News

Rail service to Top Shelf back on track after inspection solves bridge-safety issues

The view of the Cowichan River crossing stretches from the now-dormant Dayliner run on the struggling E&N rail line. Another rail bridge — across the Chemainus River — was the focus of a brief controversy regarding freight traffic that emerged late last month. - Andrew Leong/file
The view of the Cowichan River crossing stretches from the now-dormant Dayliner run on the struggling E&N rail line. Another rail bridge — across the Chemainus River — was the focus of a brief controversy regarding freight traffic that emerged late last month.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Rail cars will continue serving Cowichan's Top Shelf Feeds after its owner heard his freight service would stop due to local bridge-safety issues.

Robert Davison seemed relieved Tuesday's Southern Rail bridge inspection near Westholme OKed its used for hauling ingredients to Top Shelf for custom-making farm-animal feed.

But now he's exploring other transportation options, such as boosting truck use, after what Davison saw as E&N freight rail service being threatened on short notice.

"We saw this as a wake-up call. We'll be better prepared in future about our options.

"We're looking at reducing our reliance on rail," he told the News Leader Pictorial  Thursday, still concerned about the pre-Christmas call from Southern Rail's brass.

They basically said Top Shelf's freight service from Nanaimo would be sidelined by month's end due to line maintenance and concerns about a bridge.

But those fears about the safety of hauling freight over the Chemainus River ended with Southern's inspection, explained Graham Bruce of the Island Corridor Foundation.

"Freight service between Nanaimo and Top Shelf will continue," said Bruce.

"The bridge inspection, undertaken (Tuesday) with a fully loaded train, showed the bridge performed well, and chief superintendent of engineering, Gary Smith, for Southern indicated the freight can continue crossing this bridge."

Bruce declined to comment about why Southern told Davison it couldn't continue shipping freight to Duncan from Nanaimo because of the line's deterioration.

"There is no story there," Bruce told the Leader.

But there was to Davison.

"I still don't understand why Southern wouldn't have informed the ICF as to why this (safety and stoppage notice) was happening," said Davison whose firm receives an average of six rail cars — some 12 truckloads — of wheat, barley, corn and other feed ingredients weekly.

Top Shelf has started using more trucks "but hands down, we'd prefer to use rail," he said, upset about looming rail rate hikes.

And while other countries are boosting rail use, Victoria seems bent on shutting island service, Davison added.

Bruce was busy buffing a proposed service agreement with Via Rail he hopes to ink by February's end "so we can meet budgetary timing of regional districts and get (bridge and track repair) work started by late April, early May."

Davison called that fix — using $18.5 million from federal, provincial and local governments — "positive, but I'm told unless the ICF has an agreement with Via, that funding won't come."

Repairs are expected this year.

E&N passenger service was pulled in 2011, and freight service slowed, due to track safety issues.

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