Union Pacific Traffic Over San Jacinto West Fork Now Fully Back and Better

On my most recent flight down the San Jacinto West Fork, I was treated to a rare experience. Just as we flew over US59 heading east, what seemed like a mile-long train started to cross the new Union Pacific rail bridge. As we crossed over the train, the engineer saw me leaning out the door of the helicopter to grab the perfect shot. I think he knew we were documenting progress of the bridge. In salute, or maybe out of pride, he let out a massive blast from his giant air horn. Both the helicopter pilot and I broke out into huge smiles.

A Stirring Moment

It was a stirring moment for someone who has always admired trains. Railroads opened up this country, supported the growth of our cities, and still carry the much of the commerce of our nation on the backs of their rails.

Harvey destroyed the ancient Union Pacific bridge over the West Fork.

Shot taken on March 3, 2018, approximately six months after Harvey. Repairs on the old bridge were still in progress at that point.

But now UP is back. Bigger and better than ever. The sleek new bridge sports wider supports, designed to let fallen trees pass through in the next flood. That should eliminate backwater effects caused by logjams. Compare the “after” shot below.

May 11, 2020. The new UP bridge has wider supports to eliminate logjams in floods.

A Three-Year Project

The construction of the new bridge took almost three years.

  • First UP had to restore the old bridge to keep traffic flowing.
  • Then the company had to build a new bridge between the supports of the old bridge.
  • Finally, once the new supports were in, they had to remove the old ones.

All of that took a little less than a thousand days. And it was fascinating to watch. The result is a tribute to the genius of American engineering and know-how.

Second Major Mitigation Project to Be Completed in Area

This marks the completion of second major flood mitigation project in the Lake Houston Area. The first was TxD0T’s reconstruction of the US59/I69 bridge a few hundred yards to the west. That delayed hundreds of thousands of commuters for 11 months.

The train stretched almost a mile toward Kingwood Drive as it barreled southward. Hopefully, the new bridge may also help reduce train delays at major intersections.

Other Mitigation Projects Still in Development or Being Studied

Other major mitigation projects still in progress or development include:

  • West Fork dredging to restore conveyance and channel of the river
  • Additional floodgates for the Lake Houston Dam, to let water out faster
  • The search for suitable upstream detention to help hold back water during floods
  • Multiple ditch repairs throughout the area
  • Drainage studies throughout the San Jacinto River Basin that will undoubtedly lead to additional mitigation projects

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/26/2020 with gratitude to the men and women of Union Pacific

1001 Days after Hurricane Harvey