Rail Sale Trail Fail?

July 27, 2023   ·   2 Comments

Great news – the walking trail north of Broadway along the former OBRY rail line is opening before the end of July! This affords Orangeville citizens an accessible pathway for active fitness for (at least) 8 months of the year. Cyclists and walkers can enjoy a smooth and well-maintained trail that is one day supposed to be part of a comprehensive Dufferin trail network.

Yet with this news, it would be good to step back and think about the rest of the 51 km of trail that is NOT yet accessible and seems a long way from being useable. Stretching from Mississauga, through Brampton and north to Caledon via the Credit Valley terminating in Orangeville, the former OBRY rail line was owned by the Town of Orangeville until July 2022. Following months of closed-door negotiations between 2019-2022, the entire OBRY corridor, titles and properties were secretly sold to the Brampton and Region of Peel for a sum in excess of $32 million.

Hidden from public scrutiny and behind the cloak of a private business that the Town runs called the ‘Orangeville Railway Development Corporation’ (ORDC), citizens were never consulted on the sale, nor were they entitled to know the details of a real estate transfer that saw the town sell its most valuable asset. And lose out on any hope of future commuter rail transit for Dufferin residents.

At a time when short-line rail operations are thriving in other Ontario jurisdictions, bringing industrial wealth to rural and suburban regions across the province, Orangeville chose to abandon its railway and sell out. The consequences of this decision will be far-reaching for Orangeville taxpayers. In its 2021 Tourism Strategy, Orangeville committed to repurposing the rail corridor into a rail trail, but every detail about that remains ‘TBD’ in the strategic plan.

Selling the railway in secret was bad enough, but hiding plans for the future seems worse.

With the exception of the new walking trail (about 1km), what’s the plan for the rest of the rail trail in Orangeville? The rail ties have been removed within the town limits, and stacked unceremoniously for recycling, and the weeds have been allowed to grow. Whatever ‘vision’ for the abandoned rail corridor seems lost in some secret town council debate over how best to use the $32 million windfall.

Each Town Councilor (re)-elected last November appeared committed to public consultations on how to allocate the money. There was broad consensus among the councillors that the bulk of that money should be earmarked for the town’s recreational needs rather than seeing it disappear into one-time tax relief, a new Fire Hall or an old pool. But why don’t we know for sure?

Furthermore, there remains a cloud over the future of the mysterious ORDC. It seems alarming that the town still operates an ultra-secretive private corporation closed to public scrutiny. The ORDC has failed to disclose the terms for the sale of the OBRY, so we don’t know what the town agreed to in July 2022. What is to be the future use of the railway lands and station off Townline? A dog park, a Library, a daycare? Are taxpayers on-the-hook for the remediation of a century’s worth of contaminated lands? 

Meanwhile, south of Orangeville, trail planning for the former OBRY rail corridor south seems to be proceeding in Caledon and Brampton, despite the Ford government’s decision to disband Peel Region.

Tina Detaramani, Manager for Transportation System Planning in Peel, confirms that ownership of the rail lands has been transferred to the relevant municipalities “who will manage the design and construction of the future trail,” replacing the existing rail infrastructure. Apparently, no timeline has yet been announced for this work to commence, but it might be good to know if Orangeville has been consulted about the use of the rail lands off Townline as a ‘trailhead.’

As for the question of financial encumbrances – for remediation of contaminated lands etc. – Ms. Detaramani suggests; “(a)ny encumbrances were “typical” and minor for a railway line and a real estate transaction of this nature and were not of consequence to the overall deal.” Exactly what does ‘minor’ mean? Is ‘not being of consequence to the overall deal’ a good thing for taxpayers or not?

Without the Town Council’s full public disclosure of the OBRY deal, how can we be certain?

Finally, Ms. Detaramani confirmed that ownership of some important parts of the OBRY rail corridor south of Orangeville was retained by Peel Region. These “portions …have already been dedicated as part of the public highway for the 10 regional roads that they crossed. So they will be dealt with as part of all of the regional roads, and have nothing to do with the former ORDC.” 

This could be good news for Orangeville taxpayers, suggesting that responsibility for the removal of expensive rail infrastructure like level-crossings may not be ours and that the multi-million-dollar cost of dismantling the 100-year-old rail bridge across the Forks of the Credit might not be on our books…. But when will we know?

With $32 million dollars bulging in the town’s purse, one might reasonably have assumed Orangeville taxpayers would know the full vision, plan and financial implications arising from the sale of the OBRY a year ago – maybe we’ll know by this Christmas…. Maybe?

These are not small issues for councillors who promised greater transparency in the election last fall. Taxpayers deserve some clarity and an open process for honest, mature consultation. They are entitled to know what bargain was struck to abandon a viable railway for $32 million. Council must demonstrate that this ‘deal with Peel ‘reflected fair market value for 55 kms of prime Ontario real estate and open the books for everyone to see.

Neil Orford


Readers Comments (2)

  1. Sandy Brown says:

    Hey Neil Orford. Why don’t you set up a public debate with me so I can correct all of your misinformation? Happy to educate you about the entire open process of selling the rail corridor – and about all of the good that this has/and will bring to our Town. Sincerely Sandy Brown

    • Neil Orford says:

      Hi Sandy – the idea that you would wish to have a public debate warms my heart, but I think you might be at a serious disadvantage since most of the ‘misinformation’ you think needs correcting cannot be publicly shared by you or any former member of the ORDC Board.

      I am surprised that you are not aware of the terms of Confidentiality you remain bound by as a former Director of the ORDC. I imagine that if I conferred with the current Directorship of the ORDC, that they would tell me you are not at liberty to speak on confidential matters without legal permission. Strange that I know these things, eh?

      Of course, it was comments from the Town Manager of Communications while you were Mayor, that initiated my investigation into the shadowy ORDC. Ms Duncan informed me that the “ORDC is a private Corporation” and that “the minutes of ORDC meetings are not available to the public.”

      As a consequence, I felt compelled to undertake a Freedom of Information Investigation (at my own expense) against the ORDC, which resulted in over 30 pages of redacted proceedings. Ed Brennan was pretty clear those blacked-out paragraphs hid details that were confidential and could not be made public – I’m surprised you want to risk spilling those beans in a public when they were so secret only a year ago!

      Nonetheless, I would never wish to stand in your way of taking out another large Ad in the Citizen to correct all of my ‘misinformation’ with the details behind those redacted lines – public disclosure of that has been my goal from the start.

      Of course the lawyers really can’t let you do that, can they?

      Sorry to educate you about that entire process.

      My best always – Neil Orford


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