No damage on bridge hit by barge

January 17, 2008 6:30:29 PM PST
Structural engineers were at the Black Point railroad drawbridge over the Petaluma River near Novato today checking for damage after a tug towing a sand barge struck the structure early Wednesday morning. Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad

Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad Authority, said no structural damage was found but the collision left a gash in the fender under the bridge. The North Coast Railroad Authority plans to run freight trains over the east-west span, Stogner said.

"It's the linchpin of our service that takes us over the Petaluma River to the interchange with the Northwest Pacific Railroad," Stogner said this afternoon.

The bridge has been in the open position, facing north and south. It rotates clockwise and will be closed for repairs to tracks approaching the span that could take a couple days, Stogner said.

The railroad authority's plan to make those track repairs so it can resume freight service from Humboldt County to Napa County are entangled in a lawsuit filed by Novato officials who claim track repairs need an environmental study. Marin County Superior Court Judge James Ritchie is expected to rule on the issue soon.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the 71.5-foot tug and 206-foot barge hit the bridge around 2:30 a.m., causing a 15- by 10-foot gash in the southwest portion of the fender. The vessels were not damaged, the Coast Guard said.

There is no indication the damage will hinder navigation, Petty Officer Jonathan Cilley said this afternoon. The three tug crew members tested negative for alcohol and drug tests were given today. Those results are pending, Cilley said. The cause of the allision also is under investigation.

It was the latest incident of a vessel striking a bridge in the Bay Area. A cargo ship hit the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7 spilling 58,000 gallons of oil and an oil barge towed by a tug struck the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last week.