Tunnel Project Gets $300K

Brockville Railway Tunnel Plaque

The Brockville Railway Tunnel Plaque

When it comes to the historic railway tunnel revitalization project, city council is almost all aboard – at least for the first stop.

Council voted Tuesday night in favour of contributing $300,000 toward the project, over a four-year period, and including it on its list of capital priorities.

The money will go toward the repair and renovation of what is deemed Canada’s oldest railway tunnel, which runs under city hall from a point three blocks north of the building to Armagh S. Price Park. Councillor David LeSueur, chairman of the railway tunnel advisory committee, said after the vote the historic tunnel could put the city on the tourism map the same way the Magnetic Hill did for Moncton. “This will improve the economy. This will bring people,” said LeSueur.

Tuesday’s vote came after another pitch from tunnel committee members Brian Porter and Doug Grant. Porter acknowledged the project won’t be profitable as a tourist attraction on its own, but only as part of a “campus approach” with other venues such as the Aquatarium.

Grant said the tunnel is not meant only as a tourism attraction, but also as a “resource” for local residents to use for riding bikes or getting downtown.

“A tunnel is nothing if you can’t go into it,” said Grant.

Councillor David Beatty likened the group’s work to the success in the past decade of community efforts such as Project Encore, which led to the renovation of the Brockville Arts Centre, and the Thousand Islands Secondary School track project.

He expressed confidence in the advisory committee’s ability to raise the majority of the estimated $1.5 million needed for the project. “I think we’re going to be nicely surprised as well,” said Beatty. “It complements many of the tourism assets that we have in the community.” The community group needs financial support from the city before it can leverage other dollars from the community, added Councillor Leigh Bursey. Councillor Jeff Earle, meanwhile, reiterated skepticism about the project he expressed at last week’s finance committee meeting. While he likes the tunnel project, Earle said, he does not have enough information to back the motion. “Essentially, I’m buying a pig in a blanket. I just don’t want it to turn out to be a porcupine,” he said.

Councillors Mary Jean McFall and Tom Blanchard expressed similar skepticism. The latter, however, was swayed to support by Grant’s assertion the tunnel will be a community resource.

Councillors Jason Baker and Mike Kalivas were willing to support the motion, but warned they will not likely back any further outlay of city funds toward it.

“I will be disappointed if this project ends up escalating,” said Baker.

Mayor David Henderson also acknowledged some hesitation, but said his concern is to get the tunnel open.

Considering the project has languished for decades, the mayor believes supporting the process is the only way to ensure the tunnel will be repaired for public use.

Earle cast the lone dissenting vote and McFall abstained.

The motion city council approved Tuesday commits $75,000 a year to a railway tunnel reserve, for four years starting in 2014. The motion also places the project on the city’s 10-year capital priority list. Early estimates peg the cost of turning the tunnel into a tourist attraction at $1.5 million.

Republished from the Recorder and Times
By Ronald Zajac, Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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Brockville in Canadian Railway Hall of Fame

As Brockville officially joined the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame Tuesday, locals were looking down the line to a revamped railway tunnel and greater tourism success.

“Let’s get on board,” Brian Porter, a local historian and member of the railway tunnel advisory committee said in front of the historic railway tunnel’s south end.

Porter joined other rail tunnel enthusiasts and politicians at a ceremony Tuesday marking Brockville’s induction into the hall of fame, which honours Canadian achievement in the railway industry.

They used the event to boost the railway tunnel advisory committee’s efforts to see the tunnel refurbished and made a tourism attraction.

“We soon hope to see people walking, cycling and riding a train through the tunnel,” said city councillor and committee chairman David LeSueur.

He was referring to the small, rubber-wheeled train the committee would like to see taking tourists through the tunnel and to other downtown attractions.

Brockville has long proclaimed itself home of Canada’s oldest railway tunnel, an underground stretch that runs under city hall from a point three blocks north of the building to Armagh S. Price Park south of it.

Council this year committed $300,000 toward the railway tunnel project, over four years starting in 2014, and to include it on its list of capital priorities. That will go toward an estimated $1.5 million required to get the tunnel fixed, illuminated and ready for tours. The city is expected to have a feasibility study done this year.

The railway tunnel opened in 1860 and the first train passed through on December 31 that year, said Porter, who gave the crowd a history lesson about the tunnel and Brockville’s railway past.

Mayor David Henderson commended previous councils for committing funds to keep the tunnel from collapsing.

“We’re going to be all long gone in dust, but it’s going to be here,” said the mayor.

Henderson read a letter from Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark, who was unable to attend. It was Clark who, as mayor of Brockville, presided over the public opening of the southern portion of the tunnel.

Perhaps cementing the decision, last year, to induct Brockville into the hall of fame was Doug Smith, who is a member of the tunnel committee and the national hall of fame selection committee.

“I think it was time that the tunnel was officially recognized in the highest way possible,” Smith said. Smith also commended councillors willing to commit money to the project. “History certainly comes at a cost,” said Smith.

So did the railway tunnel itself. When first conceived in 1853, the tunnel cost a projected 900,000 British pounds, a whopping sum at the time, said Porter.

“Heated debates were held within town council about the costs,” he said.

“Some things don’t change.”

Brockville joins such communities as Craigellachie, B.C., where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven, and larger cities that played a historic role in Canada’s rail industry, such as Montreal and Winnipeg, in the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. The hall of fame committee notes: “Few Canadian communities have a richer rail history than … one of the country’s oldest railway centres: Brockville.”

Republisehd from the Recorder and Times
By Ronald Zajac, Tuesday, May 14, 2013


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