Thunder Bay

CN bridge dispute: Thunder Bay's application dismissed by court

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that CN Rail does not have to fix the road portion of the James Street swing bridge.

The two sides originally filed legal proceedings against each other Feb., 2015

The bridge over the Kaministiquia river remains closed to vehicle and foot traffic since a 2013 blaze. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that CN Rail does not have to fix the road portion of the James Street swing bridge.

The structure, which is the most direct route between the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation, has been closed to vehicle traffic since a 2013 fire; rail traffic resumed using the bridge three days later.

In a written release on Wednesday, city officials said the court dismissed the city's application for an order requiring CN to maintain the James Street Bridge. The ruling was released on June 9.

"We are disappointed with the decision, and are considering our options going forward," city manager Norm Gale said in the city's news release, adding that a full report will be brought to council "soon."

The statement added that city officials won't make further comment at this time.

The city tried to argue that a century-old agreement binds CN to fix and re-open the road portion of the bridge. The railway has said that the work needed to make the structure safe is beyond the scope of that agreement.

City lacked 'specific and detailed proposal'

In his ruling, Justice Patrick Smith said the onus was on the city to clearly define what work is required to make the bridge safe for motorized traffic. He ruled that the city had not done so, beyond a "vague" proposal that that CN reopen the bridge with minimal safety changes.

"Without a specific and detailed proposal from the city — one that has been tested and approved as structurally safe for public traffic — this court is left without reliable evidence upon which to formulate the orders that the city is seeking," he wrote.

Smith also said the city's arguments lacked "detail and specificity," and could not be used to force CN to do specific work.
The judge's ruling stated the city didn't make a specific enough argument for what work was needed to make the bridge safe for modern vehicle traffic. (CBC)

Smith also ruled that the agreement signed in 1906 between the Town of Fort William and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bound the railway to maintain the structure for the type of traffic that existed at the time, namely streetcars and horses and buggies.

Finally, Smith ruled that CN has been consistent in maintaining the bridge without structurally altering it, which would be outside the scope of the agreement.

"The evidence provided by all of the experts suggests that for many years until it was closed after the fire, the bridge did not meet vehicular safety codes and yet car and truck traffic continued to use the bridge without CN modifying ...the roadway," he wrote.

A detailed study of the bridge after the fire found that damage to the bridge from the blaze was minimal, but many components of the bridge's roadway portion no longer meet current safety codes and "pose a serious safety risk to vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians."