Did the Barrie Collingwood Railway have a future?
On August 21, 2017, Collingwood Council passed a by-law to sell the Barrie Collingwood Railway Corridor lands to the County of Simcoe.
A news release from the Town of Collingwood stated the County of Simcoe would pay $900,000 for the land, with proceeds to be placed into the Town of Collingwood’s Waterfront Master Plan Reserve Fund.
Discussions about the future of the railway had been underway for quite some time. Local industry was relying on the railway less and less. The County and the Town of Collingwood had discussions surrounding a potential sale in 2011 shortly train service had been halted. The County of Simcoe’s 2014 Master Transportation Plan expressed an interest in purchasing the railway for future use in passenger movement, goods movement or active transportation.
The town of Collingwood decommissioned the railway in 2015.
Let’s look back at the agreement the Town of Collingwood worked under when the BCRY was in full operation.
The final run of the Barrie-Collingwood Railway took place in the summer of 2011. Here is a video report from that day.
The Town of Collingwood and the Allendale Community Development Corporation (ACDC) had an Operating Agreement with Cando Contracting Limited to run the Barrie Collingwood Railway (BCRY) dating back to 1998. The ten year agreement expired December 31st, 2008, and was extended one year to December 31, 2009. At that time, Collingwood Council agreed to extend the agreement for an additional 18 months to June 30, 2011.
In a staff report prepared by former Town of Collingwood CAO Kim Wingrove, Collingwood Council learned that car loads were down on both ends of the rail line throughout 2009 as a result of the economic recession. The report pointed out that under the terms of the extension, the increase in costs to maintain and operate the railway that is not being met with carload revenue will be absorbed by the municipal partners.
In 2009, the Town of Collingwood provided $200,000 to offset losses. The report stated that there were also requirements through the Railway Safety Act and the Provincial Ministry of Transportation that would have required further investment if the line was to be maintained.
The report went on to say that, a Bridge Management Plan had been completed and required repairs and maintenance were projected to be around $200,000 over the next five years.
Wingrove told council that further discussion were needed with the BCRY operator and the businesses that use the railway to see if a business case can be created to look into possible future growth opportunities.
In 2007, Canadian Mist was the one Collingwood industry that utilized the line, servicing with 91 cars annually. By the end of September, Collingwood Ethanol, Canadian Mist and Stayner Co-op utilized the railway line, with 155 cars being serviced. The estimated total for 2009 was 109 cars.
Railway Marketed as Economic Development Incentive to Attract New Industry to Collingwood
The BCRY Railway serviced local industry between Barrie and Collingwood. As a low-density short line with low overhead, the Town of Collingwood Economic Development Department, then under the direction of Catherine Durrant, extensively marketed the BCRY to potential future industry partners as having the flexibility to provide responsive, cost-effective delivery to offer outstanding customer service. Daily interchanges with CP Rail gave local businesses efficient access to all North American markets. The BCRY Railway offered a more economical way to ship when compared to trucking, especially if you are shipping long distances and hauling a large quantity of cargo. Trains have far greater weight capacities than trucks, and that translates into greater savings for customers. One train pulling 20 cars equates to 40 to 50 trucks.
The Barrie Collingwood Railway was unique and provided current Collingwood manufacturers with a huge advantage of doing business in Collingwood. An economic downturn combined with growing operational costs for the Town of Collingwood taxpayers hurt the railway’s business plan badly.
So, here is the question…
Did the BCRY have a long term future for the town or was it wise for Collingwood to sell the rail line to the County of Simcoe?
Town of Collingwood Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson says the Town of Collingwood and County of Simcoe are both winners following the sale of the rail line to the County.
I support the sale of the 37 kilometre rail corridor to the County, it is a win-win scenario for the Town and the County.
It will generate $900,000 for the Town that can be invested in the Waterfront development and it removes an ongoing operating expense and liability from the Town’s books.
Under the County’s Transportation Master Plan, the County intends to preserve the corridor for transportation and utility purposes which are the primary purposes for which the Town was maintaining the line. While the rail corridor is a critical transportation corridor, the costs to develop the corridor are in the millions and the population base to justify and support such an undertaking are decades into the future.
The project will require cooperation from all levels of government including Municipal, County, Provincial and Federal to realize when the time is appropriate. Until that time, the rail corridor is protected and the Town will not be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the corridor.
Former Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier is uncomfortable with the Town’s decision to sell the railway lands.
“Did the Barrie Collingwood Railway have a future with our town? The short answer is yes the BCRY did have a future.
I had discussed with former Minister of Transportation, Donna Cansfield between 2007 and 2010 several times issues within and around Collingwood. One such meeting included the BCRY and its importance as a strategic infrastructure investment opportunity for the region.
Minister Cansfield had her staff pull out a rather large map we had a mini visioning exercise in her Board Room of a future rail line loop that served several communities. We knew this opportunity was in the future as the “Great Recession” was going to put a lot of investment on hold but when that investment opportunity was available Collingwood would be a key partner in any such venture as the landowner. Collingwood would be better positioned to protect the interests of our citizens.
Was the sale a wise one? The sale of the land to the County of Simcoe was short-sighted.
We sold the land to another level of government and they will make the infrastructure investment in the south end near Alliston and area. Their community will benefit from the job growth and increase in the non-residential tax base.
The cost for the movement of goods is a key component for investors was what Collingwood’s former Economic Developer Officer use to advise Council, but we no longer such a position within our corporate organization.
New Tecumseth (Alliston) will now have a rail line that the County of Simcoe taxpayers will invest in including Collingwood’s share and our community will see little value for that investment. The job growth will continue in the south end of the county. An opportunity lost can never be found.
Former Town of Collingwood Economic Development Officer Catherine Durrant sees a more regional approach to infrastructure expansion developing.
“Everything changes. As Distribution Centres increase across the country and manufacturing in Collingwood becomes more boutique with Just in Time Delivery, the need for Rail service currently does not meet time and/ or delivery requirements necessary for the end user.
As Collingwood grows in the knowledge based, medical, administrative, support, information and cultural sectors, rail service as is currently mandated, has become outdated.”
Durrant sees Tourism opportunities for the rail line, but quickly points out that dollars and partnerships would need to be developed both within and outside the south Georgian Bay region which in her opinion would be time-consuming and costly.
“With the County of Simcoe purchasing Collingwood’s share of the Railway, there is an opportunity for connectivity to larger regional infrastructure opportunities. Municipalities cannot plan in isolation … hopefully the transportation infrastructure required for product and people grows with the future needs of the region.
Money that comes out of transportation infrastructure should go back into transportation infrastructure development such as more lanes on highways, more buses between Barrie and Collingwood.”
Durrant says people and product moving is most important as our region continues to grow.
Did our town do the right thing in selling the railway … something to “choo choo” on for sure.
RELATED STORY – ALL RAILS LEAD TO COLLINGWOOD
All Rails Lead To Collingwood was an exhibit at the Collingwood Museum put together to celebrate Collingwood’s long history with the railroad. The railway line that came into Collingwood began with the establishment of Ontario’s first railway company, the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway, in 1851.