Vicksburg Barge Accidents Create Economic Waves

U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard

JACKSON, Miss. — Barge and railroad spokesmen say their customers see a big impact from a series of accidents in which barges hit the railroad bridge at Vicksburg.

The Coast Guard is investigating five such accidents that occurred over nine days. It responded to the first three by reducing the number of barges allowed in one tow from 25 to 20.

Austin Golding of Golding Barge Line tells The Clarion-Ledger that there were fewer such wrecks even in 2011, when the river hit a record 57 feet. The river was 48 to 50 feet deep at Vicksburg when this year's accidents occurred.

There were three in 2011, said Lt. Tyrone Conner of the Coast Guard's Waterways Management Division.

After a barge hits the bridge, waterway traffic is restricted and the bridge closes.

"It doesn't impact the city or the county at all because we don't have any public traffic that goes across the bridge," said Vicksburg Bridge Commission Superintendent Herman Smith.

Golding and Kansas City Southern Railroad spokeswoman Doniele Carlson say the accidents have made for longer trips, adding to shipping costs. Railroad traffic was held up a total of about 23 hours, Carlson said.

Towboats typically cannot pass the bridge for several hours.

If a barge sinks, the cargo is lost.

Golding said he may consider paying extra for an expert pilot to navigate his barges south through the Vicksburg channel.

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