News Local

Rail sale opens doors for master plan

By JT McVeigh, The Enterprise-Bulletin

COLLINGWOOD — Goodbye rail lands, hello waterfront master plan.

Town council voted unanimously this week to sell the 37 kilometres of the Barrie Collingwood Railway (BCRY) corridor the town owns to the County of Simcoe, ending a relationship with railroads that dates back more than a century. In turn, the sale will place the more than $900,000 purchase price into a reserve fund for the proposed waterfront master plan.

The decision coincides with a positive second quarter report that council received about town finances as they head toward year-end.

Introduced first at the Strategic Initiatives Committee earlier in the month, deputy mayor Brian Saunderson identified that the move is a positive one for Collingwood.

“The meeting was one that was dominated with numbers but they were good numbers to see that we have over $30 million in our general reserve and over $6 million in our obligatory reserves,” said Saunderson to council. “It can be seen that we are streamlining and rationalizing a number of our reserves to decrease the number of reserves and put the money where its needed. You can certainly see a potential reserve for the waterfront master plan in excess of $2 million this year. It’s good news.”

Part of the report included recommendations from staff to collapse unnecessary reserve funds and direct the money toward the waterfront master plan.

Collingwood council previously passed a plan for an enormous redevelopment of the town’s waterfront development that would be developed over 15 years in three phases with an estimated price tag of $50 million.

Funding would come from a number of different sources including provincial and federal grants, but the grants require the recipient to put up at least a third of the cost.

The consolidation of reserve funds and the rail corridor sale go a long way in showing the government that Collingwood is serious.

Saunderson told council the move is already having a positive impact.

“At the AMO conference director Dean Collver, along with the mayor, myself and Coun. Fryer, Ecclestone and Madigan had a presentation to the tourism minister Eleanor McMahon,” Saunderson says. “That went very well and the fact when you flipped to the summary page that Collingwood had over $2 million ready to go in reserves by year-end was a good message to the minister.”

Marjory Leonard, town treasurer, agreed.

“The recommended rebalancing of all of these funds brings the waterfront master plan reserve fund to $1.15 million. Potential for grant funding is contingent on how shovel-ready a project is to be sure that it can be completed within the time frame of the grant program,” Leonard told council.

Talk of selling the rail corridor has been considered for some time but complications delayed the deal being done.

Coun. Tim Fryer was pleased with council’s decision. He has had a long history with the rail corridor.

“Having participated with the railway retention committee years ago, if acquiring the right of way was in the best interest of Collingwood at the time, I think that it has been a very successful acquisition and that this is just an evolution of that rail line that has serviced this town. It puts the responsibility into the hands of the county and to me, the county is the right vehicle for this because of the transportation aspects if they choose to go with rail service,” says Fryer. “But it is something that I have been involved with for over 20 years and it is another step in the process.”

The Barrie Collingwood Railway, a privately owned short line service, used the rail corridor that runs from Collingwood through Clearview and Essa Townships to Utopia. The line was decommissioned for financial reasons. It was costing taxpayers up to $425,000 annually to keep providing regular rail service to essentially one customer.

Presently it is used as a trail between Collingwood and New Lowell. A large strip of the corridor is also being used for storage of empty tank cars between New Lowell and Utopia.

The county has purchased the corridor to preserve the corridor for transportation and utilities purposes for the future following the county’s own transportation master plan. 

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