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MCR Rail Trestle Over Kettle Creek

Sunset Drive and Talbot Street
St. Thomas  Ontario

  CN Rail
History:     An iconic steel and concrete railway bridge in St. Thomas has become a central focus of activity for the local ACO branch.

Built in 1929 on the site of two previous rail trestles dating as far back as 1871, the trestle spans 1300 meters of the Kettle Creek valley at the west end of the city. The towering structure was built to withstand the weight of two full steam locomotives on separate tracks, a major engineering achievement of its time. Originally built for the Michigan Central Railway, which traversed Southwestern Ontario from Detroit to Buffalo, the trestle and line were most recently owned by CN Rail which declared it surplus.
Details:     Without track or obvious purpose, the trestle is at the heart of a lively debate in the city of 36,000 which describes itself as the Railway Capital of Canada. Up to the present, the city has not pursued an opportunity to acquire the trestle, even for a token amount, stating that other priorities need greater attention during times of fiscal restraint. Fearing that lack of action could lead to the trestle being sold for its salvage value, the local ACO branch convened a town hall meeting Sept. 1 at which over 80 concerned citizens attended.

While several possible uses were discussed, the clear favourite is to add the trestle to the Trans Canada Trail which already runs through St. Thomas on the same rail lands. While the trail currently wends its way under the trestle, relocating it to the top would give trail users a commanding view of the Kettle Creek valley. ACO spokesperson Serge Lavoie presented this opportunity to St. Thomas city council on Sept. 13 stressing that the bridge had value to the region for several reasons: as a key piece of railway heritage; as an engineering marvel of its time; and as a community asset that would attract tourists. Lavoie referred to the bridge as the last piece of a “triple crown” of railway assets which already includes the Michigan Central Railroad Locomotive Shops, now home to the Elgin County Railway Museum, and the CASO Station, currently undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration by the North American Railway Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, issues of maintenance costs and liability dominate the council’s concerns over the possible acquisition. ACO has stressed that the project is best approached as a partnership between the city and local community groups. This models similar projects in St. Marys and Goderich. At its Sept. 13 meeting, council voted unanimously to issue an RFP for an engineering study of the bridge to assess its condition. Mayor Cliff Barwick also asked the ACO branch to create a redevelopment plan which could be used to estimate costs.
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Please supply details of any similar community based attempts to save rail bridges and trestles. Include strategies, vision documents, costing and revenue sources. Send to the attention of Serge Lavoie, ACO St. Thomas-Elgin Branch slavoie@sympatico.ca.