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Blue Bridge Rail Span Removed

Blue Bridge Rail Span Removal: Photo by Brian Simmons

Blue Bridge Rail Span Removal: Photo by Brian Simmons

Friday was a sad day for us. At around 1:00 pm, a giant crane removed the 250-tonne railway span of the old Johnson Street Bridge — commencing the demolition of the only parallel-spanned Strauss bascule bridge in the world, and permanently severing the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway’s 123-year connection to downtown.

Around 80 people braved miserable weather to see workers detach the rail span from its counterweight, and then watch the largest maritime crane in western Canada slowly lower the span onto a barge, which will ferry it up Victoria’s harbour on Sunday for dismantling.

National Post Front Page

National Post front page

As you can tell from coverage on CHEK and CTV, and in the Times Colonist and Victoria News, those gathered at the site had a range of emotions and opinions about the event. The National Post also had a comprehensive story about the project on Friday, and on Thursday CBC Radio ran a fine feature documentary about the history of the old bridge, which you can listen to here.

Emotions aside, Friday’s removal of the rail span also raises some substantive issues.

How much did the work cost? The June 2010 Advicas estimate pegged the job at $1 million, but Ruskin Construction’s bid came in at $1.845 million, according to this memo. The final relocation of the span also had to be delayed until Sunday, due to weather, which will add to the cost: the crane barge reportedly costs $45,000 per day.

Will the public and/or media be allowed to see the dismantling of the rail span? The City repeatedly asserted that the old bridge couldn’t be repaired in part because it suffered from pervasive pack rust. Access to the dismantling would show what 88 years over Victoria’s Inner Harbour really did to the bridge — and might also provide useful information for maintenance of the new one.

How will the old steel be recycled? According to one expert we contacted, the embodied energy of the steel will be lost if it’s melted down. If the steel ends up getting shipped to the other side of the world, that also diminishes the City’s claim that the replacement project will reduce greenhouse gases.

We will continue to monitor the project, and ask pertinent questions.

UPDATE (Monday, February 27): According to an interview with the City’s bridge project manager this morning on CFAX, the rail span is at Point Hope Shipyard, and will be dismantled over the next two weeks before the steel is shipped to Tacoma for recycling. It is not clear whether the public will have access to the site, as the span now belongs to the contractor. According to this story — about the span jokingly being offered for sale on Used Victoria — the steel is worth approximately $45,000.

Video – Rail Span Removal

Photo Gallery

7 comments to Blue Bridge Rail Span Removed

  • Brian

    It was indeed a sad day, seeing the rail span cut out and lowered down like a corpse to a funeral bier. I almost wish she were off to a viking funeral rather than the recycled cremation they plan.

    I wonder if there would be way to mix in some of the soon to be recycled steel into what will be the new bridge’s steel, even if it was a single gram. The gesture could satisfy some of the artistic requirements for the project and would certainly make me and possibly others a little less heartsick about losing our blue and belovedly industrial Johnson Street bridge to the new age pretensions of what they have in store to take her place.

  • Mark

    I was saddened after not visiting Victoria for over a year to return and find that I was no longer able to take the E&N. I had talked up the train for weeks and planned a day trip to show off this marvelous asset as well as the totem poles in Duncan and the murals in Chemainus to my travel companion.

    After asking around as to why this could have happened in lovely Victoria the reasons given for the closure of this line were more to the likes of infuriating than rational.

    The key explanations were that it was a traffic nightmare, the bridge was ugly and outdated and that it would be technically impossible to have the rail continue to cross the new bridge.

    Impossible to keep the rail? Ugly and outdated?

    I realize that the most obvious cause for the traffic congestion is the huge shift over the last 15 years towards massive new high density residential developments in Esquimalt and sprawl farther out towards Langford. I would suggest that this new population base coupled with the rail portion of the current bridge as an opportunity. The focus might have been on other scenarios; such as a tramway that could easily have run on the same rails over the bridge but could be run through Esquimalt. This could bring people into downtown Victoria in less time than by car or by bus and could run on its own circuit and could have eventually been expanded to run with embedded rails around the downtown core.

    Considering the high seasonal tourist population in Victoria there must surely be a market for a tramway in downtown Victoria, the tourists could potentially fill the trams during the off-peak hours in the summer, this being a good way for the residents and tourists alike to benefit.

    As for the aesthetic value of the bridge I am surprised to see that the opinions of few are the criteria for determining what has a value as a city’s heritage and history. Should everything that we don’t find quaint or doesn’t fit our current view of stylish be tossed into the Gorge?

    It is sad to see that Greater Victoria is so heavily influenced by automobile transport in a manner that is outdated by at least 30 years elsewhere. The fact that the City is not interested in keeping the E&N railway and benefiting from its existence really leads one to believe that Victoria is lining itself up to throw away its charm and character like the baby with the bathwater.

  • Ryan E.Langkamer

    The loss of the Big Blue rail bridge will prove to be a huge mistake in the near future. Assuming the province comes through with promised funding, the E&N will be up & running before this new, rail-less bridge is built !
    I too, felt sick to the core, as I watched her cut apart by the burner’s torch, rigged up by riggers and dropped onto the Arctic Tuk barge.
    This event, brought about by a lack of vision on the part of some single issue councillors, will resonate down the years as the single most foolish decision to come from city councillors elected to Victoria council in November ’08.
    When the railway is running again, we go back to having our train station a kilometre outside of the city proper. We will also have to rebuild the rail crossing, but at double the cost of an inclusive new bridge. The new bridge will occupy the former railbridge’s position, so it will also have to be moved to a new location, with a new overpass, approaches and new terminal located who knows where.
    Those councillors who should have protected our iconic old bridge should be shamed for letting their city push this vital crossing into “demolition by neglect” a crime under the Heritage Conservation Act.

  • Amanda

    I think it is a crime and they shouldn’t be allowed to destroy something so beautiful and heritage. I think it was started because Dean Fortin wanted to make a name for himself. It makes me so sad and mad, and feeling helpless.

  • Markus

    I imagine the rail bridge had to go. Having the E & N right-of-way running from Market Square out to Langford would surely have killed the argument in favour of the proposed billion dollar LRT line to Langford via Uptown. This is all politics/business, folks. The rail bridge had to go–the real development monies are in building a totally new transit line to Langford (not in refurbishing the E&N for a fraction of the cost). All on the taxpayers dime. Well orchestrated theft of the public purse?

  • Ryan E.Langkamer

    I was watching the Saturday night news on CHEK TV tonight and was “shocked and appalled” to see the publicity-seeking Minister of Sport & Oligarchy, or whatever, showing up empty-handed once again, riding on the coat-tails of her cousins, the Harper Conservatives.
    There was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs handing out another $16M of our tax money, while, lurking in the background is the previously mentioned MofS&A, trying desperately to get herself on the news.
    You can literally see the Johnson Street Bridge from the Legislature, yet the provincial government sees fit to contribute nothing to our vital infrastructure project and is content to have only the taxpayers of Victoria and our federal government pay for it !
    Glad to see the feds finally realise we need to preserve our rail connections to the WestShore and beyond, to Courtenay … Whoops, better wait ’til we’re closer to the next election, Provincial, I mean !!

  • Martin

    So, why was the railway portion removed early? To make “room” for the “new bridge”? The railway portion and the road portion share the same foundation! How can you remove half of a foundation?