Rail bridge report better than expected

NANAIMO – Railroad bridges and trestles on Vancouver Island require $5.4 million in upgrades over the next 10 years.

Railroad bridges and trestles on Vancouver Island require $5.4 million in upgrades over the next 10 years to keep trains rolling.

The findings of an Associated Engineering report for the Island Corridor Foundation, owner of the tracks, and the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, were released Monday.

The five-month, $500,000 audit of the 48 bridges and trestles was key to the future of Island rail service on the E&N Rail line, as $7.5 million in funding from the B.C. government was conditional on its findings.

The federal government matched the province’s grant for replacement of 104,000 rail ties from Victoria to Courtenay and ballast replacement.

The study took in the weight rating of each structure with respect to passenger, and freight trains and included cost estimates for capital, maintenance and strengthening for the next 10, 20 and 30 years. It concluded $34 million would be needed over 30 years to maintain the rail service.

Graham Bruce, ICF chief operating officer, said there is work to be done on just about every structure, but it’s primarily that’s not immediately necessary.

“This is very good news when you consider we’re talking about 48 structures, some quite aged,” he said. “There was lots of speculation prior to the work being done that we were going find some real show stoppers on this.

“Some of these are big structures at $6 million to $10 million to replace, and now we don’t have to do that.”

Bruce said the primary focus is to maintain passenger service operation for a minimum of 10 years, working with Via Rail, and to allow Southern Rail of Vancouver Island, the track’s operator, to attract freight customers back to the line.

“That allows us to do a number of other things in building passenger-tourism excursions and freight services on the line because now we’ve got some longevity,” he said. “It makes it much easier for our rail operator knowing we’re going to be around.”

Bruce wouldn’t comment on the foundation’s plans to raise the $5.4 million needed for the upgrades, only saying an application is being prepared for  the Island Coastal Economic Trust, a grant program created by the B.C. government in 2006.

“There are a number of avenues we will be pursuing but it’s not appropriate to publicize any numbers right now,” he said.

Work on the rail line and trestles is expected to start in late October following the tender and bidding process, and the awarding of a contract.

“We will be putting together a new operating contract with Via and Southern Rail,” said Bruce. “If all goes well, passenger service will begin in the late spring of next year.”