Trains and Bridges and The System

I love trains. I love any kind of train. I find security and assurance in the fact that they must travel along a track. Also, only one train can travel along a section of track at one time. I think think means that to have all the trains on any one track at any one time arrive at their destination safely, they must be on a strict and reliable schedule. Trains also feel safe, I imagine this intricate system of checks and balances based on the tested systems of engineers (both train and mechanical). This all of course works in collaboration  with the state and federal government who constantly make sure all the systems are working. Of course we are safe, this is America. Right? Until a few years ago, I would have not questioned this notion. Not until this happened….

This is not the best picture, but it was hard to get a good vantage point of the collapsed 35W bridge. This bridge in Minneapolis, about a mile from my house, fell down in August 2007. It just fell. During rush hour, packed with cars, it just fell. There are many tragic and heroic stories that go along with this bridge falling down, none of them happened to me. Something far less dramatic happened to me. Whatever faith I had left in “the system” totally disappeared.

Our American infrastructure was supposed to be the best in the world. I don’t think anyone told me this, I just think we all assumed it. Right? We have inspectors, and regulators that check in on these things, right? Wrong. This bridge was on a very very long list of bridges to be eventually replaced in Minnesota. It didn’t look like this one would get on the schedule for at least 10 years. What? So, where are the bridges that were in line ahead of the bridge that fell down?
The impact this tragedy had on me crept up slowly. At first I was just glad I didn’t go to my parent’s house to do laundry like I had originally planned. This was a trip that would have put me on the bridge that evening. Next, I noticed myself looking closely at the cracks and rust that are apparent on many bridges. They probably don’t mean anything, but you never know. Then I started to drive just a little quicker under and over bridges in Minneapolis. A few months later, I was rolling down my windows whenever I drove over the river. Finally, two or three times, I actually unbuckled my seatbelt while driving over the river with my window down.

They built this new bridge in less than a year. At night it glows in different colors, you can’t miss it. That is unless you are on it. Most people would not know they were crossing a bridge if they didn’t know that the previous one fell down. Or, if they were my friend Chris with Down’s Syndrome. I think he cries every time he crosses it. Which at first seemed a strange overreaction, now I think he is probably not the only one.

What was left of this tragedy, besides broken hearts and a lingering distrust in America, lies just down the river. I call it the bridge graveyard. The pieces of twisted steel, that were quickly salvaged from the  floor of the Mississippi, are located just down river from where it fell down in a, now fenced off, park called Bohemian Flats. It is really creepy, you can drive right by it, and see it from many other bridges crossing the river. Apparently, they have to keep it until all the pending lawsuits are resolved. This could be many many years. I heard they are building a huge warehouse out of town where the bridge parts will eventually go to live. Until then, it makes quite a memorial.

Oh, and yes, this post was originally supposed to be about trains. Tomorrow I guess.

One thought on “Trains and Bridges and The System

  1. Wow, I remember when this happened. Such a sad story. Maybe MN should start paying taxes on everything so the state has more money to spend on infrastructure. 🙂 Just kidding. It's hard to believe that there are so many more out there that could end up just like this and we've still done nothing about it. But then again, our government has a habit of being reactive rather than proactive. The graveyard thing is creepy. Good post.

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