Big Lift: Huge Cranes Raise EH Railroad Trestle Three Feet This Week

Railroad trestle cats cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

As many of you know, East Hampton is undergoing a $10 million construction project to raise a railroad trestle three feet. The job is where this trestle crosses North Main Street, and it is being done because in spite of all efforts with signs warning motorists what they are about to drive under, an average of 17 motorists, almost always truckers, either get their vehicles wedged under it or get crumpled up bashing into it every year. The village keeps score.

The job, now underway in its second year, is this week coming to a climax. North Main Street is closed. The little lane separating the railroad line from the town green and cemetery with the old English windmill built in 1805 gently holding court is not only closed but is now the parking area, covered with timbers for three massive cranes rising 40 feet in the air that, my guess, were last used helping construct the new Tappan Zee Bridge crossing the Hudson. Steel cables with hooks on the ends hang down and sway in the wind. Below, dozens of construction workers in hard hats, rubber boots and bright yellow vests rush around importantly, getting the site ready. Some of them can be seen atop the trestle, carrying jackhammers and other tools.

East Hampton railroad trestle construction
East Hampton railroad trestle construction, Photo: Dan Rattiner

There is something sad about it all. This end of town, with its trees, flowers and foliage uprooted, with its gentle grass flattened into mud and various bright orange detour signs to keep traffic moving while staying far, far away…well, if I didn’t know better, I would think they are building a new office tower or hotel building for Mr. Trump. It is an affront to this village.

So here I was on Monday, sitting silently behind the wheel of my car, waiting on North Main for a flagman to direct me off down a side road detour.

“I could do this far cheaper,” I said to nobody in particular. “Save the $10 million. Have 400 strong young local men climb up atop the trestle. Split them into two groups. Have one group of 200 form lines to lift up one of the tracks three and a half feet for whatever the distance needed is. Have the other 200 lift up the other track. They’d have to split up, with 100 inside a track and 100 outside a track. That’s because they’d have to hold the tracks steady at that height so the railroad ties connecting the tracks didn’t tip over and twist. It wouldn’t work if that happened.”

“And what would you slide under it?” a voice in my head asked.

“Cinderblocks. I’d put in cinderblocks, and when done, have the 400 men drop the railroad tracks down the six inches. Done.”

The detour took me up Cedar Street and a left turn onto Osborne Lane where I stopped behind a long line of cars. Osborne is one long residential block connecting Cedar Street with Newtown Lane. Halfway down, however, the tracks cross the road at street level. After all, the tracks have to be crossed somewhere to get you to the other side. This is it on Osborne.

As the long line of cars moved slowly along, however, a clanging sound and pair of flashing lights announced the barrier gates were about to come down. The cars just going over the tracks got across. But the five or six cars in front of me had to stop. A train was coming through.

“Drop everything,” the voice in my head shouted. “Run for your lives.”

It seemed appropriate. But you know what? There was no train! None! We all waited patiently for 10 minutes at which time that fact began to sink in. A pickup truck in front of me made a K-turn and went back the other way. So did the one in front of him. And then, so did I.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody’d pressed a wrong button to lower these gates. And this was going to be a long nightmare. A big waste of $10 million. And a total failure. The men driving the big trucks that used to slam into the trestle will just get taller trucks. Everything considered, it will be a job they will all gladly do.

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