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Guelph to rail using industry in 1974: can you move to trucks?

In 1974, the Guelph Junction Railway, Guelph's city-owned railway that contracts out its operations, was bringing in $54,000 per year, $30,000 per year of which was profit. The city had a population of 65,000 and was projecting to hit 120,000 by the year 2000. We are hitting that level about now, not too far off the mark. As the city planned for its transportation future, it foresaw the role of railways diminishing and sought ways to reduce the railway tracks in the city obstructing the roads. In spite of the GJR's stellar operating ratio, the City surveyed all the rail-using industries in the city to find out how many railway cars they moved each year, what they carried, and whether they could move to trucks.

I came across this rather interesting piece of information last night while reviewing Guelph's 1974 transportation studies relating to the then under-construction Hanlon Expressway, and our rails, transit, and parking situations.

The section of the report entitled "Rail Service in Guelph, Report 14" dated October, 1974, discusses the consolidation of the Guelph Junction Railway through the city, then operated by Canadian Pacific, onto Canadian National tracks through town, noting that one drawback is that the GJR's revenue would be lost. This is an excerpt from page 17 of the report: "As stated earlier, the C.N.R. (sic - this should read "C.P.R") lease some rail line within the City. The C.P.R. pay the City 40% of the gross profits derived from this line. This amounts to about $56,000.00 per year and results in a net profit of $30,000 per year for the Guelph Junction Railway. This revenue would be lost with the rail consolidation proposal."

In the pursuit of this peculiar goal, table 4.1 of the report reads as follows:

United Co-Op of Ontariototally5 cars/weekIncoming - 1/2 bag, 1/2 bulkYesImpossible
Gay Lea Foodsvery muchalmost dailyOutgoing - 50 lb. bags of powderExtensivelyDifficult
Armco Canada Ltd.absolutely7-10/wk outgoing - 5/wk incomingStructural plate culvertsExtensivelyImpossible
W. C. Woodstotally500 cars per yearCrated appliancesWithin 300 mile radiusImpossible
Oaks Precast Ind. Ltd.very littleless than 1/year--Almost totallyEasy
Intnl. Malable Iron Ltd.no--------
Resco Refrig. Supplies Co.moderately2-4 cars/monthAppliances incoming onlyExtensivelyEasy
Texaco Canada Ltd.No--------
Hart Chemical Ltd. Witco Chemical Ltd.totally6-10/wk incoming 2/wk. outgoingLiquid chemicalsExtensivelyImpossible
Hogg Fuel & Supply Ltd.no--------
Guelph Paper Box Co. Ltd.very little--Incoming paper box boardExtensivelyEasy
Uniroyal Ltd.extensively1 car/w incoming 2 cars/wk outgoingBales of fibre, rubber carpet underlayExtensivelyDifficult
Fiberglass Canada Ltd.extensively1 or more/dayPowder raw materials (special cars)ExtensivelyDifficult
Kaufman Lumber Ltd.largely2 cars/monthLumber from B.C.ExtensivelyDifficult
Jay Gor Ltd.no--------

Several things strike me about this chart.

Chief among them, a profitable, government-owned railway, where more than 50% of its revenue is net profit, the Guelph Junction Railway, is here asking its customers if it could possibly ditch them. The final recommendations of this report say that "all existing rail lines appear to be serving a useful purpose" however "it would appear, based on this brief investigation, that there is merit in the City working towards ultimate consolidation of this service on the C.N.R. lines and partial or total elimination of the Guelph Junction Railway trackage within the City of Guelph."

Another is that all of the industries, regardless of their use of rail, rely on trucks, with none using rail exclusively. At least one that described its ability to switch entirely to truck as "Impossible", WC Woods, did exactly that some time between when this report was published and when I moved to Guelph, and has since not only moved away from its 500 freight cars per year of rail entirely to trucks, but has recently moved some manufacturing to Mexico.

