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Historic Bridge Comes Down in Providence Township, Pa.

Wed September 02, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

Hundreds watched as the single-arch bridge that once carried a rail line over Route 222 north of Quarryville in Providence Township, Pa., was demolished.

When the final swirls of dust settled, a pile of 4,000-lb. stones hand-carved by immigrant Italian masons more than 100 years ago was left lying in disarray on a thick cushion of earth protecting the roadway.

Built in the early part of the 1900s by the Pennsylvania Railroad, according to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, construction of the Atglen-Susquehanna Railroad required more earth moved than any other project of its time except for the Panama Canal. The last train it carried ran over a decade ago and in late June 2008 its current owner, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, signed more than 23 mi. of the line in south Lancaster County to the six townships through which the stretch runs.

It was on this part of the railroad that the historic bridge was demolished.

This stretch of line had had a checkered history after the townships acquired it. A bid by a private group to turn it into a rail-trail failed, despite it raising more than $1 million toward the cost. Some resentment surfaced in 2004 when the Lancaster County Commissioners announced they intended to use the eminent domain process to acquire the line for an essentially similar project, and a legal challenge overturned their taking of the land. Since there was local interest in such a project, the townships involved naturally wished to own the land itself.

In 1997, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordered Norfolk Southern Railroad to remove six bridges on the line. A variety of problems delayed the start of the task and it was not until 2008 that Brubacher Excavating Inc., based in Bowmansville, Pa., was engaged to undertake the demolition of the Quarryville bridge, a notorious bottleneck and traffic accident spot.

Brubacher had expected to complete this job by the end of 2008. It was, however, unable to begin work until Amtrak had completed the relocation of its power lines from along the abandoned track.

“The tunnel is over 100 years old and no longer used by the railroad and it is too small for a tractor trailer truck to go through at the same time as another vehicle,” said Barney Conrad of Brubacher Excavating Inc. “The tunnel is two lanes for two way traffic and can be used by two cars at the same time, but not another vehicle when a truck is using the tunnel.”

In essence, the tunnel along Route 222 was so narrow and low that vehicles taller than automobiles were forced to straddle the yellow line between the two lanes of traffic in order to pass through the tunnel safely.

Demolition finally got under way on June 15, 2009, and over the course of seven days several Brubacher employees cut down trees, removed approximately 20 ft. (6 m) of earth over the bridge, and placed the large cushion of earth on Route 222 before beginning demolition. The task was accomplished by dislocating the bridge arch upwards — the structure’s stones had been held in place by gravity only rather than by mortar — thus forcing its components out of place and causing the tunnel formed by the bridge to collapse.

Brubacher’s crew used a Caterpillar 330C excavator with bucket and breaker, a Caterpillar 324D excavator with grapple, a Komatsu PC300 excavator with bucket, and two Caterpillar 963 track loaders, along with 14 to 16 dump trucks.

Norfolk Southern is contributing $1.4 million to be shared between townships toward the cost of demolishing or maintaining crossings and bridges on the line in Lancaster County. The price tag for the Quarryville job was under $200,000.

“The Norfolk Railroad bridge on Route 222 was a high profile project with a tight time and space schedule. It required a high level of skill and dedication that our employees offer all of our customers,” said Keith A. Brubacher, company president. “Our land clearing and demolition team is a real asset to our customers on projects like this and others where neither safety, quality, nor time can be sacrificed.”

The project was unusual in that the hundreds of huge stones removed from the demolition site will be recycled. The local Southern End Community Association (SECA), a non-profit community organization providing park space, facilities, and recreational programming for the residents of southern Lancaster County, was instrumental in making these arrangements.

“The idea came a number of years ago from SECA board members that it would be good to see the stones, when removed from the tunnel, did not end up dumped into a hole or used as fill, never to be seen again,” Steve Risk, SECA facilities chairman, said. “With that idea we proposed Norfolk Southern donate the stones to SECA for use around the former American Legion property, which we had purchased and rehabilitated, providing local residents with a park containing a community building, a new swimming pool, basketball court, and skate board park among other amenities.”

“The present plan is to use a large portion of the stones for projects in the park, along with providing residents with a stone as a piece of history, a memento of the underpass, which we have driven through all of our lives,” he added. “At this time all stones are accounted for, between the park projects and to meet individual residents’ request for one or two stones.”

“Providence and Eden Townships have received several truck loads of stones to utilize as part of parking lots to be built for the benefit of those using the proposed recreational trail,” he added.

Founded in 1971 and honored as a 2005 and 2008 Gold Level Achiever in Construction Safety by the Keystone Chapter of The Associated Builders and Contractors, Brubacher Excavating Inc., had not removed any railroad overpasses prior to this project. The company provides a wide variety of site development-related construction services from earthmoving, utility installation, land clearing, and demolition to drilling and blasting, paving, concrete for residential and commercial construction and other contractors.

Past notable projects include the Applecross Golf Course and residential community in East Brandywine Township, Pa., the A. I. du Pont Gardens, parking garage, and visitors center in Wilmington, Del., and more than one-million square feet of distribution center projects at Boulder Business Center in Lehigh County, Pa.

The company also was responsible for the removal of a two-part timber dam on the Schuylkill River near Reading, Pa., for the Department of Environmental Protection, a project that had to be completed as quickly as possible. The company’s performance of the difficult task was praised by the department. Brubacher’s work area covers Southeastern Pennsylvania, Northern Delaware, and Maryland. CEG

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