The McLean Mill board of management has received permission to run the No. 7 steam train over its trestles for 2018. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Alberni Valley steam train returns for 2018

Engineer signs off on train to cross trestles to McLean Mill; rail work will start in early March

Port Alberni’s No. 7 Baldwin steam train will run again in 2018.

The steam train was prevented last year from running over two trestles on the Alberni Pacific Railway line between the train station on Kingsway Avenue and McLean Mill National Historic Site after the B.C. Safety Authority refused to sign off on operations over the trestles. The train only ran twice: once for the beginning of the Tri-Conic Challenge foot race on July 1, and another time during a “pop-up” steam event in mid-July. Both times the train stopped before the Rogers Creek Trestle.

The No. 11 Alco diesel locomotive was permitted to take a shortened train out to McLean Mill because it was lighter.

“Last year the BCSA shut down our entire railway,” city administrative officer (CAO) Tim Pley said. The city had a third-party inspection done and created a working plan that estimated costs at $1.2 million over the next 10 years to fix the railway’s problems.

Associated Engineering noted the concrete and steel components of the two trestles – Rogers Creek and Kitsuksis – were in good condition, but the decking had deteriorated, so they wouldn’t sign off on allowing the heavier steam locie to operate. They did sign off on the lighter diesel, the RS3 Alco locomotive.

Another engineering firm was contracted in January to inspect the decking, and determined that although there are railway ties that have deteriorated, they are “not clustered in any way that would make it dangerous,” Pley said, and they signed off on allowing heavier loads to cross the trestles in 2018. Norman Hooper from this second engineering firm has experience dealing with bridge decks, and has suggested ties on the APR are replaced every four to five years.

The McLean Mill Society has arranged to have 500 ties – including 20 bridge deck ties – replaced before the train fires up in April. Society executive director Deanna Beaudoin said they are on track to have the train up and running, with a regulator due to arrive in a week and a half to inspect the steam locomotive.

The cost to replace the ties this year will run between $50,000 and $75,000. “Every year we’re committed to spending about that much on the line,” Beaudoin said. “In 10 years they will all be replaced.”

The repairs are part of the McLean Mill Society’s new rail upgrade and maintenance plan, which will ensure work is done on the line every year. “We’re going to do incremental maintenance rather than Band-Aid fixing,” Beaudoin said.

“I feel strongly about being proactive about our maintenance plan.”

The McLean Mill Society has contracted Burrard Rail to do the rail tie replacement. They are the same company that replaced ties prior to the 2017 season.

Work on the track will begin the first week of March, which means there will be vehicles travelling up and down the tracks. Beaudoin reminds people to stay off the tracks – no walkers or ATVs. “Always pay attention at crossings and be train aware,” she said.

Last year the society focused on rail; although the priority in March is to get the trains back on the tracks, the society will now turn its attention to the national historic site at McLean Mill, Beaudoin explained. “We are conscious about our business plan.”

The roof on the cookhouse at the national historic site has to be replaced, and they will need to do some maintenance on the steam mill since it has been idle for a year. “That has to be on the prioritized list,” she said.

Jamie Morton, manager at the Alberni Valley Museum, will be assessing the mill site to determine what needs to be done and in which order. “It’s allowing us to know at a deep diligence level what maintenance needs to be done,” Beaudoin said.

“When we went into this last year we were really blind. We’re trying to do this in a more strategic way.”

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