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A Proposal to Save Rail on the new Johnson Street Bridge

Rail transit, cars, and bicycles mingle in Portland

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.

Why not put rails in the middle of the new bridge?

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.

Rails are already part of car lanes in Toronto, and they're being added in Portland

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
Directors, johnsonstreetbridge.org

6 comments to A Proposal to Save Rail on the new Johnson Street Bridge

  • Donna Furnival

    Unbelievable! Spending money on the fly seems to be the order of the day.

  • Robin Jones

    I am so glad you presented this . It would be so shortsighted to limit
    this project to cars/trucks only.

  • Ryan Langkamer

    Absolutely brilliant, JSB.org !
    This proposal would save money, preserve rail service into the city and create a more inclusive link, for all transportation modes.

  • Dennis Robinson

    Did the city leave rail off the new bridge because the old E&N right-of-way will no longer line up with the span once they eliminate the “S” curve to make a new approach east on Esquimalt Road?

    I also think the new design will not withstand the stresses that will now be concentrated in one span instead of the existing two. That is probably one of the reasons the city has decided to shorten the span from their original design.

    The opportunity for Rail or LRT over the new bridge must be designed into it from the start.

  • Carolyn

    Could the Telus duct be re-routed to use the Bay street bridge site?
    We definitely need the rail component of the Johnson Street bridge, as utilizing the E&N is the fastest, most cost-effective way to move more people sooner, until the LRT lines are added to our transportation system. I do not think Victoria should bear the whole cost of this transit corridor (the Johnson street bridge), but the whole region should share the cost.

  • Bronson Wille

    Great Idea! (As always) But I believe there is a second option also worth considering. Fixing the rail bridge. According to MMM Group’s Gold Plated rehab plan. They were going to,take the bridge apart.Take it off site and rebuld it. So it would have a 100 year service life 8.5 siesmic upgrade etc… All for 103 million. But if you nerrow it down to just fixing BOTH bridges it comes down to just 39 million. If just the railway span were fixed. Then it would probaly cost less than 35 million, for a new rail bridge Just something worth considering if putting rail on the new bridge doesn’t work out