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City of Prineville Railway gets OK to keep rolling trains over Hwy. 26 bridge, despite RV crash

Wreckage of motor home was strewn beside Highway 26 after it struck concrete railroad bridge abutment Monday
Crook County Sheriff's Office
Wreckage of motor home was strewn beside Highway 26 after it struck concrete railroad bridge abutment Monday

(Update: Engineers determine bridge usable pending repairs at slower speed, weight limit)

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – The century-old City of Prineville Railway had its freight trains rolling again Wednesday over a Highway 26 overpass, though at slower speeds and with a lower weight limit due to damage caused by an RV crashing into a concrete abutment on Monday.

Several engineers inspected the damage and did calculations, determining they restrict the typical 20 mph speed limit to 5 mph and reduce the maximum weight of trains from 315,000 pounds to 289,000, Operations Manager Mike Wiederholt said Wednesday,

“That’s the best-case scenario” after what happened, he said. “Our customers won’t even notice the difference.”

There would have been considerable expense, Wiederholt said, if the bridge was out of commission and the railroad had to unload freight at its facility near Redmond and take it by truck about 18 miles to Prineville.

The short-line railroad has more than 50 customers and “has been very profitable for the city for the last five, six years,” Wiederholt said. “City leaders have done a great job of putting that money back into bridges, rail infrastructure.”

As for repairs, he said engineers are putting together a scope of needed work and they hope to know the estimated cost of repairs by next week. He said they hope they can have the work done “by January at the latest.”

A 61-year-old Prineville man was thrown from his motor home but escaped with minor injuries Monday morning when his RV left U.S. Highway 26 and slammed into the bridge abutment northwest of Prineville, Crook County sheriff’s deputies said.

The bridge, however, did not fare so well, as it was literally shoved about an inch out of alignment.

Deputies, Oregon State Police, Crook County Fire and Rescue and US Forest Service Law Enforcement responded to the single-vehicle crash just before 10 a.m. at Highway 26 and Elliott Lane, sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Durheim said.

They arrived to find a 1991 Beaver Coach driven by a 61-year-old Prineville man had left the northbound travel lane and struck the concrete bridge abutment. The driver was thrown from the motor home and was taken to St. Charles Prineville with minor injuries, Durheim said Tuesday.

The crash closed the highway for several hours, to process the scene and remove the wreckage and debris, the sergeant said, adding that the crash investigation is continuing.

The crash left the railway bridge with “some significant damage – the guy hit it pretty hard,” the City of Prineville Railway operations manager had said Tuesday morning.

“It shifted the bridge pretty good – the span over the highway, about an inch,” he told NewsChannel 21.

“That bridge was in great shape, had a very high load limit,” he said.

If it had not been usable, Wiederholt said the railway would have had to shift its operations to its yard north of Redmond and truck loads to Prineville customers.

The railway -- the nation's oldest continuously operated municipal "short-line" -- connects with the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific railroads at Prineville Junction, three miles north of Redmond.

“It’s a stout bridge,” he said. “That overpass was good for us. It had a very high weight rating, in very good shape.”

It’s a relatively new bridge, too – because of another highway crash, nearly 30 years ago.

“An oversized load hit that bridge in 1993, and it was rebuilt,” Wiederholt said. “So it’s a fairly new bridge.”

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Comments

11 Comments

  1. Good on his survival, but his RV days are over as once the insurance company gets done paying the state to move the bridge back in place, not go get be able to afford insurance. How fast would one have to be driving to cause that much damage?

  2. Maybe this time dont build it with wood. If we could ever become a modern nation and stop building crap out of wood and dirt and using copper lines for our phones like its 1895 we would be better off.

  3. I’ve been calling that the death bridge for years!
    Petition for guardrails or water barrels placed on both sides of that bridge should be started.

    That whole highway is sketchy with 20 ft drop offs in some areas.

    I’ve personally rolled a pickup truck down one of those 20 foot drop offs!

    Anyway glad the guys going to make it but there should be some changes to that highway.

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