BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix and Bill Brehl, a Teamster president, say BNSF’s current promises to repair – and ultimately replace – South Surrey’s aged Little Campbell River railway bridge are arriving very late in the day.
The bridge, a crucial link on First Nation land in the main line connecting the U.S.-based railway and its Canadian customers, is still getting a failing grade from the two high-profile critics, despite BNSF assurances the bridge is meeting standards of independent safety inspectors and Transport Canada.
BNSF said it wants to get started on a planned $1.4-million replacement bridge before the end of the year.
But both Brehl and Dix say it’s important the public keep up pressure to make sure the bridge gets interim repairs and is replaced soon, before a potentially disastrous event – such as a derailment of cars carrying toxic materials – occurs in the community.
They say they’re basing their comments on personal observation of the bridge’s more-than-70-year-old main steel span, and note that BNSF has not denied the need for repair and ultimate replacement of the bridge.
“I understand they (BNSF) think the bridge is in such bad shape they want to replace it,” Dix told Peace Arch News. “But something needs to be done now to ensure the safety of people working on the line, people who travel on it and people who live beside it.”
“I’ve never in my life seen a bridge in that condition,” said Brehl, adding he was able to poke his hand through holes in the metal.
Brehl – president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division – said he speaks as someone with extensive experience as a railwayman with CP Rail, including 15 years spent with its bridge and building department. He said maintenance of the bridge doesn’t meet what he would consider an acceptable standard.
“There are pins and bolts where the whole nut is corroded right off; there are cross braces cracked through; others missing whole sections that have been shimmed-up with hardwood,” Brehl said.
According to BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas, the railway will begin repairs to damaged sections of the bridge as soon as this week, including the substitution of steel shims.
Melonas has said talks are scheduled this month with Semiahmoo First Nation to resolve access issues around preparations for a planned two-span replacement bridge.
But Brehl said he hears the railway and band are nowhere near an agreement on the work.
(Continued attempts by PAN to reach Semiahmoo band councillor Joanne Charles for comment have been unsuccessful.)
Dix said any project delay is unacceptable.
“They may plan to replace it, but what happens in the year, or years, in the meantime?” Dix said. “A responsible person would say get it started – it’s urgent.”
“We need to take steps to improve the bridge now – given all of the things that are transported across the bridge – not to take action is not responsible.
“That’s why we have to keep pressure on the company right now.”