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Rail bridge structurally unstable: report

New information about the condition of the rail bridge spanning the Inner Harbour may speed up its inevitable closure.

Last month, Victoria city council decided that rail will not be included on the new Johnson Street Bridge because it could not secure funding partners by deadline.

The rail bridge was scheduled for demolition in January 2012.

New information, however, will likely push that termination date forward.

A structural inspection of the bridge by Stantec Consulting found key vertical steel support columns on the rail bridge have deteriorated. The report recommends closing the rail bridge to rail traffic unless repairs are done.

“Roughly four weeks of repairs are required to safely allow the train to cross the bridge due to its weight,” according to a news release by the city.

Cost estimates of the repair work was not available by press deadline.

City council will decide whether to invest in the rail at this time at its governance and priorities meeting on Thursday (April 7). Pedestrian traffic would be unaffected by a decision to close the bridge to train traffic. City staff is meeting with the Island Corridor Foundation to discuss a temporary train terminal for the E&N rail in Vic West.

Graham Bruce of the ICF said the terminal’s location is not the big issue at this point. To be an effective passenger service, the train terminal needs to integrate with bus service, whether that’s in downtown or Vic West, he said.

The big issue, Bruce said, is a pending $15 million federal-provincial grant application to improve the railroad from Nanaimo to Victoria. The provincial government’s leadership race and federal election campaign have both stalled the process, he said. The money is needed to replace a third of the rail ties running from Nanaimo to Victoria.

“What the picture would look like if we don’t get that $15 million by the end of May, I don’t want to start to forecast at the moment, but it’s not a plan of, ‘we just carry on,’ because we can’t,” said Bruce.

For the past two weeks, the E&N train hasn’t run while the train’s operator, Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, upgrades the track. The company is funding the  $350,000 to $500,000 cost through forecasted revenues, said Bruce.

“There’s not a pool of money that they’re taking that from,” he said. “They’re betting that we’re going to be around.”