Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who Owns the Johnson Street Bridge?

This may sound like a dumb question as everyone thinks the answer is obvious and that the owner is the City, well it may not be that simple.   I am quite certain that the City owns the road portion of the bridge but I am not certain who owns the rail portion.

For a living I do a lot of work dealing with land title and tenure type issues, you would be surprised what can happen when a title is not a simple fee simple title or if the registered names change over time.    It can also happen in residential neighbourhoods because someone in the past put up a fence a few feet in the wrong direction and over time everyone assumes the property line is one location when it is another one.  People act on what they think the situation is and not what the reality is.

So who owns the rail portion of the bridge?

  • The bridge is in fact two bridges linked by piers, there is clearly a road bridge and a railway bridge.
  • The infrastructure over the water is not within a fee simple title within the provincial torens land registry system but the piers seemed to be owned by the City.  
  • The norm in BC has been that all physical infrastructure of a railway is owned by the railway.  Even BC Rail and the physical land vested with the company even though it was owned by the company.  I do not know of any examples in BC where the railway is not the owner of infrastructure like bridges - if you know of one, please let me know.
  • The bridge was built as a joint project between the City, CPR, Feds and the Province.   The previous bridge clearly belonged to the CPR, so what as the ownership of the new bridge?   Could it be split, rail with the CPR and road with the City.
  • The land leading to the rail bridge is clearly owned by the railway, the rail bridge is physically connected to privately owned rail lands.  I do not see an easement registered in the favour of the City for the bridge to be there.  Either there is no need because the bridge is actually owned by the railway or no one every bothered to get one.  I am not certain of the status of the land on the downtown side of the bridge.
  • There must have been some contract in place from the start for who was responsible for operations and upkeep of the bridge and there likely was some term to it.   I would love to see the original one from the 1920s and then any updates since then.
What all this says to me is that there is a chance the railway portion of the bridge actually belongs to the Island Corridor Foundation and not the City, in part I have trouble being certain because I do not know the form of ownership the ICF has of the tracks.   If this is the case the City needs the approval of the Island Corridor Foundation to go forward with anything to do with the rail bridge.
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