The rail-related surprises for Guelph don't end there in this pile of reports. In 1974, it described the two C.N.R. lines through Guelph as "considered essential". The secondary track, going through Guelph along the north-south axis, was rated according to this report at 40 mph -- generally the highest speed (and therefore best condition of track) secondary lines achieve. A few years after this report was released, that line was included in Guelph's official parks plan as a walking trail. It was abandoned and ripped up north of Guelph all the way to the coast of Lake Huron, but remains intact and serviced a couple of times a week between Guelph and Cambridge, and is the track I have repeatedly advocated be used for a Light Rail Transit connection between Guelph and Cambridge. It connects to Waterloo region's proposed LRT alignment in Hespeler.

The last surprise that I have found in this relating to rail service in Guelph is in the report entitled "Protecting the Option For Future Interchanges And Grade Separation In The Hanlon Corridor City Of Guelph, Report 10" dated June, 1974. This report describes advance planning for all the interchanges and railway crossings on the Hanlon expressway that would eventually be needed, and are only now being prepared for implementation. Why it was not all done when they had the chance in 1974 I am not sure, but that's another topic. As this entry only relates to rail surprises I'll stick to that.

Guelph has two industrial tracks that cross the Hanlon between Speedvale and Woodlawn. Ontario Southland Railway and Goderich-Exeter Railway, the two shortline operators that have taken over from CP and CN respectively in Guelph, each cross each of these two crossings on the Hanlon once each way per day, adding up to 8 trains crossing the Hanlon each day. Not surprisingly, having two busy crossings on a divided highway within about a half mile of each-other is not something highway planners are thrilled about. Their preferred plan, in 1974, was to close both railway crossings and build a new connection off the main east-west line through Guelph west of Elmira Rd, then in farmland, now becoming built up, to connect to the west end of the industrial tracks, as shown in Figure 7 of the report. Figure 3.1 of the previously discussed Report 14 pertaining only to rail service in Guelph shows a map in which the two industrial tracks are already connected to each-other at the west end, east of Elmira road, which Report 10 does not show. That track would have allowed a single overpass and the closing of the other crossings with substantially less work, I suspect, but that connecting track is now gone, and the proposed connection in this report was never built, leaving those two grade crossings in place 34 years on.

If it all seems rather confusing, it is. The conclusion of all this is that, in 1974, Guelph was looking for ways to de-emphasise rail, while it was making a profit for the city and encourage the freer flow of trucks and more industrial usage of trucks away from rail. Opportunities Guelph and the province had to close railway crossings over the highway relatively simply are no longer as viable. We are entering a time as gas is projected to exceed $2/litre in the next few years where trucks are going to have to be de-emphasised in favour of rail, and truck-encouraging policies and infrastructure changes that have been discussed for some 34 years are now coming to the front burner.

At the south end of town, in the industrial park where the large Tim Hortons distribution facility and Sleemans brewery, among others exist, the City is allocating hundreds of hectares of land to expand. The industrial park will span both sides of the Hanlon expressway and a $16 million interchange is to be built to help trucks get in and out. There are several railway lines within a few miles of this land, and as the earlier chart shows, rail using industry also need access to roads for their trucks. Why we are not building, planning to build, or even setting aside an easement to eventually plan to build a railway line out to this rapidly growing industrial park is, to say the least, not entirely clear to me.

We have a lot of work to do, it seems, to try and break this 1974 way of thinking about rail and trucks.

Posted at 08:28 on April 25, 2008

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shoes writes at Sun Apr 27 11:03:44 EDT 2008...

Hi cdlu, Great piece of research!

You are right...why not plan for a right of way?

But don't see that as an alternative to quickly building that south end intersection at the Hanlon.

Why not do both? Eventually the light will go on about the rail links but to reject the overpass will result in years of stagnation for those south-end industrial lands.

Until the transportation systems comes up with alternatives / solutions to the just-in-time delivery system and the demands for no level train crossings..we are stuck with (more) trucks.

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