Brockville council delays further spending on railway tunnel repairs

Brockville council will hold off on spending another $85,000 on railway tunnel repairs. – Sarah Burtch/Brockvilleist

Brockville City Council has delayed spending another $85,000 on railway tunnel repairs.

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 14, council received a detailed report from Director of Operations Phil Woods about the remedial short-term repair options for the tunnel, one of the city’s major tourist attractions.

The tunnel is scheduled to open for the season on Friday, May 17, with a scaled-down light show as the city waits for required equipment to arrive.

The motion brought before council on Tuesday asked them to approve proceeding with remedial repairs of 13 control and power pedestals for a total cost of $84,796.61. This amount would be in addition to the previously requested $300,229.20 (including net HST) and would be funded by reserves.

“The sense of urgency isn’t related to the report, this is what we could do now or we could also bring this forward in a future budget,” Woods explained. “If the council would like to defer this to the 2025 capital budget, we would be no further behind than we are currently. We have the equipment and we will have equipment that works. The long-term objective is how to better protect it in the future.”

The floor was then open to discussion and many councillors quickly raised their hands. In terms of timeline and urgency, Councillor Wales suggested that council approach the tunnel repairs as one major capital-term project in 2025. Councillor Severson agreed with Wales, stating “If it’s not mandatory that we do it at the moment I’d like to see a full report further in the future.” 

When Severson asked Woods why the thirteen control and power pedestals were not identified last year and included in the 2023/2024 initial budget, Woods explained, “A lot happened over last winter where the scope of what we needed to repair in the fall and the scope of what we needed to repair in the spring ballooned.”

Woods elaborated, “It was a lot more than we had been told, which instigated the tender process that resulted in a new contractor and the new feedback we’re working with. We were not acutely aware of the issues before they did the tender.”

Councillor Earle added his support to the idea of postponing the repairs as long as possible while accumulating more information. He stated, “One of the things that I think we should be considering is whether we keep using the same equipment…Part of the new report that comes to us I believe should show what new equipment is on the market and it may be equipment that doesn’t even need these pedestals.”

Following these remarks, Wood clarified that he and his fellow city staff are “not very comfortable bringing forward projects that are not fully meted out…These proposals were made by a professional and can be acted on,” he added.

However, Woods strongly suggested bringing in a new professional engineer or lighting designer to make a more concrete suggestion of what can be done today and in the future. 

Councillor Fullarton shared her concern that by deferring these decisions to the 2025 year, the city is running the risk of potentially having to open the tunnel late in the season for the second year in a row. She referred to the tunnel as Brockville’s main tourist attraction and reiterated that it needs to be at peak performance. 

“I do understand more work needs to be done but I don’t think we can wait until we pass a budget at the end of next winter if we’re to have a full season of the tunnel operating in the way we all want to see it,” stated Fullarton.

“We do have all the parts and equipment ordered to operate the tunnel at it’s full capacity,” Woods responded. “The solutions we’re talking about now are about reducing our vulnerability to its failure. So, for all intents and purposes, it is going to work full show. What I could recommend in a future budget capital is to full-scope waterproof the cabinets as they exist.”

After more discussion, an amendment was put forward by Councillor Wales and was read to aloud as the following, “That the motion be amended to remove the second paragraph and discussion involving remedial repairs to the 13 control and power pedestals pending the identification of possible long-term solutions to be presented on or before the fall of 2024.” 

All councillors and Mayor Wren voted unanimously in favour of the new amendment. The original motion as amended was also carried unanimously by council. 

Tunnel Signage

At their Thursday, May 9 meeting, the Brockville Railway Tunnel Committee discussed the need to create more signage explaining the modified light show to visitors.

Director of Operations Phil Woods confirmed that ACF Electric was the successful contractor awarded the public tender to replace failed lighting components in the tunnel. These lights have been ordered and city staff have been given an estimated delivery date of eight to 10 weeks. 

Tourism Development Coordinator Kelly Brintnell shared at the committee meeting that the tourism office has received many queries from visitors about the tunnel status. This disclosure solidified the need for more signage on-site.

Ketchum Manufacturing Inc. was tasked to create the approved signs, which are now with the parks staff in preparation for installation. The parking lot sign is anticipated to be placed on Pearl Street at the end of Victoria Avenue.

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