MONCKS CORNER - Four empty railcars in a 72-car train Monday slipped off their track at about 30 mph and plowed into the concrete holding up Cypress Gardens Road.
In a report released by state investigators Tuesday, that conclusion confirmed that the derailment of the CSX train had brought down the 78-year-old bridge, giving a scare to a pickup driver who sailed over the precipice it created.
S.C. Department of Transportation authorities said the age of the bridge, which was widened 39 years ago, likely wasn't a factor in its collapse.
The span wasn't in "good" shape, agency spokesman Pete Poore said, but it was in "fair to satisfactory" condition when it was last inspected Oct. 29.
It wasn't on a watchdog group's list of substandard bridges.
"Although we have a number of defunct and obsolete bridges," Poore said, "this was not one of them."
Its destruction means that the 6,200 cars that cross it daily must use a 22-mile detour during the weeks before it's replaced. The road is popular among commuters who work at industrial facilities near Bushy Park Road just east of the scene.
DOT officials indicated Tuesday that a temporary bridge from the Upstate could relieve the strain for motorists. The agency's secretary also declared an emergency to speed up the bidding and construction process and free up money for a permanent replacement.
"The collapse was pretty significant," Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis said, "and will take time to rebuild."
'He got lucky'
For emergency dispatchers and motorists on the road, Monday night's derailment brought confusion and concern.
James Green, 39, of Summerville was driving to work at DuPont's Kevlar plant when he pulled up to a newly opened fissure.
Green has made the trek over Cypress Gardens Road from the Summerville area for the past three years. He rarely sees any trains go under it.
But when he saw a pickup with a mangled undercarriage stopped on the roadside Monday, he knew something was wrong. The lone car in front of him stopped.
He called 911, and a dispatcher expressed surprise when Green described the scene in front of him and below him.
Railcars were strewn about. Slabs of pavement sat on top of them. Concrete posts holding up the bridge had crumbled.
"There's probably a 12-foot gap in the bridge," Green said in the 911 call that Berkeley County released Tuesday through a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request. "And we had one guy who found out the hard way. His truck jumped over.
"He didn't see it, I guess, until the last second."
It came to a relief to many, though, when Green told the dispatcher that no one on the train or in the pickup was hurt. None of the railcars were leaking, he added.
But a water main was severed by the collapsing bridge. It spewed gallons of water near the wreckage and cut service to nearby homes.
The motorist from the Chevrolet pickup, Jason Goodyear of Moncks Corner, was in a daze, Green said. Goodyear was heading home from the DuPont plant.
"It took me a minute to figure out he had come from the other side," Green said in an interview. "Then we saw vehicles coming from the other direction, so we had to jump up and down to get them to stop."
The ordeal could have been worse for the motorists.
If Green or another vehicle coming from the west side of the bridge had been the first to encounter the gap, Green said, the collapse might have ended tragically.
The portion of the span still intact is higher on the east side, Green explained, so a vehicle coming from that direction could launch over the hole, drop a few feet and still land safely on the west side.
"He got lucky," Green said of the pickup driver, "that he had those couple of extra feet."
For now, Green said he'll cope with the 20 minutes that the detour around the ruined road has added to his commute. He figured that the inconvenience would be more troublesome for his co-workers from Orangeburg.
"This was pretty surprising," he said, "considering almost all of us drive over that bridge almost every day."
The Federal Railroad Administration was tasked with finding out what caused the derailment.
The federal authorities released little information Tuesday.
"Safety is our number one priority," Warren Flatau, an agency spokesman, said in a statement. "We will conduct a thorough investigation that will identify the root causes of the accident and will take all appropriate enforcement actions as necessary."
The S.C. Highway Patrol investigated the crash on the road that destroyed Goodyear's Chevrolet.
Troopers estimated that the train was going about 30 mph when it crashed, but CSX spokeswoman Carla Groleau said that the company's investigation should pinpoint the speed.
The report did not indicate any of the factors that might have played into derailment. Brian Mars of Jacksonville, Fla., was conducting the train, it stated.
"Thankfully, there were no injuries to the crew and no spills," Groleau added in a statement. "CSX greatly appreciates the patience of neighbors impacted as we work on restoration."
As pieces of the ruined bridge dangled above them, CSX work crews removed the four derailed cars Tuesday and sent the undamaged cars down the tracks. They started removing what remained of the span.
Groleau said the company also will be involved in the efforts to rebuild the bridge.
CSX police officers, who enforce the law around the tracks, kept journalists and other onlookers far from the wreckage.
Jim Rozier of Moncks Corner, DOT commissioner for the local district that includes Berkeley County, walked up to the chasm Tuesday afternoon and watched workers tear down the structure that once held up the road.
Water district employees stretched metal beams and a pipe across the railroad tracks to replace the water main, Rozier said. He said the crews were laying down a clean sewer line that had never been used as a stand-in for the main.
It was a temporary solution in hopes of restoring water service that night.
For the road, though, Rozier said a fix wouldn't be as prompt.
"This bridge has to be completely rebuilt," he said. "It's going to be a while."
David Washington has lived most of the 61 years of his life about a quarter mile west of the bridge.
He was sitting outside his house Monday night and watching evening commuters zoom by when he heard the commotion.
Washington ran toward the bridge, one that he has driven over in a car and ridden over on a bicycle for decades. It was gone.
He saw Goodyear's pickup, its wheel bent from a hard landing. He called the sight nothing short of a miracle.
"I've been back and forth over that bridge for years," he said. "It's a strong bridge. It's been there a long time, though. I know that."
He's accustomed to traffic.
But on Tuesday, few passenger vehicles zipped by as Washington again sat outside and soaked up the warm air.
Commuters were being rerouted from the Bushy Park area and directed toward U.S. Highway 52 and Redbank Road. People trying to get to Cypress Gardens, which remains open, had to use Red Bank Road near the Charleston Naval Weapons Station, then Bushy Park Road.
Washington instead chatted with the state crew that put up a sign indicating that the road was closed 500 feet ahead. Cranes and flatbed tractor-trailer trucks rolled past. A clamoring of an incessant metal-on-metal hammering filled the air.
"I wonder how long that's going to last?" he said.
Glenn Smith and Natalie Caula Hauff contributed to this report.
Crews work on clearing rubble from the railroad tracks at Cypress Gardens Road where the bridge collapsed Monday night.×
Cypress Gardens Road was closed Tuesday because of a train derailment that destroyed a bridge near Bushy Park Road in Berkeley County the night before.×
Crews work to repair the bridge at Cypress Gardens Road that collapsed Monday night.×