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Bridge reopens

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The first train crossed the rail bridge at the Arkansas River from Fort Smith to Van Buren late Thursday since the bridge got struck Tuesday.

A crew of about 30 worked all day Thursday after bridge inspectors from a firm in St. Louis examined on Wednesday the damage from two cables that had snapped, tilting the bridge and making it impassable, said railroad Police Chief Ron Sparks with Arkansas & Missouri Railroad.

“We had great crews out there today,” Sparks said. “Most people would say that it would’ve taken a week to do what we did out there today. With the weather that we had, most construction crews weren’t even working today.”

Crews worked in 20-degree temperatures to get the bridge level for rail traffic. The first train crossed the bridge from Fort Smith to Van Buren about 8:20 p.m., Sparks said.

“We’ll be running trains all night to get the freight caught up,” Sparks said. “There are 12 barges in the river waiting to come through.”

Also, Coast Guard officials came up with plans to use towboats on either side of the bridge to push a barge across, or to use towboats with retractable wheelhouses to get under the bridge.

“From then, we’ll be working on that bridge from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day until we get it back up and operational where it will go up and down,” Sparks said. “Saturday, Sunday, whatever it takes we’ll be out there.”

Crews still are unsure what caused the cables to snap.

“We still are looking into that,” Sparks said. “We’re hoping as we continue to look through it and replace parts, we’ll find out the problem. As of now, we don’t know.

The situation is unique, Sparks said.

“I’ve been here 16 years and it’s never had any problems, not like that,” Sparks said. “We maintain it all the time, but we haven’t had any kind of issues like that.”

Sparks said local crews do routine monthly maintenance of the bridge, with a yearly inspection from an outside firm.

“It’s kind of a fluke thing,” Sparks said.

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