Amtrak: Channel closures agreement aids progress on Niantic bridge repairs

East Lyme Amtrak said Monday that channel closures agreed to by local boaters and marine businesses are helping the Niantic River Bridge replacement project move forward and on schedule.

An agreement was made in the end of July to close the channel on Monday and Tuesday nights from 10 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., through October 15, the traditional end of the summer boating season.

The replacement of the railroad bridge is estimated to take three years. The contractor, Cianbro/Middlesex VII, needs to use barges in the Niantic River for the replacement of the 103-year-old moveable span. During the nighttime closures, Amtrak will be able to perform a number of activities, including construction of the two in-river piers.

The channel closures were agreed upon through discussions among Amtrak, First Selectman Paul Formica, the U.S. Coast Guard, and local boaters and marine businesses.

"The channel closure schedule signifies the continued cooperation and ongoing commitment by Amtrak to have an open communication process as part of this vital and necessary project," said Jim Richter, Amtrak's deputy chief engineer for structures. "We appreciate the efforts of (first) selectman Formica in helping reach an agreement that all parties can support."

Formica said he appreciated Amtrak and the Coast Guard's efforts to solicit input from the boating community and the town.

"This schedule allows our fishing and recreational boating community necessary access to the channel while at the same time moving this very important project forward," he said.

For several months already, the boating and marina community has been working around channel closures scheduled by the Coast Guard. For a handful of those closures, Cianbro has not needed to close the channel because of problems with its machinery.

The new bridge is meant to improve reliability, reduce the chance for operational failure and help minimize train and river traffic delays. The bridge currently serves up to 38 passenger trains and two freight trains every day and typically opens for marine traffic about 4,000 times each year, according to Amtrak.

The railroad company said it will continue to communicate all project specific channel closure information on Amtrak.com and is addressing concerns and questions of residents and the boating community through the development of a toll-free hotline 1-800-288-1310 and e-mail address: askamtrak@amtrak.com.

The Niantic River railroad bridge closures will take place on the following dates: Aug. 10, 16, 17, 30 and 31; Sept. 6, 7, 13, 14, 27 and 28; Oct. 4, 5, 11 and 12.

a.renczkowski@theday.com

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