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Still room for trains on bridge, watchdog says

Dec 02 2011
The City of Victoria closed the rail bridge side of the Johnson Street Bridge Saturday - which could mean congested car and cyclist traffic in the remaining open lanes. 

The City of Victoria closed the rail bridge side of the Johnson Street Bridge Saturday - which could mean congested car and cyclist traffic in the remaining open lanes.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, Times Colonist

Victoria still has the opportunity to consider including light rail as part of the design of multimillion-dollar Johnson Street Bridge replacement, says the watchdog group johnsonstreetbridge.org.

But according to city officials, that train has left the station.

The addition of rail need not be expensive as originally thought, says Ross Crockford, a director of johnsonstreetbridge.org. The group has asked that city staff be directed to investigate the weight capacity for light rail on

the bridge now under design.

"It's just a very basic question, which is: Could some future council, in 20 or 30 years time, put a streetcar or some kind of light rail vehicle across

that bridge?" Crockford said.

"And if you're at the stage where you're designing the bridge, let's make sure that we have all our options open. This thing is supposed to last for 100 years."

Victoria councillors decided not to include a rail crossing as part of the bridge project in order to reduce costs.

Original estimates pegged the cost of including rail at $12 million.

But johnsonstreetbridge.org wonders whether that cost was based on carrying a fully-loaded freight train — the same standard the existing bridge was built to in 1924. As there is no need to carry freight into the downtown, the weight of a passenger light rail car is more comparable to a semi-trailer truck, and that could considerably reduce coasts, Crockford recently argued to Victoria councillors.

"It's important to know what the weight capacities are of the bridge in any case. It's surprising this has not come up," Crockford said.

Crockford also suggested a change in design is possible.

"Early designs for the new bridge put the railway on the southern side of the bridge, with tracks completely separated from the three-lane roadway. This required the bridge span to be at least five metres wider, contributing greatly to the $12-million cost of including rail in the project. But are separated tracks really necessary?" Crockford said in a letter to council.

"We believe it would make more sense to install rails down the centre of the lift span, in the middle of the three car lanes, and to install signals so that other traffic is not able to use the bridge while it is occupied by a train.

"Since the E&N would only operate a few trains a day, this would not interfere greatly with other traffic, and not with pedestrians or many bicycles at all, as the walking and multi-modal pathways will be fully separated. Furthermore, centring the rails on the lift span would likely require simpler engineering than having them placed to one side."

As the city has now discovered that it has to move an underwater Telus duct directly in the way of the new bridge, the design process may be slowed enough to see if rail can be included, Crockford said.

The city has agreed to preserve the right-of-way for rail should a crossing be needed in the future but concedes building it as an add-on could cost $36 million — three times the cost of including it in the initial build.

Including rail on a bridge is a more complicated issue than the maximum weight load, Mayor Dean Fortin said.

"It changes the weight which then changes the lifting mechanisms, which then changes the electrical systems. It's just a whole redesign. It isn't just the weight of a Bud car," Fortin said.

"We can't down tools, go back to redesign, delay the project and incur great costs to change to suit Mr. Crockford's suggestion," he said.

"We know that rail is really important and we preserved the rail corridor so if at some time in the future that the senior levels of government and some other municipalities throughout the region want to see that train run [it's available]."

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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