In this November 2013 photo, crews attend to a semi- trailer collision at the railway bridge on Highway 1A near Kemnay. RCMP say these crashes are frustrating because there are warning signs, over-height flashing lights, reflectors and marked detour routes in place to prevent semis from hitting the bridge.
Despite warning signs, over-height flashing lights, reflectors and marked detour routes leading up to the CP Rail bridge on Highway 1A, multiple semi drivers still manage to crash into the low bridge in Kemnay every year.
The latest happened Monday, when a Canadian Tire semi-truck was heading westbound and got wedged under the bridge, closing the road to traffic and tying up RCMP resources for hours.
"It’s more disappointing than anything," said RCMP Brandon Staff Sgt. Mike Zens. "It certainly is a drain on our resources and quite frankly, I do believe that we could better be utilized in other capacities — investigating other crimes as opposed to spending our time directing traffic and removing vehicles."
A 42-year-old man from Calgary was charged with failing to obey a traffic control device, and handed a $203 fine.
Zens said it’s frustrating, as resources could be much better utilized especially when the warnings are clearly marked, but "for whatever reason they … try to continue on underneath the low bridge."
Zens said the incident closed the roadway for about an hour and a half, which is typical in this type of situation, as it takes time to deal with damages and getting tow trucks in position to remove the wedged semi.
"Sometimes these things …end up getting wedged underneath and are requiring a significant amount of effort to get them out," Zens said. "This one here didn’t appear that it was under to the same extent as some of the other vehicles."
If it sounds like Zens has had some experience with semi versus bridge incidents in Kemnay, it’s true. Zens said on average these crashes happen at least six times per year.
"We probably face anywhere from six to 10 a year," he said. "Just off the top of my head I can recall at least a half a dozen."
On Jan. 17, a semi-trailer’s back end was sheared off after the operator drove under the bridge. The eastbound truck was hauling canola seed. A 23-year-old man from Lethbridge, Alta., was fined $203.
Among the various warnings on the road, a laser sensor is installed leading up to the bridge and is triggered by over-height vehicles to alert drivers their trucks are too tall to pass under the bridge. Drivers are notified with a flashing light that goes off for a few seconds to alert only the intended over-height vehicle and not any trailing cars or trucks.
Kemnay bridge crashes typically occur when semis are heading eastbound, coming off the Trans-Canada Highway, so this latest incident is unusual, Zens said. However, the warnings are clearly visible for both eastbound and westbound motorists.
"It just comes down to driver awareness," Zens said. "Drivers who operate these types of vehicles with the high loads, need to be very mindful and aware … you need to be aware and recognize the height of your load as well as the warning signs, you need to abide by the warning signs and signals, because they are telling you that there is something that is potentially going to cause you a problem."
One sign directs eastbound drivers to a spot where they can turn around if their semi-trailer is too big, while another sign advises westbound drivers of a detour they can use.
The majority of operators who crash into the bridge are from out of province. Herb Mahood, director of regional operations with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, said he believes these drivers must by relying on their GPS and ignoring the signs.
"They’re following the GPS rather than looking at the road signs," Mahood said. "It’s annoying, I’ll tell you that."
There’s no plans to add any more signs or flashing lights. Mahood said he doesn’t "think it would do any good."
"If we could think of anything else that would be reasonable to do, we would’ve already done it," he said. "What we’ve installed is state of the art. It has reduced the number of accidents."
The only other option would be to raise the bridge, or build a whole new overpass, which is not likely to happen in the near future. Highway 1A was resurfaced recently, and Mahood stressed the clearance was not reduced.
"We were very careful with that," he said.
With at least a half-dozen semis crashing into the bridge every year, many in the community are wondering whether there are structural concerns. Brandon’s Eighth Street bridge has been shut down to traffic since mid-January, when a truck crashed into the underside of the bridge, causing structural damage.
CP Rail is responsible for the structure in Kemnay. Spokesman Ed Greenberg said whenever there is an incident involving the bridge, CP dispatches a team of experts to ensure the bridge is safe.
"This involves a full structural inspection of the bridge," he said. "And before any bridge is reopened for the resumption of train traffic, the structure must pass the full inspection."
Greenberg said the "strict safety inspection" would have been enacted immediately once the company learned of the Monday incident.
When asked if there are any structural concerns, given the fact that semi-trucks with heavy loads regularly hit the bridge, Greenberg said it is a well-built structure and must meet strict requirements.
"When an incident does take place, if something does occur and a vehicle contacts the bridge, it remains out of service until it undergoes a full structural inspection, and only after it passes the inspection, traffic resumes," he said. "If the inspection determines there’s some sort of repair work required, that will take place before anything else happens."
Greenberg said he’s not aware of any upgrades or repairs that were needed at the Kemnay bridge due to semi-trucks.
CP Rail will continue to work with Manitoba Highways and the City of Brandon for "ongoing awareness" among motorists, Greenberg added.
The Manitoba Trucking Association was unable to provide an interview after being contacted by the Brandon Sun. The Canadian Trucking Alliance would not comment, as it is considered a local issue.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 26, 2014