Ontario shortlines' leased trackage returning to CN this year

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A map showing the approximate main and branch lines of the Southern Ontario and Goderich-Exeter railroads.
Genesee & Wyoming
LONDON, Ontario — Two Canadian shortlines are expected to turn their track back to landlord Canadian National by the end of the year.

The Southern Ontario Railway, which operates 46 miles of track between Nanticoke and Paris, Ont., as well as a separate industrial operation in Hamilton, Ont., and the Goderich-Exeter Railway, which operates 184 miles of track between London and Toronto, are the railroads involved.

Southern Ontario
The Southern Ontario Railway was a Raillink Canada Inc. property, the company founded by shortline pioneer Tom Payne, who established the first modern shortline railroad in Canada with the founding of the Central Western Railway in 1986.

In 1997, Raillink Canada expanded by leasing the Hagersville subdivision of the CN for 21 years between Brantford to Nanticoke with running rights to Paris for interchange. In December 1997, Raillink was granted the lease of a yard and industrial track in Hamilton, and both lines were merged into the Southern Ontario Railway.

The Goderich-Exeter Railway between Stratford and Goderich, Ont., was founded in 1992 with a purchase of the Goderich and Exeter subdivisions from CN by Railtex for $4 million. In 1998, the Goderich-Exeter Railway expanded significantly by adding the CN Guelph subdivision and all associated branch lines to its network, with a 20-year lease adding 100 miles of track and tripling the size of the Goderich branch. Both the Southern Ontario and Goderich were merged into Rail America by 2000 after acquistions of Raillink Canada Inc. and Railtex by Rail America.

The railroads have been operated by Genesee & Wyoming Canada Inc. since 2012. Neither G&W nor CN have responded to Trains News Wire requests for comment, but in a notice sent to customers by CN's marketing department, the Hagersville Subdivision will revert to CN effective Sept. 18. The Northern & Northwestern Spur, Hamilton yard, and associated track will revert back to CN on Dec. 13. The Goderich-Exeter Railway between London and Silver, Ont., including all branch lines, with exception to Stratford-Goderich will revert to CN control in November.

In recent times, the Southern Ontario Railway operated trains daily out of Garnet, Ont., to interchange with CN at Paris. In Hamilton, the Southern Ontario operates multiple jobs per day switching the yard and dozens of industrial customers in Hamilton plus the Canadian Pacific interchange. Also, out of Hamilton, the Southern Ontario operates a train a week to Ingenia Polymers, running over the Canadian National Dundas subdivision to reach Brantford, Ont. In years, past the Southern Ontario Railway ran daily steel trains bridging two Stelco Steel mills, one at Hamilton and one at Nanticoke which is why these two lines were merged into a single division in the late 1990s. Steel trains ceased in 2010 but traffic remains at about 40,000 cars annually between both railways. Southern Ontario has a private switching contract with Imperial Oil at Nanticoke and Ingenia Polymers in Brantford and may continue to switch these facilities after the transition.

Since the original Goderich-Exeter Railway from Stratford to Goderich and Centralia was purchased from CN, it’s expected to simply shrink to their original size it was before 1998. The Guelph Subdivision is operated by Goderich daily with as many as six starts per day in Stratford, Kitchener, and Cambridge. Ont. The Goderich-Exeter handles about 25,000 cars annually systemwide, and is likely to shrink to 5,000 cars annually and be based only out of Stratford, Ont., once CN reacquires the main line and branches from the short line.

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