When did the train leave the station?



(Yep, we missed out on this...)


Now that Brockville has its long-awaited train station upgrade, comments are beginning to fly to the effect we missed the train on a much more expensive renovation.

This city could have had a $7-million project creating a bigger, better railway station on Perth Street, the thinking goes, but for a band of cranky “amateur historians” who didn't like the look of it and managed to get it scuttled.

Instead, all we got was this measly million-dollar brick job.

Yes, we did miss out on a more expensive project. But when, exactly, did that train leave the station?

(That will be my last rail cliché of the day... promise.)

As the reporter who covered this rail ruckus from start to finish, I can tell you the narrative that the heritage folks “scared away” a $7-million project is not accurate.

At the first announcement, way back in November 2009, Via promised a $7-million project, but did not unveil a design, promising that early the following year.

The company was looking at placing the new station directly east of the existing one, on the site of the abandoned side building now being demolished.

The company was also talking about adding main line track.

Via then took until November 2010 to return with its promised design: a scaled-down version of the project costing $4.5 million.

This was the steel-and-glass design Mayor David Henderson on Tuesday called “science-fictiony,” the same design local historian Doug Grant disparaged as resembling “a greenhouse with two garages added on each end.”

The heritage enthusiasts' objections prompted talks with Via that included Grant, Henderson and Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown.

In March 2011, Via came back with a revised design aimed at addressing the heritage concerns – but provided no cost estimates at the time.

While that revised project was to start sometime in 2012, it was beset by delays, which lasted until now.

We should remember that, even in the “science fiction” stage, the project included a new two-mile track running from the new Brockville station to a point close to the Highway 401 underpass on the western edge of the city.

In November 2011, we reported on track improvement work between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, including “major infrastructure improvements at Brockville.”

All this to say that, when the project was winnowed down to its current $1 million, part of that winnowing included removing the initial cost of the added track.

So, did the heritage crowd's objections cause a drop in Via's Brockville investment? Not exactly.

Back in 2009 and 2010, Via officials were effusive about the need for a bigger train station in Brockville to accommodate ever-growing passenger demand.

Somehow, during the hiatus that followed, that demand evaporated, to the point that, in January, Via folks were telling me the project was scaled back because of reduced customer traffic.

Strictly speaking, then, the market scaled down this project.

One can imagine two alternate outcomes to the one we eventually got.

In the first, Via does not listen to the heritage crowd, bulldozes ahead with plans to build the Greenhouse from Mars, then shelves the plan before getting very far because, lo and behold, the demand is no longer there.

In the second, Via plows ahead, builds the Martian Greenhouse and we end up with an oversized building, only a third of which is useful for hosting train passengers, while the rest is shopped around to prospective Star Trek conventions.

I am assuming here that most of the people who regard heritage enthusiasts as “snooty” tend to be fiscal conservatives.

Such folks, then, should not be complaining too loudly that the feds did not spend more money than needed.

And those of us who still really want a bigger train station should get on board (sorry, could not resist) with efforts to make train travel a more popular choice.