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Washout At East Fork

Canfor's Englewood Division on Vancouver Island faced a log transport crisis when a mud slide knocked out key rail span.

By L. Ward Johnson
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Timber Railroads may belong to the annals of history, but there's still one private line operating in North America and a year ago when a slide took out a mainline bridge, the company found itself in a crisis situation. Faced with the alternative of putting an additional 140 loads per day on a public highway to replace the rail haul, company people and contractors alike marshalled their collective resources and repaired the bridge within a record two weeks. The process required inventiveness and ingenuity, but in the logging industry, those are everyday requirements.

Called the Englewood Railway, this line is located about two thirds of the way up Vancouver Island at Woss, B.C., where Canadian Forest Products (Canfor) operates one of its major logging divisions. The railway is a carryover from the late 1930s, when it was built to service a sawmill there. While it is unique, however, and definitely historical, the Englewood Railway is the backbone of the Englewood operation.

Beachhead for the railway and the division's dryland sort is Beaver cove, where logs are off-loaded from the rail cars, sorted and readied for waterborne transportation to the company's various breakdown facilities along the west coast. From Beaver Cove, the main rail line stretches 56 miles inland to Vernon, the terminus of the Englewood line. Including branch lines, there is 79 miles of track.

To move its logs to Beaver Cove, the Englewood Division utilizes a combination of rail and truck transportation. In the woods, logs are loaded onto logging trucks for transport down the steep hillsides to the valley bottom where the railway line is located. There are four collection points or reloads, along the railway line: Vernon, Maquilla, Woss, and Camp A. Trucks take the logs to the closest reload site, where they are off-loaded, weighed for volume, and reloaded onto rail cars.

The Englewood railway fleet consists of four diesel electric locomotives, one historic steam locomotive that can occasionally be found transporting eager sightseers and tourists on logging tours of the operation, and 400 log cars. There are 32 people employed on the railway operation, which runs from mid January to sometime in December. A log train consists of 43 loaded log cars pulled by two locomotives. The locomotives are GM S15 diesel electric switchers. There are normally 17 trains a week coming out of the inland operations and trains haul both day and night as required. Each year about 22,000 rail car loads are transported over this line, which adds up to a volume of around a million cubic meters.

Bar There are a number of good reasons why Canfor continues to operate this rail system today. Centrally located through the company's Tree Farm Licence, the system is ideal for a combination of truck and rail line hauling, and by eliminating the need to transport logs along the highway it represents a less publicly obtrusive means of moving wood to the beachhead. It is also an economical way of moving logs, costing less than a total truck haul system.

Canfor has no thoughts of abandoning the rail line in the future and is in fact continuing to upgrade the system. Wooden ties are being replaced by steel ties, and new steel bridges are replacing old wooden crossings. Locomotives are also being refitted with Cat diesel engines.

Early in January, 1995, as the division was preparing to begin operations for the year, Mike Gaudet, rail haul maintenance chargehand sent out a patrol to inspect the line. Rounding the curve onto the East Fork Bridge at mile 2.9, the crew met a sight guaranteed to freeze the blood. The centre support of the huge bridge had been torn away by a mud slide, leaving a 120-foot sagging belly spanning the gap.

Once the shock of the discovery dissipated, the Canfor people started action to get the crossing back on line. There was considerable urgency, as the logging was about to get underway and without a rail system to move the logs, the operation was faced with a concentrated highway haul that would result in congestion at Beaver Cove and on the publicly travelled highway.

First step was to assess the situation, develop a plan for repairing the structure and work up a design for the replacement section. A considerable length of the remaining structure that cantilevered off one end was pronounced sound, so it was decided to lift that section and put a new tower under it. A second tower was to be installed directly in front of the first, to support the new span. Although it withstood the initial onslaught, it was decided to replace a third tower on the far end, since it was an old gluelam structure that was scheduled for replacement anyway. The initial problem was how to remove the 120 feet of sagging track and ties. After discussing various ways to do this, everyone agreed the best way was to blow the entire structure apart with dynamite. The plan was to cut the rails first, then demolish the rest of the structure as it fell toward the gully bottom.

Permission was obtained from Fisheries to drop the rail and tie debris into the gully. It took little more than a few hours to lay delayed charges at five locations and set off the blast. The blast cut the rails cleanly as planned, and the structure collapsed in a heap at the bottom.

Bar

The replacement structure included two girders, three towers--each fabricated in two pieces--and cross members. Once the fabrication was completed, the steel was trucked to a location near Woss, loaded onto rail cars using a railway locomotive crane, and transported five miles to the site.

When the materials were all assembled at the site, two heavy lift cranes and a backhoe were moved in for the erection operation. After building a road down to the bottom of the gully at the north end and installing a crib platform for one of the cranes, the remaining cantilevered section was lifted up and a new 100 foot tower was installed to support it. As planned, a second 100 foot tower was located directly in front of the first to provide support for the new span. On the opposite side, a new 75 foot steel tower was put in place, replacing the old gluelam support. With three new steel supports in place, the project was ready for the span.

While the bridge was being repaired, Canfor was able to get its logging operations underway by off loading rail cars at mile 7 and transporting the logs around the bridge site by truck to the Beaver Cove sort yard.

Back at the construction site, the span was being assembled on teflon coated skids. It was made up of four 60 foot lengths which had to be spliced together to make two 120 foot long girders. Cross bracing was added between the girders to complete the structure. With the span together, the crew prepared for launching by adding counterweight to the back end of the structure, and attaching a 40 foot launch nose to the front end for the crane on the opposite side.

Finally everything was ready and the span was pushed out over the gap. As it reached the balancing point, the north side crane hooked onto the launch nose, and in little more time than it takes to describe, the span was across the gap. On the opposite side the launch nose was removed and the new span was put in place on the towers.

According to Gaudet, the bridge was scheduled for replacement, but not for another eight years to 10 years. "We are replacing all the old wooden structures on the line with steel structures. Steel is safer and requires less maintenance and besides, we expect this railway will be in operation for a lot of years yet. It's an efficient and cost effective way to move logs and it keeps a lot of trucks off the public road system. True, it's a carry-over from the old days, but we're glad to have it and it is definitely the backbone of this operation". Gaudet says the East Fork bridge is 154 feet high, and 351 feet long.

As part of its strategy for the railway, Canfor is adding decking to some of its railway bridges so they can be used for truck traffic. "We just replaced the bridge on Noomas Creek and we are decking it for truck traffic," Gaudet says. "The Noomas bridge is 280 feet long and 100 feet high". Gaudet says adding decking so the trucks can use the railway crossing means the company won't have to build a separate truck bridge.


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