HARPERS FERRY – Construction to rebuild a damaged section of an extensively used footbridge over the Potomac River in the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry is set to begin in less than two weeks.
Reconstructing the footbridge, a part of the Appalachian Trail that has been closed since a train derailment in December, is anticipated to finish by the end of July, according to two organizations updated on the rebuilding project.
Members of the Canal Town Partnership and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy posted separate Facebook messages last week that National Park Service officials told them that the footbridge’s reconstruction is set to begin May 11.
“We are happy to report the exciting news that the Byron Memorial pedestrian bridge repair at Harpers Ferry is moving forward. A contractor has been retained, and preparations are underway,” stated a message from the Canal Town Partnership, a group of representatives of communities along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal that promote the towpath as a recreational venue.
“CSX is facilitating the repair,” the posting continued. “The estimated start date for repair is now May 11, with a projected finish date near the end of July.”
Chris Craig, Harpers Ferry’s representative on the Canal Town Partnership, confirmed that a National Park Service administrator provided the project’s start date and finished time frames.
An Appalachian Trail Conservancy spokesman also confirmed a similar post by that organization.
National Park Service officials have not responded to a request for an update on the project.
A Harpers Ferry Historical National Park website page established to inform the public about the footbridge’s rebuilding had no new information on Tuesday. “The timeline for re-opening the footbridge is unknown at this time,” the webpage reported.
Heavily used by tourists, hikers and bicyclists, the footbridge is attached to the Goodloe Byron Memorial Bridge train river crossing near The Point lookout where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers merge.
The effort and planning to rebuild the footbridge began when a CSX Corp. freight train derailed on Dec. 21. The early morning accident destroyed about a third of the footbridge on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River. Three empty freight cars toppled into the Potomac during the derailment. Nobody was injured.
CSX representatives have said the freight hauler will pay the cost to reconstruct the walkway. The representatives did not respond to a request for comment this week on the company’s role in reconstructing the footbridge. CSX has not commented on the cause of the accident.
Since the accident, Jefferson County residents and area officials have been awaiting word about progress to reconstruct the footbridge that is used by many tourists visiting Harpers Ferry and the surrounding national park.
National Park Service officials have said they hoped to rebuild and reopen the footbridge by late summer.
Part of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the walkway is a link for walkers, hikers and cyclists to Maryland Heights, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath and the Appalachian Trail on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Several restaurants, retail shops, and bed and breakfast lodgings in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar rely on tourists drawn to those scenic attractions.
About 265,000 people visited the national park in Harpers Ferry last year, according to National Park Service estimates.