A version of the following was sent to Victoria’s mayor and councillors, in anticipation of their council meeting on Thursday, November 24, 2011. It was cc’d to Westshore mayors, the chair and vice-chair of the CRD’s transportation committee, the Island Corridor Foundation, and Victoria’s incoming councillors.
Dear Mayor Fortin and Victoria Councillors,
We ask that you direct City staff to investigate the possibility of including light rail transit on the new Johnson Street Bridge. This is a matter of some urgency, as architects are currently preparing designs for the new bridge, and they may advance to a point where it is impossible to make even small corrections needed to ensure the bridge has the capacity for light rail.
This capacity may not be expensive. As you know, in June 2010, consultant engineers of the MMM Group said it would cost $12 million to include rail on the new bridge. However, that number appears to have been based on two assumptions requiring greater scrutiny.
1) Vehicle Weight
The existing bridge, built in 1924, was capable of carrying a fully-loaded freight train. Did MMM assume that identical loads would have to be carried on the new bridge? If so, that was a mistake: rail freight no longer needs to reach downtown, and modern passenger-rail vehicles are comparable in weight to a semitrailer truck.
Comparative weights of vehicles, without load/passengers
Skoda 10T streetcar (Portland, OR) 28,754 kg
Siemens S70 LRT car (Charlotte, NC) 43,908 kg
Tractor semitrailer truck 46,500 kg (maximum permitted)
Rail-Diesel “Budd” Car 2 (E&N) 53,071 kg
Modern freight locomotive 135,000 kg
As far as we are aware, there have been no council discussions about weight limits on the new bridge. The April 2011 contract between the City and MMM only says that the new bridge will be built to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) specifications; presumably this means it will be capable of carrying several semitrailer trucks at once. If that is the case, the bridge may not need $12 million worth of extra reinforcing to carry light rail, or E&N Budd cars.
2) Integrated versus separated railway
Early designs put the railway on the south edge of the new bridge, with tracks completely separated from the three-lane roadway. This required the lift span to be at least five meters wider, contributing greatly to the $12 million cost of including rail in the project. But are separated tracks really necessary?
We believe it would make more sense to install rails down the center of the bridge, in the middle of the three car lanes, with signals so that other traffic is not able to use the bridge roadway while it is occupied by a train. Since the E&N would only operate a few trains a day, this would not interfere greatly with car traffic, and not with many pedestrians or bicycles at all, as the walking and multimodal pathways will be fully separated. Furthermore, centering the weight of a train on the span would likely require simpler engineering than having the rails placed far to one side.
Other cities have incorporated rails into the roadways of their bridges, as two photos below indicate. The first is of Toronto streetcars on that city’s Queen Street Bridge; the second is of new rails on Portland’s Broadway Bridge for a cross-river streetcar loop opening in 2012. In both cases, the lanes with rails are used by automobiles as well.
We ask that you direct City staff to investigate this capacity for light rail on the new bridge, and that they report back at your next monthly update on the project. At your last update on October 6, the project manager said it may take up to a year to relocate a Telus duct in the way of the new bridge; that work may slow the process enough to allow any slight design changes needed to ensure rail capacity. MMM is already supposed to outline the cost savings from a reduction of the bridge’s navigation channel, so they could advise you about the bridge’s weight limits at your next meeting as well.
Rethinking the way rail might work on the new bridge offers a tremendous opportunity — and one that could save a future council from having to build a separate $35-million rail bridge to bring the E&N back into downtown.
With kind regards,
Ross Crockford and Mat Wright