Industrial sector seek to end “misinformation” on rail line

August 15, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Representatives from Orangeville’s industrial sector are seeking to set the record straight regarding what they perceive to be “misinformation” about the Orangeville-Brampton Railway Line (OBRY) floating around the community.

In a Orangeville Brampton Railway Access Group (OBRAG) meeting Tuesday evening the Citizen sat down with individuals from five of the six businesses, four located in Orangeville (PolyOne Canada, Rochling Engineering Plastics, Clorox Company of Canada and Direct Plastics) and one in Brampton (Vulsay Industries), who make use of the railway line at least once a week. 

Dan Braniff, OBRAG Chair and Plant Manager at Rochling, initiated the meeting between members and the media. Last week, he reached out to the Citizen to “clarify some perspectives” put forth in a July 25 article that included comments from Orangeville Mayor Sandy Brown as to why it may be pertinent to close, potentially sell off, or repurpose the community-owned 55-kilometre railway. 

“OBRAG maintains the capital infrastructure of the railway as part of a tripartite agreement with the Town of Orangeville and the current railway operator, GIO. In order to maintain the railway, the industrial users have invested between $12 million and $14 million to maintain the track, bridges, signals, rails and ties,” Mr. Braniff, stated, driving home the point that industry in town has just as much skin in the game as the municipality.

Mayor Brown has long questioned the feasibility of the community continuing to own the line. He estimates that since buying the railway from Canadian Pacific for $3.5 million in 2000, the Town has lost about $10 million. He indicated the OBRY continues to cost local taxpayers about $450,000 every year.

The bulk of that loss comes as a result of inflated property taxes payable to Caledon, Brampton and Mississauga. Still, taking that into account, Mr. Braniff contested the actual amount the railway is costing the municipality in that regard is closer to $350,000 not the $450,000 that has been touted.

While Orangeville Council is considering the long-term future of the OBRY line, Mr. Braniff confirmed OBRAG was taking on an active role in finding a potential solution to the long-brewing situation.

“The current ownership of the line has left the Town of Orangeville with an unfair amount of taxes it needs to pay to other municipalities. We’re certainly sympathetic of that situation,” Mr. Braniff stated. “Historically, rail users helped fund an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to have property taxes reassessed, to no avail. More recently, OBRAG made an appeal to local MPP Sylvia Jones to legislate more equitable property tax rates for short line railways, which are essential to the viability of Ontario manufacturing.”

He added, “Short line rail lines keep Ontario ‘Open for Business’.”

While there hasn’t been much movement with that request, Mr. Braniff noted OBRAG held “encouraging” talks with Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown in February, underlying the importance of the rail line to users and new potential users in Brampton. Orangeville CEO Ed Brennan and Mayor Sandy Brown were also involved in those discussions.

“We highlighted the inequity of the Town of Orangeville paying $130,000 in municipal taxes to the much bigger City of Brampton in order to preserve rail service for Brampton industries. We highlighted the future LRT potential between Mississauga and Brampton if the line was kept as a rail line for current industrial users,” Mr. Braniff said.

“It makes sense that Brampton buy the portion of the line running from Brampton to Mississauga to support industrial tax base and jobs now, and public transit in the future. That would save Orangeville $130,000 per year.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Braniff, as well as OBRAG’s general counsel Richard Landry, indicated Mayor Patrick Brown was receptive to the idea of potentially purchasing that portion of the line, but that no deal was close to being struck. According to Mr. Landry, more than 300 jobs in Brampton could potentially be impacted if the OBRY line were to be closed down by Orangeville.

Here in town, such a move could have a variety of effects on the local industrial sector. While shutting down suggestions a closure of the OBRY line could lead to any of the four businesses to evaluate their future in the community, Peter Reynolds, Plant Manager at Clorox, indicated any move to decommission the line would put the four organizations “at a disadvantage” from a business perspective.

“It’s hard to say what impact it would have if Orangeville were to close the rail line. What I can say is that without the rail it would put industry at a clear disadvantage,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I don’t think it would be fair to speculate on how each of us would handle that, but suffice to say that it would clearly be a disadvantage at a very competitive time in our industry in manufacturing.”

Mr. Reynolds also noted that, if the Town were to decommission the railway line, the community would be a far less attractive proposition to potential industrial investors in the future. 

“Without a rail service, coming to Orangeville would be a non-starter for many sizable companies,” Mr. Reynolds noted.

Elaborating on the point that decommissioning the line would put business at a disadvantage, Mr. Braniff noted that, in fact, that was already the case due to the fact the four OBRY line users are on the hook for maintenance and other capital costs associated with running the OBRY line to the tune of approximately $750,000 per year – something competing sister plants south of the border don’t have to worry about.

On top of that $750,000 per year, Mr. Braniff estimates the four Orangeville-based users of the line pay roughly the same amount over the course of a year to GIO Holdings, the operator of the line, to run trains to the community twice a week. Not that he was complaining – stating it was simply the cost of doing business, but Mr. Braniff wanted to use that to drive home the point that Orangeville’s industrial sector was definitively contributing to the railway line, rather than simply taking advantage as has been claimed in some parts.

