Member Profile: Ontario Southland RailwayPosted on
Ontario Southland (OSR) is a shortline railway based in Salford, ON, a town roughly 40km east of London, between Ingersoll and Tilsonburg, in Southwestern Ontario. The area is poised for huge growth in the coming years. And OSR’s 79km network – at the crossroads of several major highways and connecting to both Class 1 railways – positions it as a critical logistics hub and growth facilitator. OSR recently joined other shortlines in calling on the Ontario government to implement a shortline tax credit to incentivize infrastructure investment. We spoke to OSR’s Vice President, Kimberley Willsie, about the indirect and direct ways OSR supports the regional, provincial, and Canadian economies.
There’s a big theme of connecting communities, industries, and people together in your materials. Why is that important to Ontario Southland Railway?
Our mission is simple: we aim to provide trusted rail transportation solutions that foster sustainable growth and enhance the quality of life in the regions we serve. We recognize that well-connected rail infrastructure is vital for connectivity, building strong community ties, facilitating the seamless movement of goods, and supporting local economic development. By linking communities, industries, and people, we aim to create a robust network that not only drives economic success but also enhances the quality of life for everyone involved.
Tell us about the indirect and direct benefits that Ontario Southland Railway has on the economy?
Since its establishment in 1992, Ontario Southland Railway has provided direct employment to more than 200 individuals. To maintain our locomotives, track, and equipment, we actively contribute to the local economy by investing substantially in goods and services sourced from businesses within the communities we serve. This not only ensures the safe and efficient operation of our railway but also stimulates economic growth and sustains local enterprises. Big picture: we’re a key link in the larger network of commerce that serves the residents of Ontario and beyond.
What type of contributions are you most proud of that Ontario Southland Railway makes to the regional and provincial economy?
Being a trusted partner in rail transportation solutions for over three decades is something we’re quite proud of. By prioritizing operational excellence, reliability, and flexibility, we act as a stable, steady force behind our customers’ success. Our goal is to ensure a safe, smooth and effective operation. This, in turn, offers accessibility, efficiency, and economic viability to our valued customers.
What’s the importance of a shortline railway like yourself linking up to Class 1s like CN and CPKC?
Where rails lead, opportunities follow. Shortline railways are an essential part of Canada’s wider rail network. We keep businesses and jobs alive in smaller communities not directly connected to larger Class 1 railways. Without shortlines, businesses might not have the opportunity to locate close to track and be serviced by rail. Our presence provides future business prospects.
Why do you think governments and policy makers should support a shift from trucks and other modes of transportation to rail transportation?
Shifting focus to rail transportation has many benefits: it’s cost effective for moving large quantities of goods over long distances, it’s generally more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly compared to truck transportation, it encourages investment in rail infrastructure which can create jobs and stimulate economic growth, and it can produce public benefits, such as helping to alleviate traffic congestion, lower road accident rates, and improve overall road safety.
We understand that you and other shortlines in Ontario have called on the government for a specific type of support. Tell us about what that support looks like and why it’s important.
When we learned of the Railway Association of Canada’s recent to advocate for a proposed Shortline Railway Track Maintenance Tax Credit in Ontario, we jumped on board to support the initiative. Canadian shortlines often struggle to generate the necessary revenues to maintain, update, or build new infrastructure. Compounding this challenge are escalating costs, at times driven by regulatory demands, which pose a threat to our sustainability as well as the well-being of the businesses we support. This type of government support would help us invest in our infrastructure (think: railway track, traffic control and signaling equipment, bridges, trestles, culverts, fences, signage, etc.) to ensure our operations remain safe and lasting.
How do you plan on playing a role in Ontario’s future economy?
As Southwestern Ontario municipalities increasingly embark on substantial industrial and manufacturing initiatives, demonstrated by notable projects like the recently announced major electric vehicle supply chain in St. Thomas, Ontario, we expect a growing recognition of the importance of regional rail networks as well as the advantages presented by shortline railways. The unfolding developments in the region promise exciting times, and we welcome all opportunities that lie ahead.