A Fool’s Bargain – two years later….

December 21, 2023   ·   2 Comments

It’s been exactly two years since the Town of Orangeville abandoned and sold the Orangeville Brampton Railway (OBRY) – all 51 kms of the rail corridor, titles, properties along the Right-of-Way between Mississauga and Orangeville. A narrow-gauge railway that for more than a century delivered people and industrial growth to and from Dufferin County.

In 2022, Orangeville realized almost $32 million from the sale, through its ultra- secretive private Orangeville Railway Development Corporation that you are not supposed to know about. The money was invested, and Town Council has made some quiet noises about consulting the public on how best to spend it. Some nice trails have emerged north of Broadway and there are plans for trails to be laid south to Townline.

The City of Brampton and the Region of Peel paid Orangeville to purchase the OBRY, with grand promises of a ‘rail trail’ connecting the GTA to Dufferin County. Caledon took control of the OBRY rail lands where it traverses those communities. Since then, some tracks have been removed, street crossings paved over & signage erected…. but largely it all sits abandoned.

It seems likely that most local politicians simply hoped that memories of the OBRY would fade-away, the longer the weeds were allowed to grow. The money was in the Bank; the warning signs were posted; Councils could sell-off the spur-lines, Go Buses could continue to poorly service our commuters & all the industries that once used the Railway could add new truck volume to our Highways without anyone really noticing – right?

Yet two recent developments thrust the abandoned OBRY rail corridor back into the spotlight – The on-again/off-again ‘dissolution’ debate surrounding Peel Region including its commitment to build a rail trail, and the recent election of Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie as the new Leader of the Ontario Liberals.

Earlier this year, the Ford Government announced that Peel Region would be dissolved in January 2025 through the Hazel McCallion Act it passed (ironically) with the support and encouragement of Mayor Crombie. A task force was established to shepherd the dissolution to a conclusion, and deal with disentangling major municipal issues and shared responsibilities. Likely low on their priority list, was responsibility for redeveloping the abandoned OBRY rail corridor.

Indeed, the disarray caused by the debate around Peel dissolution likely accounted for the two-year delay along the disused line. But on December 13th, we learned that the Ford Government had back-tracked (pun intended) over dissolution and will be leaving Peel Region intact…. for now.

But before we break out the walking boots and sticks, potentially a greater challenge to the future development of the abandoned rail corridor came from Bonnie Crombie herself.

On November 14th, Mayor Crombie pledged – as part of her Leadership Platform – to expand “… two-way, all-day frequent and electrified GO Train service” to Orangeville.

The promise took everyone by surprise.

Most municipal authorities – including the Towns of Orangeville, Caledon, Metorlinx, the City of Brampton & GoTransit itself – have argued for more than a decade that the people of Orangeville do not deserve, nor does the population warrant, expansion of GoTrain service now, or at any time in the future. This argument was frequently used by Orangeville to defend its decision to abandon and sell the Orangeville Brampton Railway in December 2021.

With two years to go before the next Provincial election, the Ontario Liberal Leader has committed herself to providing Dufferin County residents with daily regular 21st century state-of-the-art GoTrain service, should she be elected Premier & her party as the next provincial government.

That’s pretty BIG, Orangeville!

Exactly how the Ontario Liberals intend to get those tracks laid & those electric trains running, depends almost entirely on vast sums of money AND the abandoned OBRY rail corridor – yes, the very same OBRY line that Orangeville sold for scrap in 2021.

Some railway enthusiasts with expertise in rail networks believe that Mayor Crombie’s promise could better be realized by extending GoTrain service from the new Bolton GO terminus, northwest to Orangeville along a long-abandoned disused CP rail corridor. That could be a shorter and simpler engineering project than retrofitting the old trackage & multiple bridge & diamond crossings along the OBRY line. Five years ago, the cost of rehabilitating the Orangeville Brampton Railway line was estimated at $500 million – less than the cost of building a Toronto Subway stop or a waterfront Spa, but much more than FordNation was willing to spend on Dufferin-Caledon.

Realistically, whichever route the Ontario Liberals might hypothetically select would be enormously expensive. Commuters would likely not see any trains rolling into town for (at best) fifteen years….and that would depend on the Liberals returning to (and staying in) government in 2026.

One might fairly ask why Dufferin-Caledon residents deserve GoTrain service now, where for the last 50 years we have not? The answer could provide a winning strategy for the Ontario Liberals in 2026.

And one wonders whether Orangeville Council will come to regret their 2021 sale of the Orangeville Brampton Railway. It really is no longer a case of ‘if’ GoTrains come to Orangeville, but a matter of ‘when’.

Traffic and truck volume on the Highway 9/10 corridor is rapidly becoming unsustainable as the population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe region rises with Dufferin County likely to grow far faster than current estimates suggest. One day soon, some smart local politician will eventually discover what Europeans have always known – rail travel is the better alternative.

And locally, selling the OBRY may yet turn-out to have been a fool’s bargain.

Neil Orford


Readers Comments (2)

  1. Corry says:

    “If you build it they will come.” I hear that’s the Metrolinx idea for a lot of their projects. For Orangeville right now it wouldn’t be $500 million worth of passenger revenue coming but as an investment for the future it shouldn’t be something our governments just drop. Highway 9 and 10 are becoming a bear for commuters and car/truck traffic seems to be endless during commuting hours.

  2. Corry says:

    “If you build it they will come.” I hear that’s the Metrolinx idea for a lot of their projects. For Orangeville right now it wouldn’t be $500 million worth of passenger revenue coming but as an investment for the future it shouldn’t be something our governments just drop.


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