Fire damages Blue Island rail bridge over Cal Sag Channel
By Steve Metsch firstname.lastname@example.org May 6, 2014 7:12PM
The fire was contained to this bridge and did not spread to others nearby, but thick smoke caused delays. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 8, 2014 6:43AM
Blue Island and CSX railroad officials are investigating the cause of a fire Tuesday on a bridge that forced closure of a pair of freight train tracks across the Calumet Sag Channel.
The bridge is north of Broadway Street and east of Vine Street.
The fire began in the mid-afternoon and resulted in large flames and huge plumes of thick black smoke, witnesses said. Smoke was seen as far away as Kedzie Avenue, Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas said.
That’s where he was when he saw the smoke and called 911. Someone had already called in to report the fire, he said. By the time he arrived, Blue Island firefighters and those from other towns were fighting the blaze.
Thick black smoke caused trains on other bridges to stop because visibility was so poor, Vargas said. Other bridges were reopened to trains by 4 p.m.
One resident, a retired train worker, said he saw a man on the bridge shortly before the flames broke out.
John Rita, Blue Island’s director of public safety, said that while had not heard that, “I’m not discounting it.”
Vargas said that he heard the report of “somebody suspicious in the area” and of “three juveniles ... again, were they curious or part of the problem? We don’t know.”
Officials were busy inspecting the bridge to determine if it is safe enough to carry the load of huge and heavy freight trains, or if the railroad ties or perhaps the entire bridge has to be replaced.
Firefighters from Blue Island, Posen, Midlothian and Calumet Park were among those that battled the blaze, Vargas said. They had help from down below, too. A passing tugboat helped extinguish the flames, Vargas said.
“It was great timing. They were pumping water up to the flames,” Vargas said. “They put up a hose and were attacking the fire from underneath the bridge.”
The flames had engulfed the bridge from about the middle to the northern shore of the Cal-Sag, Vargas said.
Flames flared up several times after the fire was doused, he said. The heat caused part of the rail to buckle, Vargas said.
Rita added “to the layman’s eye, it doesn’t look bad,” but inspectors will determine if the bridge is safe to use.
“I know no train is going to come through here until they check everything out,” Rita said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s for quite a while.”
No injuries were reported by any of the firefighters, Rita said.
The closed bridge could prove costly to CSX as trains could be delayed and rerouted, Vargas said. The railroad company did not return calls seeking comment.
Vargas is concerned what it means for the residents of “a railroad town” well known for its many grade crossings on local streets if trains are rerouted to other tracks. Seven other tracks cross the Cal-Sag near that bridge, he said.
“Our concern is with this bridge not being used, what does that mean for other train traffic blocking the town on 127th, 119th,” Vargas said. “Normally, 180 trains go through town, at a minimum, every day. That’s just freight, not including the Metra trains.”