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BNSF launches trestle replacement, as White Rock mayor warns of potential rail disaster

BNSF officials say they are
BNSF officials say they are 'ready to roll' on plans to replace the rail bridge over the Little Campbell River.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

BNSF is gearing up to replace the aging rail bridge that spans the Little Campbell River in South Surrey.

All that's needed to get the ball rolling, railway officials say, is for Semiahmoo First Nation to grant permission to access the site.

"Our plans are to replace it, we would like to replace it this year," BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said Wednesday.

"However, we are working with the First Nations to arrange access rights to the property.

"We have to build a road into the site, so there's agreement issues that have to be finalized with the First Nations, and we're working on this. We respect the process and are working through it."

Semiahmoo band councillor Joanne Charles did not return Peace Arch News' call requesting comment.

Concerns that the bridge – originally constructed in 1921, with a new span built 20 years later – is becoming unsafe have been voiced for years.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin added his voice to the issue Thursday, in a letter emailed to Transport Canada.

Citing the recent train tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que., Baldwin writes that he has "considerable concern" with the structure's deteriorated condition.

"To say it is in bad shape is a gross understatement," Baldwin writes. "Should this bridge fail while being crossed by a freight train carrying dangerous goods… it would be extremely disastrous to our residents and natural environment."

He asks for an inspection to be done "without delay," and for the results to be made public.

South Surrey resident Perry Adebar – a UBC professor of structural engineering – told CBC News Wednesday that the structure's level of safety "is not adequate," and called for immediate action.

Melonas, however, said that while maintenance issues have been identified, it is regularly inspected and safe.

"If the bridge did not comply to our safety standards, we would not be operating trains over it," he said.

Transport Canada communications officer Sau Sau Liu said by email Thursday that a rail safety inspector "found no threat to safe railway operations" during a March 12 inspection of the bridge.

Liu added that BNSF's Bridge Safety Management Program, which includes annual inspections, "conforms to Transport Canada guidelines." As well, BNSF inspectors are checking the bridge on a monthly basis until the span can be replaced, and remedial repairs will be completed in the interim.

Melonas said temporary fixes planned for this month include the replacement of timber shims with steel; and the replacement of braces and some bearings.

The full span replacement is expected to cost US$1.3 million and take about four months. A design has already been finalized and the work will be planned so as not to disrupt the train schedules, he said.

"We'll continue to move local, national, international freight through the corridor safely."

Melonas noted the bridge over the Little Campbell is not the only work BNSF is eyeing for its B.C. lines. More than US$5 million is to be spent this year on the first phase of an "approach bridge" over the Serpentine River; another US$2.44 million is planned in other areas of the province.

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