The success of an 18-month project came down to one 16-hour window for PCL crews working on the Pearl River bridge replacement project in Louisiana.

A 209-foot-long railroad truss span bridge — located northeast of New Orleans, across Lake Pontchartrain — had reached the end of its useful life and had to be replaced. Our client, Norfolk Southern, needed to keep the line in operation during construction since it services a critical heavy freight line.  The PCL team set to work prefabricating two through-plate-girder replacement spans just feet away from the existing bridge. Prefabricating the spans adjacent to the existing bridge minimized impacts to rail traffic and only required the bridge to close for 16 hours while replacement spans were slid into place using a lateral slide system.

PCL’s relationship with Norfolk Southern goes back to another bridge rehabilitation project in Eutaw, Alabama, that was completed in late 2020. Since then, we’ve worked with them on several bridge projects and mechanical rehabilitations. 

Like many construction projects over 2020 and 2021, crews at Pearl River ran into some challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The steel needed to build the new bridge spans was delayed several months. But PCL and Norfolk Southern worked together to rearrange scheduled activities and keep work moving ahead on the bridge until the steel arrived.

Crews also had to manage inclement weather, including seasonal floods and a major flood caused by Hurricane Ida that set the schedule back 10 days. During floods, crews worked on fabricating items like trestle beams and splice piles in elevated, dry areas of the project site. If they needed to access the bridge to get work done, workers were shuttled via boat from a ramp about a mile upriver.

Given that the bridge was originally built around the start of the 20th century, the replacement spans will result in reduced maintenance costs for Norfolk Southern and will keep a crucial transport line intact for years to come. The Pearl River bridge is part of the only rail line that connects the Port of New Orleans to lines running to the northeast United States. Oil is one of the main commodities transported along this rail line.

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