Tourist train

January 5, 2011

Blog

As I have mentioned in the media, I am sorry to learn the tourist train, Guelph Junction Express, may be sold and cease to operate in Guelph. I had the great pleasure of taking the trip and it was an excellent experience.

I believe there is some important information that will help with understanding the relationship between the tourist train, Guelph Junction Railway (GJR) and the City of Guelph and the difference between the private sector and public sector.

GJR is a business owned by the City of Guelph.  GJR operates a profit-based commercial enterprise which is governed through a Board of Directors – not by City Hall.  GJR contracts its rail operations to a third party providing rail service to the manufacturing sector.

Guelph Junction Express (the tourist train) is a privately-owned and operated business that has entered into a financial agreement with Guelph Junction Railway to use their tracks for their tourist business.  

The owners of Guelph Junction Express could present a business proposal to the GJR Board of Directors for the funding support that is being sought. The GJR Board of Directors would need to determine the merits of the business case of such a proposal.

The Municipal Act is quite clear that a municipality cannot directly or indirectly provide such assistance using municipal property taxpayers’ money to a commercial enterprise.  The tourist train is a commercial enterprise.

The tourist train in Orangeville has been frequently used as evidence that the City of Guelph can use taxpayers’ dollars to financially assist the tourist train in Guelph. Staff have followed up on this matter and it would appear that this suggestion is not correct as it is not an “apples to apples” comparison.

Like the City of Guelph, the Town of Orangeville has created a commercial enterprise to govern the operation of their railway.  It is called the Orangeville-Brampton Railway Corporation.

Like GJR, the Orangeville-Brampton Railway Corporation has contracted the operation of the railway to a third party. 

The difference is that the Orangeville-Brampton Railway contracts operations for both service to the manufacturing sector and their tourist train. The tourist train is owned and operated on behalf of the Town of Orangeville by Orangeville-Brampton Railway Corporation. 

Unlike Orangeville-Brampton Railway Corporation, GJR is not in the tourism train business. 

There is not a private sector owner-operator, similar to Guelph Junction Express, involved in the operation of the tourist train in Orangeville.

I hope a private-sector solution can be found to keep this tourist train in Guelph.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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8 Comments on “Tourist train”

  1. Jim Grant Says:

    Thank you for the post a clearing up the confusion. Would you also be able to clear the air on the Gummer Building monies. Also the Van Goh money for a new facade.

    Thanks

  2. kfarbridge Says:

    Glad too. Just give me a few days. I can understand that there might be confusion in trying to understand the programs and legislative authority under the Municipal Act associated with the examples you have asked about, given the position of the Municipal Act on “bonusing” commercial enterprises.

  3. Jim Grant Says:

    Karen – I believe the lines of communication have been opened. This is good. Keep it up and you will make me a supporter.

  4. Stephen C. Host Says:

    Karen, I do believe CANDO owns and operates the tourist train using a mixture of CANDO owned and leased equipment on behalf of OBRAG. Unless the terms of the November 2008 support agreement, where Orangeville Council agreed to subsidize the operations of the Credit Valley Explorer are different or have changed since published in their minutes, the equipment is likely still owned by Cando and operated by their staff.

    I am hopeful for a solution, like many are, but I agree we must find the best fit solution given the options available to us. I would not write off the Municipal Act just yet, but agree there may be alternatives available.

  5. kfarbridge Says:

    The Gummer Building has accessed a tax-increment based programme the City offers under its Heritage Redevelopment Reserve Fund. The fund’s policy is based on Ontario Heritage Act provisions which permit municipalities to provide grants or loans to designated heritage sites. Guelph’s programme is focuses on major investments creating a significant pre- and post- tax assessment difference and granting that difference back over a number of years to cover eligible restoration costs. The City requires a pay-back period of 10 years or less. The programme only flows money once the private sector completes the work. This programme has been used for several large conversions such as Mill Lofts, Stewart Mill Lofts as well as the Gummer, once it completes the work.

    To break this down for the taxpayer, empty or marginally-used buildings generate few property taxes. It is in the taxpayers’ interest to see these building redeveloped and contributing to the tax base.

    In the case of Van Gogh’s Ear, this property received a Façade Improvement Grant under the Downtown Guelph Community Improvement Plan. A Community Improvement Plan (CIP) is a tool available under the Ontario Planning Act which allows municipalities to create special investment areas for the whole or parts of their city. Once approved, a CIP allows these types of financial programmes to operate. This tool is provided to assist municipalities achieve economic development goals.

    The Downtown Guelph CIP was approved in 2010 and the façade programme was the first to be initiated under it. The façade programme is a 50-50 cost share arrangement with the building tenants or owners, the upset limit of the grant was $30,000 based on a number of criteria. There were 16 grants provided in 2010 ranging from $2,250 to $30,000, of which about half have been completed to date — Van Gogh’s being the most dramatic so far. The program has been based on programs in other communities that have been successful in catalyzing private-sector investment.

    It is hard not to miss the voices in the community who are tired about hearing about the downtown. However, the City will be talking more about the downtown. The Province’s growth strategy for the Greater Golden Horseshoe places great emphasis on redevelopment of “urban growth centres”. “Urban growth centre” is just another name for a downtown. Guelph’s downtown has been identified as an urban growth centre in the Province’s growth plan.

    Our Official Plan was brought into conformity with the Province’s growth strategy last year.

    Today there are a little over 3,000 residents and 2000 units, and approximately 7000 jobs, in our downtown. Our growth targets aim to add almost 6000 new people or 3000 new units and 1,500 new jobs. The Downtown Secondary Plan (guelph.ca/downtownplan) has identified the potential for an additional 500,000+ square feet of office and institutional space and 300,000+ square feet of retail space.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think this is going to be good for Guelph but I recognize for some in our community the “proof will be in the pudding”.

  6. Jim Grant Says:

    Thank you for the post Karen.
    Another question if I may..
    How did the province determine or come about the determination that Guelph’s “urban growth centre” would be dictated as such? How did we qualify and or why was Guelph chosen amongst so many towns/cities/communities in Ontario?

  7. Rob Britton Says:

    Karen, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for taking the time to help explain the municipal act and how it relates to the cities position concerning the tourist train. I admit I was very upset to learn about the coming demise of this wonderful attraction and could not understand how Guelph could not support it while Orangeville has turned a similar enterprise into the flagship of their community. Not being a lawyer or an accountant made the position the city took on this issue very confusing and misleading. You have helped clear up this issue although municipal politics and finances are still very intimidating to the average person. I to hope a solution can be found to keep the train in Guelph. Tourist dollars are very important to the continued success of many small retail businessess within our community and to some extent the city coffers as well. I cannot think of another attraction that Guelph has to offer which so profficiently showcases our other assets such as the Riverrun Centre, the Sleeman Centre or the soon to be, new museum which I fully intend to make good use of. I and my family have enjoyed the train immensly and the look on my grandson’s face during his first real train ride was worth the price of admission and was an adventure I was hoping to repeat year after year. It would be a loss to the community as a whole if this business is, pardon the pun, “derailed” I sincerely hope that something can be done to accomodate the relatively small investment being asked for by the GJE.

  8. kfarbridge Says:

    Everything can be found at the Province’s website:

    https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9&Itemid=14

    We are one of several urban growth centres in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

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