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Smoke and debris belch skyward as Engineers of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, out of Friedberg, Germany, blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996.

Smoke and debris belch skyward as Engineers of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, out of Friedberg, Germany, blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

Smoke and debris belch skyward as Engineers of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, out of Friedberg, Germany, blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996.

Smoke and debris belch skyward as Engineers of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, out of Friedberg, Germany, blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

Sgt. Pierre Vandersteenen and Pfc. Paul St. Clair of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, measure two-by-fours that they will cut for braces to be used to help secure the explosives that will be used to blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996.

Sgt. Pierre Vandersteenen and Pfc. Paul St. Clair of B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, measure two-by-fours that they will cut for braces to be used to help secure the explosives that will be used to blow up the war-damaged railroad bridge over the Sava River east of Brcko in September, 1996. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

Engineers from B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, hunker down behind an armored vehicle as they shield themselves from debris following a blast as they destroy the war-damaged Sava River railroad bridge east of Brcko in September, 1996.

Engineers from B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, hunker down behind an armored vehicle as they shield themselves from debris following a blast as they destroy the war-damaged Sava River railroad bridge east of Brcko in September, 1996. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

Engineers from B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, get ready to detonate the third of five blasts as they destroy the war damaged Sava River railroad bridge east of Brcko in September, 1996.

Engineers from B Co., 23rd Engineer Battalion, get ready to detonate the third of five blasts as they destroy the war damaged Sava River railroad bridge east of Brcko in September, 1996. (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

BRCKO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — With a deafening blast that sent chunks of rail flying, work began Wednesday on rebuilding Bosnia's railway link to Western Europe.

U.S. Army engineers from Company B, 23rd Engineer Battalion, used small explosive charges to chip away at the damaged rail bridge over the Sava River. The demolition was expected to take five days, said It. CoJ. Todd Semonite, the battalion commander.

The engineers' job was to clear a concrete segment that had been damaged in the Bosnian civil war, Scmonite said.

Small amounts of plastic explosives — about 20 pounds per blast — were used to accomplish the job with the "ice pick method," he said. Engineers often use as much as 300 pounds in demolition work.

The engineers were going slowly and deliberately because they wanted to avoid damage to surrounding property, said Capt. Tim Wallace, Company B commander.

"We don't want to break any windows and we don't want to make anybody in town nervous," Wallace said.

Even with the small charges, foot-long pieces of track were thrown more than 100 yards by the first loud blast.

The initial blasts were set to separate the remaining track from the bridge for easy removal. Later blasts chipped away and broke the concrete.

The bridge is important to Bosnian commerce — it is part of the rail line that used to carry goods to and from Bosnia, according to Wallace.

"From here, this is the link to Western Europe," Wallace said.

Before commerce can resume, about five miles of tracks leading to the bridge must be repaired. Damage varies from small pieces of missing raff to one stretch that is missing more than a half-mile of track, Semonite said.

An Italian engineer unit will repair the tracks, he said.

Scmonite was unable to say when the rail line was likely to open.

U.S. engineers got the assignment because they have expertise with explosives, Semonite said. Also, it offers a good opportunity for training.

Wallace said his company spent two weeks planning for the mission. The men had to carefully calculate what effect each action would have before they set the charges.

"You've got to analyze it, decide where the explosives are going to go ... and bring it down," Semonite said.

The cleanup and repairs will be handled by civilian contractors. The U.S. Agency for International Development will pay for the new bridge, Semonite said.


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