Collectively, the Orangeville rail users employ 422 employees in the community, with a  payroll in excess of $25 million. Approximately 54 percent of those employees live in Orangeville, and 80 percent live in Dufferin County. On top of that, Mr. Braniff stated rail users spend between $3 million and $4 million annually on services with Orangeville vendors and service providers.

“It’s safe to say that we, and our employees, invest in our community,” Mr. Braniff stated. 

Should Orangeville Council decide to go down the route of decommissioning the line, that in itself will bring about serious problems for the municipality, Mr. Braniff says.

Such a move would force the four businesses that rely on the OBRY line for delivery of raw materials to transition to a truck delivery system. Such a move would put an additional 1,300 trucks on Orangeville’s roadways per year. 

“For us at Clorox that would mean a significant number of trucks delivering raw materials. We would need trucks coming in every single day to the plant. Considering our close proximity to our neighbours on John Street, that wouldn’t be ideal,” Mr. Reynolds said. “We have a lot of respect for our neighbours and we want to have a great relationship with our neighbourhood. Transferring over to truck delivery would not be a positive for us.”

Dean Glassford, Operations Manager for the Plasticizer Division at PolyOne, indicated such a widespread move to a trucking system could potentially cost the Town much more than the $350,000 to $450,000 it is reportedly losing annually on the OBRY line in road repairs alone. 

Referencing Mayor Sandy Brown’s suggestion to turn the railway line into a community trail, Mr. Braniff indicated that was a complete non-starter due to the dangers some of the 41 bridges along the 55-km stretch pose. One in particular is the 400ft long bridge that stretches across the Forks of the Credit.

“You can wax philosophically about how nice a trail it would be all you want. The Forks of the Credit Bridge, sure it has a fantastic view, but it’s    400 feet long and 90 feet high. When you rip the ties out and the rails out, that is not a walking trail, not even close. That is a significant liability and would not be considered a safe bridge for pedestrians,” Mr. Braniff stated.

He went on to peg potential decommission costs of the OBRY line to be between $3 million and $4 million – and that is even after factoring in money the Town will recoup in salvaged steel.

“That is the net cost to decommission the line. That doesn’t mean it would be restored to its original state, or become a rail trail, that’s just a flat number to decommission the line,” Mr. Braniff stated.

Potential costs to repurpose the OBRY line into a rail trail would run the municipality at least another few million dollars, Mr. Braniff claimed. 

However, with Coun. Todd Taylor expressing his belief that the municipality was “probably in inning two of a nine-inning ball game” with regards to making a decision on the future of the OBRY line, OBRAG members are optimistic a deal can be struck that would be beneficial for all parties involved. They are also keen to ensure local residents who hold an interest in the issue “have all sides of the story” before determining where they stand on the issue.

“We would like every resident in Orangeville to be aware of all sides of this very complex issue, rather than just hearing numbers, statistics and comments from one side,” Mr. Reynolds said. “There’s much more to this issue than has been put out there to date. We ask that residents, and of course Council, consider all implications (related with potentially shutting down the OBRY line) before making a decision one way or the other.”

In the meantime, Mr. Braniff confirmed OBRAG would continue to meet with representatives from Brampton to explore the potential for that municipality taking on a leadership role in supporting the railway line. Discussions with the Town of Orangeville will also continue. 

The issue was debating briefly once again inside Council Chambers on Monday evening, when former Orangeville councillor Nick Garisto questioned the community’s current elected officials as to why they were even considering decommissioning the OBRY line. Mayor Sandy Brown reiterated the issues he has spoken about publicly in the past, namely the $10 million in losses the line as incurred to date and the “roughly” $450,000 in losses the railway sees per year as reason alone for Council to look into the line’s long-term future.

“You mention the $10 million, but you fail to recognize the benefits the railway brings. How much do these industries pay in taxes? How many jobs have they created? They’re spending money in our town. The people who work for those companies probably live in town too. You’re probably failing to recognize those points,” Mr. Garisto stated.

Coun. Debbie Sherwood sought to clarify some of the points put forward by Mr. Garisto, highlighting why, in her opinion, the Town was doing the right thing in exploring the potential sale of the railway.

“In 2019, the Town collected from the four businesses $196,000 in taxes, however we paid out $342,000 (in taxes on the line). So, as a result, our taxpayers have subsidized (the railway) by $146,000 – in other words those four industries didn’t even cover the cost of what those taxes are for the line, and we get zero dollars from the industries in Brampton. We’re subsidizing them and getting nothing in return!” Coun. Sherwood stated.

She concluded, “The four businesses, in my opinion, they’re not contributing to our infrastructure and operations, they’re not even covering the cost of what we paid in taxes. It doesn’t mean I’ve made a decision that I want a sale, but these are facts that should be taken into consideration.”

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