CN bridge getting old

Monday, July 14, 2014

THUNDER Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs probably has a point in asserting that maintenance may be an important factor in keeping the James Street bridge closed to traffic. CN Rail re-opened the bridge to its trains shortly after a fire damaged it nine months ago. It kept the road portion closed pending an engineering report which took far too long to surface and which Hobbs says underestimates CN maintenance as a factor.
Sooner or later, old things wear out. As detailed Saturday by contributor Gary Laine, the swing bridge is old — not as old as the hills around it but old enough to reside in history alongside Queen Victoria, the Wright Brothers and, fittingly perhaps, the Titanic.
Many who drove across the bridge roadbed of timbers and steel plates wondered if the bottom was about to drop out given the clatter and obvious signs of wear.
Laine suggests government infrastructure money be used to build a new bridge, leaving CN to its own devices, while Hobbs and the Fort William First Nation which is linked by the bridge to Thunder Bay, insist the railway abide by a 1906 agreement with the city to maintain a road crossing in perpetuity.
CN has a lasting interest in the bridge, as do a number of industries it serves. Owners of two grain elevators, Valley Camp, Resolute and Great Lakes Steel must have winced when Fort William Chief Georgann Morriseau interrupted talks aimed at a solution with a land claim that also took CN and Hobbs by surprise. One does not like to imagine what a sudden lack of rail cars to move those products would mean if CN were to respect Morriseau’s trespass notice by withdrawing its trains from the bridge.
It is difficult to decide whether CN has been deliberately tardy in working to restore vehicular traffic on the bridge or whether its structural study might have identified weaknesses in the supports that fan out to support the roadway from the concrete pillars holding up the tracks. Nor can we rely entirely on Hobbs’ reading of the CN engineering report that lack of maintenance by the railway is the key factor in keeping the road closed. After all, it was open before the fire.
All bridge users must prevail upon CN and the city to come to terms on its future based on the joint agreement they’ve gone by for 108 years.