Council to look at repurposing rail line after it ceases operations in Dec. 2021

December 23, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

A handful of manufacturers in Orangeville will be receiving their materials by truck instead of train at the end of next year.

The Orangeville Brampton Rail Access Group (OBRAG) provided formal notice that it will terminate its agreement with the Orangeville Railway Development Corporation (ORDC) and GIO Railways Corporation Inc., effective Dec. 31, 2021.

Manufacturers in Orangeville and Brampton decided to end the agreement prematurely, nine months ahead of schedule, since they’ll save money transporting materials via truck instead of train.

“Regrettably, usage of the line, in terms of both active members and rail traffic in Brampton decreased significantly within the last two to three years, due to a number of economic factors,” said OBRAG chair Dan Braniff.

“Some of those same factors frustrated efforts to attract new users and increase usage by existing members. In the last 21 years OBRAG invested over $13 million to maintain and upgrade the 100-year-old rail line to ensure safe operations. The required annual re-investment in the historic line is not sustainable at current freight levels.”

Orangeville Council, as the sole shareholder of ORDC has directed its board to sell or lease the rail line assets.

Mayor Sandy Brown said Orangeville originally purchased the rail line in 2000 to protect manufacturers receiving rail goods in Town and to encourage other industrial users of rail to come and set up their operations here.

“Unfortunately, it has not attracted any new businesses and in fact, there’s been an erosion of users to the point now, as of the last month or so, they’re down to three manufacturers in Orangeville and two in Brampton,” he explained.

With a shrinking pool of manufacturers to pay for operations of the 55 km long rail line, they realized that truck transportation is a more efficient and less expensive way of bringing the rail goods into their plants.

He noted that the rail line has been a burden on Orangeville taxpayers for the past 20 years, since the Town pays roughly $400,000 in property taxes on it annually, without any significant return on investment.

“It’s just been collecting in a pool of red ink,” he remarked. “We’ve invested something like $8 million in the rail line, and that’s come out of the taxpayers pocket.”

Unfortunately, the Town is still going to be picking up the $400,000 property tax bill until the railway is sold. 

The most popular idea among Council to reconcile the tax issue is to partner with Peel Region or the Town of Caledon and convert the rail line into a recreational trail.

“You may have been on them in your life, many, many other municipalities all over North America have converted these short, no longer viable rail lines into recreational trails,” said Mayor Brown.

“I know there’s one up in the Collingwood area, you can go on the Georgian trail from Collingwood to Thornbury to Meaford on an old rail bend.”

The trails that were constructed from an old rail line in Collingwood are well utilized by people walking, biking, and hiking, according to Mayor Brown.

“A recreational trail from Brampton up to Orangeville, I think would be very well used. I think there’s a positive economic spin there, that’s going to bring tourists from those areas,” he said.

“The dream would be somebody living in downtown Toronto, taking their bike, getting on the Go Train at Union Station, traveling up to the Brampton Go Station, riding their bike 250 meters to the west and picking up this new recreational trail and riding all the way up into Orangeville.”

If Council works with Brampton to make the recreational trail into a reality, Orangeville will be the trailhead and likely receive benefit from people taking day trips here, according to Mayor Brown.

Going forward, he said Council will be looking at partnerships to sell off portions of the rail line or the entire asset.

“I suspect over the next year, we’re going to find some sort of a way to resolve that and to stop the property tax from being paid. That’s our goal,” said Mayor Brown.

He told the Citizen it’s particularly important to resolve the property tax issue now because in the Municipal Act, it clearly states municipalities cannot bonus manufacturing companies, yet Orangeville has been doing exactly that.

“Now, the reason the waters have been muddy is because up until two years ago, there was a tourist train that was run on this [rail] line, something called the Credit Valley Explorer,” he said.

“So the tourist line went in the fall, they had a Santa train, where Santa would be on the train, the kids would come on board, there would be gifts and they’d serve a meal,” Mayor Brown added. “It always was fun, but it never made any money.”

He said when the Town was subsidizing the tourist train, it masked the overall property tax expense, so there wasn’t any concerns around violating the Municipal Act until recently.

“Now that the tourism has been peeled away, you’re really exposing it as a gift to these manufacturing companies… so in a few different ways, this is a good thing, and certainly from the taxpayer standpoint, it’s going to be a very good thing,” Mayor Brown explained.

The rail line also has several real estate assets tied to it, where the Town of Orangeville can recover money.

Mayor Brown said he looks forward to continuing to work on a solution for the rail line in 2021.


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