CN delays reopening bridge to traffic: Railroader looks to Supreme Court of Canada to quash historic maintenance agreement.

Author:Ross, Ian

The ball's in CN Rail's court as to whether it intends to fix and reopen a 109-yearold bridge to car and trucks between Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation.

CN is awaiting word if the Supreme Court of Canada will hear its case over a century-old contractual obligation to maintain and keep open the St. James Bridge to vehicle traffic.

A Nov. 16 ruling from the Court of Appeal of Ontario dismissed CN's request to stay--or postpone --an earlier appeals court decision from last June ordering that the bridge be repaired and reopened to vehicles after the railway blocked access five years ago.

The bridge, which spans the Kaministiquia (Kam) River and directly connects the two communities, is a combined railway, vehicle and pedestrian structure.

CN declared the bridge off-limits to vehicles after vandals set the bridge on fire in October 2013. But within days, CN did repairs that allowed its freight trains to move across the span.

The lack of access has been a major headache for residents of both communities, forcing them to make a 10-kilometre detour via a main highway.

It also increases response times for emergency vehicles coming from Thunder Bay to the First Nation.

What's followed is a four-year legal fight between the City of Thunder Bay and CN over the railway's requirement to adhere to a 1906 agreement.

The agreement, signed between the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (now CN) and the Town of Fort William (now the City of Thunder Bay), guaranteed a "perpetual right" for street railway, vehicles, and foot traffic to cross the bridge.

In seeking relief from the agreement, CN contends the structural repairs required to reopen the bridge for vehicles is beyond the scope of its maintenance obligation.

"CN has and continues to assess the various options to comply with the Court of Appeal's reversal of the initial order," responded CN spokesman Jonathan Abecassis in an email, on the Ontario appeal court's denial of CN's motion for stay.

"However, CN believes the Supreme Court's guidance is still required to fully assess the extent of its obligations, if any."

The Supreme Court will rule in early 2019--likely February--whether it will hear CN's appeal.

Keith Hobbs insisted that CN must live up to the conditions of the 1906 agreement.

"The court is clear that CN must fix its bridge now," said Hobbs, who was Thunder Bay mayor at the time, in a Nov. 19 news release.

"Over the past four years the city has sought to have CN Railway honour its...

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