WHY THE GUELPH JUNCTION EXPRESS IS LEAVING TOWNThe Guelph Junction Express (GJE) has accommodated more than 14,000 passengers since it's launch in September of 2008, 70% of whom were people from out of town. The GJE has also been utilized for raising over $30,000 for local charities during it's short tenure or only 2.5 years. Not a bad deal for an area like Guelph that previously had no premier tourist attractions to speak of.
To be feasible, the GJE needs to be able to operate on a year-round basis. In order to operate through the winter months we require access to hydro and water. Original plans to access hydro at the Guelph Junction yard fell through a few months after launch and launching head-on into a recession limited our resources to come up with another solution. So we attempted to operate through the first winter without this infrastructure but our railcars suffered various forms of expensive damage. As a result we were forced to shutdown for most of January to April of 2010 and we have been shutdown since January 1st, 2011 to avoid further damage to our cars.
We considered shutting down the operation in the spring of 2009 but instead opted to move the cars closer to Guelph to help reduce expenses and it was also our hope that we could access Federal Stimulus Funding to help pay for the installation of hydro, water and a wheelchair access ramp. We spent over $10,000 in site improvements at this new location. The track siding had to be moved over from the main track for safety reasons and then lengthened to accommodate all five our our cars. We also had to clear out brush, add truckloads of A-gravel and level the immediate area using machinery in order to provide some staff parking and allow our caterer and fuel truck to access the train. Unfortunately our funding application was turned down in February of 2010 so we were back to square one.Let it be known that the town of Orangeville, Ontario has and continues to assist it's tourist train, the Credit Valley Explorer (CVE) with infrastructure as well as providing an ongoing operating subsidy. The town's innovative and forward thinking Economics Department created a development corporation specifically to make all of this happen. As a result the town Orangeville reaps the economics benefits of the more than 14,000 tourist a year brought in by the CVE. Not bad for a community 1/3 the size of Guelph. To learn how the Credit Valley Explorer train fits into Orangeville's Tourism Development and Marketing Plan click here.
Orangeville has proven without a doubt the rewards in tourism that can be achieved by supporting their local tourist train. So instead of us giving up and throwing in the towel just yet, it was suggested that we give the City of Guelph the opportunity to help keep the GJE here. Surely our Mayor and council would clearly see from Orangeville's example the huge tourism potential that existed for Guelph by supporting the GJE. An attraction that was already operating in town and posting some promising numbers.
We were asked what was the bare minimum amount we would need to keep things going. Access to hydro, water and a wheelchair ramp was going to cost approx $50,000. A huge amount to us but a very small amount to the City when you consider that they recently spent $150,000 on new awnings for downtown businesses which provided no tourism payback. This infrastructure would be installed on City of Guelph land so it would be owned by the City (not by GJE) and accessible to any other railway customers. The GJE of course would pay for it's hydro consumption. We pointed out that should the GJE ever cease operation down the road for any reason that this infrastructure would not go to waste as it could be utilized but a future railway customer so there was no risk to the City.
So to recap, you have a town the size of Orangeville who supports it's tourist train with infrastructure and an operating subsidy for it's tourist train in return for the direct economic benefit of 14,000+ visitors a year. You then have a City the size of Guelph which could make a one-time risk-free investment of $50,000 to help keep it's tourist train operating and eventually surpass the economic benefits that Orangeville currently enjoys. If you thought this was a no-brainer you would be wrong.
The City of Guelph's Manager of Economic Development stated that the City could not install a wheelchair ramp or the infrastructure required by the GJE (which would be installed on City land and owned by the City) because it would be viewed as bonusing a private business and thus violate the Ontario Municipal Act. This of course was his personal opinion and not the legal opinion of the City's Solicitor. Why? Because the City's Solicitor was never asked for a legal opinion on this matter.
It is the opinion of a number of professional people who have approached us that if the City's Solicitor would have been asked to provide a legal opinion on how funding could flow to the Guelph Junction Railway (a city owned corporation) to install the infrastructure, that the Solicitor would have ethically had to answer that this in fact could have been done a number of ways. But when we suggested that the City's Finance Committee pass a motion to ask the Solicitor for this legal opinion, our request was ignored. At the very least, the City of Guelph could have created a Development Corporation similar to what the town of Orangeville did but when this was suggested by a member of the Finance Committee, Mayor Karen Farbridge spoke up to say that no taxpayer money will be spent on this train.
In an 11th hour attempt to save the GJE, the local Chamber of Commerce President "thinking outside the box" came up with a proposal that would have seen the City of Guelph lease and operate the GJE for a year with an option to renew. It was suggested that tickets could be sold from the City owned River Run Centre box office (the main boarding area for the train) and the City would seen a slight profit at the end of the year. It was hoped that the City might also be encouraged to begin packaging GJE dinner-trains with River River theatre shows thus creating another unique attraction. Unfortunately the City rejected the Chamber President's proposal.
Please see the following links to news articles that outline the progression of this story in the press as well as additional facts not mentioned above:
Typical feedback that we have received in 2011
Dear Mr. Carroll,
We are in receipt of your memo indicating the status of the Guelph Junction Express. We are most disappointed with this information. Yes we are out of town living near Mount Forest but we enjoy visiting Guelph for shopping entertainment etc. As an example of our passion for the old trains, we bought tickets for ourselves and our children and grandchildren from Grimsby to take the Santa Claus Express. That involves 3 generations from 2 towns outside of Guelph. All three generations enjoyed the outing with treats, singing and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It seems incongruous that little Orangeville will support its historic train while the City of Guelph will not do the same. Surely Guelph needs every attraction possible to bring people to town to spend their time and money in Guelph.
Ralph and Irene W.
The Guelph Junction Express was the unfortunate victim of a phenomenon known as The Guelph Factor. For more information in this phenomenon see links below:
|Leaked consultant’s report rocks Guelph City Hall||Dec 9, 2011 - Guelph Mercury|
|Planning development manager quits, calls city hall ‘dysfunctional’||Dec 9, 2011 - Guelph Tribune|
|Highlights from leaked Guelph operational review||Dec 9, 2011 - Guelph Mercury|
|Bombshell at City Hall||Dec 9, 2011 - 59 Carden Blog|
|City of Guelph denies Guelph Councillors||Apr 20, 2011 - Guelph Mercury|