Short line railways, slated for abandonment as a cost-savings measure by Class I railways, represent business opportunities to municipalities. Although many of these lines face an uncertain future, some are being rescued and redeveloped as critical trade corridors to provide an attractive alternative to trucking and relentless highway expansion while producing significantly lower tonne/km emissions than road transport.
CN’s Cayuga subdivision, a 50-km rail line once stretching from St. Thomas to Delhi, faced certain abandonment and demolition as rail freight traffic diminished. Despite provincial and federal government indifference, South Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation (SCOR EDC) , a regional partnership of 5 counties in the region, thought otherwise. Rapid industrial and residential growth in Elgin, Norfolk and Oxford counties required an alternative transportation solution to highways and their burden on municipal budgets and the environment. So did keeping the area competitive to investment that demands reliable, low-cost freight transportation options.
Funding short-line restoration and maintenance requires cooperation by private, municipal, provincial and federal stakeholders. After extensive research over two years on rail freight potential along the Cayuga subdivision rail corridor, SCOR EDC compiled a very robust Business Case Analysis.
The analysis found that industrial land served by a rail line had much higher market value than that served by trucking alone. Land value capture combined with reduced road maintenance, cleaner air and water have traditionally been disregarded when railways are sacrificed to highways. But corporate sentiment is now changing as environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors become priorities on new corporate investment checklists.
SCOR EDC also recruited GIO Railways to take over the operation and maintenance of the line.
A critical element to the restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision is funding under the federal National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF). Recently topped up with new money in the last federal budget, this fund is now available to short line railway projects that improve our national and regional competitiveness, create jobs and reduce emissions.
SCOR EDC is now filing an application to NTCF for rehabilitation of the Cayuga line. In support of the application, the County of Oxford prepared a report “CN Cayuga Subdivision Short Line Rail Review”. This well-researched and robust document fully endorses SCOR EDC’s initiative. Transport Action Ontario has also written a letter of support (see below).
Transport Action Ontario (TAO) will continue to offer advice to SCOR EDC as their restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision continues. This joins similar initiatives on the Orangeville-Brampton and Barrie-Collingwood short line railways.