The News Courier
— From staff reports
Four days after an Athens teen was arrested on charges of burning a train trestle, officials with CSX continue to evaluate damage to the structure.
The trestle, standing 30 feet high and 120 feet long, burned early Friday morning. CSX officials said it was built in 1972.
The Athens Police Department later charged Samuel Seth Morris, 18, of 508 Brownsferry St., in Athens, with second-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief in connection with the fire.
Morris was released Friday on $7,500 bond.
Carla Groleau, director of corporate communications for CSX, said the trestle was back in service the day of the fire, though at a reduced speed. Prior to the fire, trains were permitted to reach a speed of up to 60 mph. That speed has been reduced to up to 25 mph.
“There was some significant damage because of the fire, so we’re still reviewing the maintenance plans to get it back up and running,” Groleau said.
Athens Police officer Jeremy Beavers responded to a report of a brush fire behind The Boat House on South Jefferson Street shortly after 3 a.m. Friday. When Beavers arrived, he saw the CSX train trestle was on fire and located three people leaving the area.
All three were interviewed and Investigator Chris Slaton arrested Morris.
Athens Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Thornton said the train’s engineer could not stop when the train reached the fire on the trestle over Swan Creek to the east of Jefferson Street and behind The Boat House.
“He (the engineer) called the fire in, and a witness called the fire in,” Thornton said. “The trestle was fully engulfed from end to end when firefighters arrived.”
About 20 firefighters fought the blaze. They had to run lines through rough vegetation and muddy embankments to reach the trestle. Firefighters began using foam around 7 a.m. to smother hot spots.
“It’s a very unfortunate event, but we thank the local law enforcement and firefighters who responded as they did,” Groleau said. “We’re very thankful no one was injured.”