Meetings between BNSF and Semiahmoo First Nation are planned for later this month to discuss replacing the contentious Little Campbell River railway bridge.
However, BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas maintains, following “third party” inspections, that he is confident the trestle on First Nation land east of White Rock is able to withstand the current tonnage of trains travelling over it.
Melonas said Wednesday that both BNSF and Transport Canada are actively involved in monitoring the bridge’s safety. That said, Melonas acknowledges the company would like to get started soon on a $1.3 million replacement bridge.
“We’re looking forward to agreeing on access issues, so that we can go ahead with preliminary work – we’d like to begin the process as early as possible,” he said, noting the company respects the fact that the existing bridge – built in 1921 – sits on Semiahmoo land.
Repeated efforts by Peace Arch News to reach Semiahmoo band councillor Joanne Charles for comment have not been successful.
The planned bridge is to consist of two 40-foot steel spans replacing an 80-foot steel span, itself a replacement dating back to the early 1940s.
The bridge has drawn media attention of late, with BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix and Bill Brehl, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division president, both weighing in with concerns about safety.
The recent rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. also prompted White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin to write to Transport Canada sounding the alarm about the deteriorated condition of the bridge.
Rotting of the bridge’s metal work has been noticeable for years, but Melonas said crucial elements of the structure remain sound for the 11 to 15 freight trains, plus passenger trains, that travel the route daily.
Maintenance work on the current bridge will continue next week with the replacement of timber shims with steel, plus new bracing and brackets, Melonas said, adding that expert inspection of the bridge is ongoing, and the company would not operate the bridge if it did not comply with safety standards.
“Our goal is to continue to protect the safety of the railroad, the public and the environment,” he said.
While maintenance work can be done from the rail bed, construction of a new bridge will require the building of a temporary road onto Semiahmoo First Nation property, plus the driving of pilings to support the new spans.
Once underway, the construction is expected to last four months, Melonas said, with rail lines being kept open throughout the process.
“We’ll be maintaining our daily schedules, but we’ll be using windows of time when we can get our workers in there.”
The work on the Little Campbell River bridge is part of continuing investment into BNSF’s all-important corridor connecting the U.S. and Canada, Melonas said.
That includes $5 million earmarked this year for a the first phase of a new approach bridge to the Serpentine River crossing, plus some $2.2 million in “overall track upgrades” in the Lower Mainland.