UPDATE: Barge damages Queensborough train bridge

Thirty customers on Annacis Island are without a key transportation connection after the train swing bridge connecting New Westminster to Queensborough was knocked out of commission when a gravel barge being towed by a tugboat struck it early Tuesday.

New Westminster police said the coast guard contacted them to report the incident shortly after 4:40 a.m. No one was injured.

Pedestrians on the Westminster Quay boardwalk stopped all day Tuesday to gawk at the site. What they saw was the mid-span spun askew on its axis diagonally and tilted upward to the north. At the Queensborough end, the barge with two large piles of gravel floated stuck between the mid-span and the south end of the bridge while two tugboats hovered nearby.

The bridge is owned by New Westminster-based Southern Railway of B.C. which transports freight, including automobiles, forest products and industrial products, across the 100-year old bridge an average of eight to 10 times a day.

Railway president Frank Butzelaar said the company is working on alternative ways to serve their customers. One possible solution is to find a nearby place to unload and then truck the freight to its final destination.

Butzelaar said the company's engineers and contractors are in the "very early stages" of determining how much damage has been caused, how long it will take to repair and how much it would cost to fix. He said it was expected the bridge would be stabilized by Tuesday afternoon so the engineers and contractors could get underneath to assess the damage.

Butzelaar said occasionally barges will brush the protective pier meant to keep the span safe, but it's been a long while since the arm was hit.

"The last time we believe we had any impact on it was way back in the late 1970s," he said. "It's a normal route, we have barges up and down that arm all the time, and I don't know why on this particular time [an accident happened]."

He said the arm that runs along the north side of Annacis Island was open to traffic at the time of the accident and the barge hit the protective pier before bouncing into the mid-span. Butzelaar said the Fraser River water level is high right now and that "might have" contributed to the accident.

Transport Canada has been called in to investigate.

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