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Reviving rail service a dream that won't come true
Published: August 11, 2008
Source: Sun Times - By DICK WAUGH
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Now that the euphoria that the railway is coming to Owen Sound has somewhat died down, let's get back to reality.

Kennedy's Foundry, later Black Clawson, is gone. So too is Russel Bros. and RCA. Noma Lites left. Traffic into the Owen Sound harbour diminished when the Welland Canal was expanded to take 730-foot lakers.

Kennedy's could put two giant propellers for boats onto a flat car. RCA was on the west side of the city, near the Canadian National Railway. Russel Bros. was on the east side where the Canadian Pacific was located.

There was lots of freight going out of town. Lake freighters came into the harbour and unloaded at the Great Lakes Elevator before they were accommodated in the Welland Canal. Many railway carloads were filled at the elevators for shipment to areas east where the big boats on the upper lakes could not go.

So that was the situation before, but then things changed.

Both railways, the CNR and the CPR, decided that railway traffic into Owen Sound was just unnecessary. The last passenger trains into Owen Sound left permanently in the '70s. Finally the freight trains were abandoned in 1980s and 1990s.

The railway companies, perhaps not looking into the future beyond just a few years, removed the tracks and sent them to foundries for melting with the steel to be used elsewhere.

Then they sold the railway ties, with lumber lots all around offering the creosote ties for sale to people to use around flower gardens and porches and whatever.

Later CNR and CPR disposed of these railway rights-of-way.

Many of the lines of CN went into public auction and were hence sold to developers and land interests. For instance, the line that went through Hepworth is now the site of a beautiful home.

The suggestion now is that the Orangeville to Owen Sound route would generally follow the old CPR lines. They are now owned by Dufferin and Grey counties and are used for recreational purposes.

Try to imagine what sort of opposition would occur if train traffic was reintroduced.

Ontario Power Generation is encountering the kind of opposition in its bid to have new transmission lines to take electricity into major centres.

Property owners alike are responding with "not in my backyard."

The Highlands Railway Group is negotiating with Orangeville for rights to the railway right-of-way from that town to Brampton. How would they deal with railroads going through Grey County property that is used now for recreation?

The result is very predictable.

An economic development strategy for Owen Sound said that transportation from the city was a concern and noted that rail service would be a benefit.

Well, did we need a survey to tell us that? Every person who has taken public transportation out of Owen Sound knows that this ranks with just about the impossible.

Recently I went from Belleville to Trenton, a distance of about 30 kilometres. It was during the evening, when traffic on Highway 401 was at a minimum.

I counted 50 tractor trailers in the west to east lanes of this highway. Right beside the roadway was the double lane train traffic route.

These trains, with a couple of diesels, could haul all of the trucks that I saw in simply one load.

Apparently none of our politicians has the political will to say "come on, in a time of gas and diesel skyrocketing price hikes why can't we put these tractor trailers onboard trains."

Because no one is willing to say that out loud. But this is another topic for another occasion.

I am from a railway family and I once as a kid rode the Wiarton to Owen Sound train, blew the whistle on steam engines when my dad was employed in the CN station and strutted around the roundhouse to the envy of my friends.

But still, reviving rail service to our community is a dream that won't come true. The industry uses other means and train traffic stopped when the CPR Dayliner experiment failed because cars were always available at anytime.

The tracks are gone; the rights-of-way abandoned.

Pierre Berton's books "The Last Spike" and "The National Dream" highlighted the hardships to build rails. Gordon Lightfoot in the "Canadian Railway Trilogy" did the same.

Regretfully, the CNR and the CPR found railway to this portion of the province was just not justified and took it away.

We have a rough time just getting decent highways to this area. Railways --it won't happen.

Sorry Mayor Ruth Lovell. That, from a railway person, is how it is.

 

 
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