Thunder Bay

CN Rail will repair James St. bridge, but wants new deal

CN Rail has offered to repair and re-open the swing bridge across the Kaministiquia River if a new deal is signed between the company, the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation.

Railway says it will share its rail deck with vehicular traffic

CN Rail has offered to share its rail deck with vehicular traffic in a move that would re-open the bridge for the first time in over 11 months. But CN wants a new deal with the city of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation that would replace the existing 1906 agreement.

CN Rail has offered to repair and re-open the swing bridge across the Kaministiquia River if a new deal is signed between the company, the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation.

The company said it would share its rail deck with vehicular traffic but it would take a significant investment.

CN said neither the city nor Fort William First Nation would have to pay for the improvements, but the company would want to sign a new, modern-day agreement to replace the original agreement from 1906.

Olivier Chouc​, a vice-president with CN, said in an email, "We have offered to make a significant investment to the rail deck, to accommodate road traffic. The cost is largely funded by CN, with the balance funded by the federal government."

CN said it's a solution that could be implemented in the very short term, and the improvements would allow the bridge to accommodate emergency and heavy-weight traffic, which it couldn't in the past.

The bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic for over 11 months.

Vehicle traffic to be one-way, would yield to trains

Chouc later told CBC News in another e-mail the improvements would involve using planks as a way of "filling the gaps" between the rail head and the deck. He said vehicular traffic over the bridge would be one-way, and controlled at each end by signals. He said those signals would also prevent vehicles from accessing the bridge when trains are using it.

CN Rail is proposing vehicle traffic flow over the bridge be one way at a time, controlled by signals at each end. Those signals would also stop traffic from using the bridge when trains are present. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Chouc said CN only runs two trains per day over the bridge, "which makes the bridge available to road traffic the vast majority of the time."

Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs said he's concerned about having traffic flow only one way at a time. "It'll be like a one-way bridge," he said. "We're gonna have nightmares with traffic for sure.  Road alignments are gonna have to be fixed."

Mayoral candidates react to the offer

Keith Hobbs (Jeff Walters/CBC)
Ken Boshcoff (Jeff Walters/CBC)
Shane Judge (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Olivier Chouc told CBC News on Thursday, "CN has demonstrated it possesses the leadership to offer an outside-the box solution and is confident the City and FWFN possess the leadership to accept it." 

He added, "We believe the 1906 Agreement no longer governs as the roadway has reached its useful life. CN could walk away. But we won't."

Keith Hobbs confirmed this week that Fort William First Nation had told city hall they were in talks with CN Rail and a deal was in the works.

On Friday, Hobbs said he wants more details from CN about its proposal, but he's concerned about tearing up the 1906 agreement that requires maintenance of the sections of the bridge on each side of the track, not just the centre portion. He said he also has concerns about liability.

Hobbs added that until CN sends a detailed offer to the city, the municipality can't sign off on anything.

Mayoral candidate Ken Boshcoff said he also wants to see a more detailed breakdown of the railway's offer. He said until city council gets a written document, he doesn't think negotiating through the media is a good idea. Boshcoff added that CN is a multinational corporation and the city needs to make sure that "what we see, is what we get."

Candidate Shane Judge weighed in with a different viewpoint, saying that CN should be asked to build a new crossing out of concrete, then turn it over to the city permanently.  Judge said alternating one-way traffic on the old bridge would create large traffic backups.

In July, the city rejected an offer by CN Rail that involved the company contributing 50 percent of the cost to re-open the bridge, up to a maximum of $1.5 million.

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