Councilman urges lawsuit against Amtrak for ‘crumbling’ city bridges

calumet street bridge
A bridge documented in the city controller’s 2009 report. Credit: City Controller’s Office

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said he will urge the chair of the transportation committee to investigate filing a class action lawsuit against Amtrak for what he said is the transportation company’s failure to maintain the 302 bridges it owns in the Philadelphia region.

A 2009 report conducted by City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office found four of 23 randomly selected bridges in Philadelphia needed serious structural reports. Amtrak bridge-inspection reports released the same year revealed nearly half of the area bridges owned by the company had some elements rated “poor” or worse.

Jones, who made his statement Tuesday during a City Council budget hearing, said he’s not confident conditions have improved since then.

“We had recent incident at 52nd and Jefferson where a plate weighing 25 pounds fell from the bridge and dented a car that had a woman and child in it,” he said.

“At some point after we do analysis paralysis, is there an action we can take against Amtrak – a class-action suit or something – to have them deal with these bridges that millions of commuters travel across every day?” he asked Butkovitz. “And by their own admission – their own inspectors deemed them dangerous – doesn’t that make it kind of a damning situation?”

Butkovitz replied the city’s infrastructure, in general, is “crumbling around us” – an issue he said stems from both prioritization and funding.

“The question is apportioning the money to catch up with deferred maintenance, which has been neglected by prior administrations for a very long time,” he said, ticking off a number of bridge closures he said resulted from maintenance workers’ “cautious approach” in dealing with the neglect.

“A solution involves a significant infrastructure bank, borrowing, reinvestment and rebuilding.”

Jones replied he’s now in his sixth budget session and has seen no significant bridge investments.

He planned to urge the transportation committee chair to file suit against Amtrak to force the company to make necessary repairs itself.

“Hope springs eternal,” he said. “But a lawsuit gives people movement.”


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