BNSF is still negotiating with Semiahmoo First Nation for access to build a long-awaited replacement for the Little Campbell River railway bridge in South Surrey.
And the company’s desire to get the $1.3-million project underway as soon as possible is unchanged, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad spokesperson Gus Melonas.
“We’re continuing to pursue the discussion process,” he told Peace Arch News Tuesday, standing by statements made last August that the company had hoped to get started on the project before the end of 2013.
“We’re hoping to expedite a remedy,” Melonas added, but declined to elaborate further.
Semiahmoo band councillor Joanne Charles has not return PAN’s request for comment.
The decaying bridge – originally constructed in 1921, with an 80-foot steel replacement span constructed in the early 1940s – sits on a BNSF-owned right of way through the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve.
While ongoing 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 access for driving pilings.
Corrosion of the bridge drew safety criticism last summer from Bill Brehl, teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division president, and BC NDP leader Adrian Dix.
Following the disastrous derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin wrote to Transport Canada last July with the city’s concerns about the condition of the bridge.
“To say it is in bad shape is a gross understatement,” he wrote. “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.”
The city’s worries haven’t diminished since then, city manager Dan Bottrill said Tuesday.
“That hasn’t changed – we’re still concerned about bridge safety, and its close proximity to the City of White Rock,” he said.
Melonas has said both BNSF and Transport Canada are actively involved in monitoring the bridge’s safety, and the company is confident, following “third-party” inspections, that the bridge is able to withstand the current tonnage of trains.
But he has also noted the bridge – crossed daily by 11-15 freight trains plus Amtrak passenger trains – has been earmarked for replacement since 2011.
Maintenance performed in August, after a June inspection by Canadian Professional Engineers, included replacement of a cracked girder bearing and span bracing, and substitution of steel shims for hardwood shims.
BNSF plans to replace the single span with two 40-foot steel spans, with construction estimated to last four months – and Melonas has said daily train schedules would be maintained during the process of building the replacement bridge.
Melonas said Tuesday he also stood by earlier statements that the company “has had engineering plans, environmental permits and a Canadian contractor ready to rebuild the main span of the bridge, once we can gain access to the property.”