Thought of bringing back rail service suddenly topical
Published: July 10, 2008
Source: The Sun Times
Thirteen years have passed since a train last chugged through Owen
Sound, but factors like escalating fuel prices could lay the tracks
for a revival of rail service to the city.
Prospective owners of the Orangeville-Brampton Railway have a long-term plan to create a line from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay in Owen Sound.
Reviving rail service to the city was listed in a report on Owen Sound’s economic future as a way to boost tourism and strengthen local industry. Developing a rail corridor strategy has also been ranked as a priority by Grey County councillors.
“I think that would be wonderful if we got the rail back in the city. It’s certainly helpful on a number of levels and most importantly to industry and to transport goods,” said Owen Sound Mayor Ruth Lovell.
Hauling passengers to the city would be a boom to the downtown, she said, and support the economy. Rail would also provide an environmentally friendly way to transport freight and tourists to the city’s harbour, she said.
The City of Orangeville decided earlier this year to sell the Orangeville-Brampton Railway to the Highlands Railway Group for $7 million. The deal could take two years to close.
Highlands’ group spokesman Michael Daniher said reinstalling the line from Orangeville to Owen Sound, along former Canadian Pacific corridor, is a possibility.
“It’s a vision that the company has of creating a long-term and viable north-south rail corridor between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario,” he said in an interview.
Rail is an increasingly cost-effective form of transporting freight, he said, and more environmentally friendly than shipping by transport truck.
Extending the line is “something (we) would love to pursue as quickly as practicable,” Daniher said.
Passenger trains haven’t rolled through Owen Sound since 1970. The last CN Rail train left Owen Sound in 1987, while the final CP train pulled through in 1995, according to the Owen Sound Marine & Rail Museum.
The CP tracks north of Orangeville were ripped up in the late 1990s and the property now belongs to Dufferin and Grey counties.
The Grey County section serves as a multi-use recreational trail, with potential for a utility or transportation corridor.
Highland Railway Group representatives have held an introductory meeting with Grey and Dufferin officials.
“Down the road, if there is an interest to purchase it from the county, it’ll be interesting to see how the debate goes at the county level as to whether or not it would be a lease or an outright sale,” Grey County chief administrative officer Gary Wood said after Tuesday’s county council meeting.
County councillors recently ranked 15 priorities, including the development of a rail corridor strategy, by importance. Nine councillors selected the strategy as very important, while eight checked off important and only one chose low importance.
County staff will now prepare a report on developing the strategy.
Grey County Warden Kevin Eccles admitted reinstating a rail line could be controversial.
“We know we’re not going to please everyone no matter what we do,” he said.
But he said a Via Rail line near Ottawa has managed to please various groups by maintaining parallel hiking and skiing trails.
“We’ll see what comes out of the report, what possibilities are there,” he said.
An economic development strategy for Owen Sound listed the city’s transportation infrastructure as a weakness, singling out a lack of rail access as “having limited the community’s ability to support or attract some industrial operations.”
Owen Sound’s distance to major markets, coupled with the rising cost of fuel, is also seen as a weakness in attracting industry.
A railway line “represents a unique opportunity for the City of Owen Sound, both in terms of a heightened use of the city’s port and harbourfront area but also for the downtown/retailers as the city would be a destination for tourist excursions,” the report says.