Thunder Bay

CN seeks appeal of James Street bridge decision, city 'outraged'

Thunder Bay's mayor says he's "outraged" after learning CN Rail will attempt to appeal a June court decision ordering the company to reopen the James Street swing bridge to vehicular traffic.

Company ordered by Ontario Court of Appeal to reopen bridge to vehicles

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs addresses the media after the city learned CN Rail will attempt to appeal a court order directing the company to reopen the James Street swing bridge. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Thunder Bay's mayor says he's "outraged" after learning CN Rail will attempt to appeal a June court decision ordering the company to reopen the James Street swing bridge to vehicular traffic.

The city was informed of CN's intentions on Tuesday, and held a media conference Wednesday to address it.

"We are beyond disappointed with this move," Mayor Keith Hobbs said. "We are outraged."

"We are confident that the decision of the Court of Appeal is correct," he said. "We believe CN is using the legal system to delay the inevitable, and that they are still fully responsible for the bridge. They will have to reopen it either now, or later. We call upon CN to do the right thing."

The James Street swing bridge, which is the most-direct connection between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation (FWFN), has been closed to vehicular traffic since October 2013, when it was damaged by fire.

Trains continue to use the bridge, however.

Who's responsible for repairing and maintaining the bridge has been the focus of an ongoing court battle between the city and CN.

Now, with the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in Thunder Bay's favour, CN's only option is to attempt to get any further appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. There is no guarantee the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, however.

In a statement emailed to CBC News late Wednesday afternoon, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron stated the appeal is a matter of CN "seeking guidance from the courts on the scope of its obligations under the 1906 agreement [between CN and the City of Thunder Bay].

Waldron stated the company is concerned about the safety of the bridge.

The James Street swing bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since it was damaged by fire in 2013.

"We do not believe we can safely re-open the bridge with simple maintenance," he wrote. "CN has started the process to make the bridge safe for modern vehicle traffic, which begins with selecting engineering and construction firms to complete the substantial work required."

Waldron stated CN has offered various solutions to re-establish a direct connection between the city and FWFN, including improving the bridge deck so it can safely accommodate vehicular traffic, including emergency vehicles and school buses.

"Given the limited volume of rail traffic on the bridge, this is a very effective solution that could be implemented quickly and at no cost to the City of Thunder Bay and [FWFN]," Waldron stated.

Hobbs told CBC News that previous solutions offered by CN have been "cumbersome," but the city is willing to discuss options to reopen the bridge.

"If CN wants to approach the city with solutions to open the bridge ASAP, we're all ears," he said.

In any case, Hobbs said the city will "vigorously defend any legal tactic presented by CN."

"This is CN's bridge," he said. "They own it. They need to repair and reopen it."

Hobbs said he was also "annoyed" by how CN notified the city of its intentions. The company's legal department sent a letter directly to him, rather than notifying city lawyers.

Hobbs said the move was "very inappropriate for sure. CN are not good corporate citizens. Not with the City of Thunder Bay, not to our mind."

"As far as I'm concerned and we're concerned, CN has been in contempt of a court order by the Ontario Court of Appeal," Hobbs said. "So, they need to act on that and open that bridge as they've been directed by the Ontario Court of Appeal."