THE EXPOSED rebar, crumbling concrete pillars and steady drips of water that turn potholes into puddles - even on sunny days - stretch for more than a mile under the elevated train tracks along 25th Street in South Philly.

As mile-long trains rumble overhead, the street shakes and small pieces of concrete fall to the sidewalk, a daily routine that for years has been eating away at the residents who have become all but complacent with the dangers from the tracks above.

Yesterday, quarter-sized nuggets of concrete littered the ground.

In the wake of a building collapse that killed six last week in Center City, residents and business people who live along the tracks, which stretch from Washington Avenue to Passyunk, echoed fears that the 84-year-old structure is an accident waiting to happen.

"I guarantee someone is going to die [because of] that bridge," said Doug Rahm, 53, a stone worker who works near 25th and Federal streets.

Rahm, who said he has submitted numerous complaints to the city Licenses & Inspections office over the years, has witnessed large pieces of concrete falling from the bridge, blocking the road and sending cars swerving to avoid being hit. In the winter, Rahm said, large icicles that form from the continuous drip create another hazard for drivers and passers-by.

Robert Sullivan, a spokesman for CSX, which owns and maintains the tracks, said in an email that the company receives occasional complaints that are addressed as soon as possible. The bridge is structurally sound, is inspected twice a year and is capable of handling an average of 15 trains a day to terminals in South Philly, he said.

CSX sends workers once or twice a year to remove loose sections and patch cracks, and another set of repairs is due in the next week or two, he said.

At the Reinforced Iron Workers, Riggers & Machinery Movers Local Union 405, president Ed Penna, 54, said the tracks' poor conditions above the office at 25th and Reed have long plagued him and his staff.

"It's amazing that no one has done anything for all these years," said Penna, who said falling debris has cracked his car's windshield three times as he drove under the tracks.

As a train inched along overhead yesterday afternoon, Penna pointed out an area across the street where he says he saw a 30-foot piece of concrete fall from the side last year.

"When that section came down, it was like an explosion," he said.

Penna, who was an iron worker before he started to work at the union 10 years ago, said his biggest concern from the crumbling structure is the chance of derailment that he fears could send chemicals and other materials crashing into the neighborhood.

Still, he said, his complaints to the city, L&I and CSX have fallen on deaf ears.

Mark McDonald, the mayor's spokesman, said it is CSX's responsibility to maintain the train line. McDonald said L&I and the Streets Department have received complaints, and that they have issued complaints themselves to CSX.

"We can't compel a railroad to make improvements," McDonald said, explaining that railway regulation largely falls under federal jurisdiction.

On Federal Street, yards away from where rusted, exposed rebar crisscrossed a section of the structure, Pablo Ramirez, 68, stood in front of his house and offered a grim outlook while considering last week's building collapse.

"We expect something like that to happen any time," he said.

On Twitter: @JCMoritzTU

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