Decaying railroad bridges may send ‘missiles’ on roadways below

ST. LOUIS – Large pieces of metal are falling from the sky. One St. Louis woman wouldn’t have believed it until a metal plate came crashing through her car from an overhead train track. It looked like an isolated incident, but our Fox Files investigation found otherwise.

Millions of tons of force fly by on our rails every day. You can see the strain it puts on the tracks, from the pulled spikes to thrown plates.

Mindy Damico said a plate crashed through her car when driving under a train bridge in Pevely. The piece shattered her back window and tore holes in her roof.

“I'm just in shock. I can't even function, really,” Damico said. “I got out of the car and realized that my preemie infant was in the back and started screaming because there was glass all over her.”

Just last week in Virginia, debris fell from a train bridge above a water rescue. Video captured boards falling from the trestle, striking a woman, and smashing a car hood and windshield. Fox 2 News wanted to know if it could happen where thousands of people drive every day – under the historic MacArthur Bridge in downtown St. Louis.

While checking a small section of train track over Broadway, we found 11 pieces that appear as if they could've fallen from the track above. Our news crew found pieces like railroad spikes, a metal railroad tie cap, a bolt, and anchors.

“These can work themselves loose and we do keep an eye on that,” said Eric Fields, chief engineer for the Terminal Railroad Association, which is responsible for inspecting St. Louis metropolitan train tracks. “On a bridge like the MacArther Bridge, we’ll do inspections twice a week. That’s a passenger route and the millions of gross tons that pass through there we’re looking at the entire track structure, rail gauge, tie condition, spikes, anchors…”

Fields said it’s possible some of what we found was left behind mistakenly after a rail repair. Fox 2 did not find anything on the road or sidewalk, but it was all nearby. Fields said you cannot be too careful and that’s why they spend so much time inspecting.

“Things occasionally do fall off a train from their load or -- you don’t want to be hanging out or near a railroad if you can avoid it,” Fields said. “The MacArthur Bridge is the second longest railroad structure in the country. There’s 20,000 structure feet in the air. It is a lot to look at.”

Plus they’ll test the tracks with ultrasonic technology to look for potential problems inside the steel. Inspectors said you shouldn't be afraid to drive under a train bridge. They said you should just be aware, just like you would driving down your own neighborhood street, where anything could happen you might not predict.