Trash, trains and Talbotville


Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum


Posted by Ian:
One year ago, on May 17, in the St. Thomas Times-Journal, I dedicated a considerable portion of my weekly City Scope column to an interesting speculative exercise. I am reprising that column, and a follow-up response from a key City of Toronto manager, in the belief there are new developments with the property in question located south of Talbotville. Here is the initial observation …

Three intriguing tales of trash, trains and Talbotville have entwined themselves over the past month to the point you would swear they spawned from the same source.
Follow carefully as City Scope sifts through the facts for a common thread.
As reported in yesterday’s T-J, the Green Lane Environmental Group, owned in part by Bob McCaig, sold its waste collection, recycling and materials recovery business to BFI Canada Inc., in a move effective May 1.

After selling the Green Lane landfill site in Southwold to the city of Toronto, McCaig has now exited the waste and recycling business in St. Thomas and Elgin.
More on Bob McCaig shortly.
While this sale was being consummated, history was being made in Toronto when the first-ever trainload of that city’s garbage was shipped to a Michigan landfill.
First Waste Transload Inc. has begun moving industrial and construction waste by rail after receiving a ministry of environment certificate on March 14.
The firm has completed a waste transfer centre on CN Rail property in Vaughan and an official opening is scheduled for June 11.
“It has been a quiet, soft launch so we can iron the bugs out,” said CEO Allen Shully, who says First Waste Transload Inc. is the first Canadian company to move garbage out of a municipality by rail.
The company has invested an estimated $30 million in a modern drop off centre and in more than 150 water-tight rail cars, built at National Steel Car in Hamilton.
The train cars are sealed so there will be no leakage along the route and the wear and tear on the highways will be lessened thanks to a reduction of truck trips on the road.
Now here is where it gets interesting, so absorb what First Waste chairman Joel Wagman envisions.
The sky is the limit for this project, Wagman enthuses. And who knows how big it will become once Toronto starts to ship its residential waste to the Green Lane landfill site?
“With the train we will be able to ship anywhere,” said Wagman.
Now for the third thread in our trash tale.
For those who regularly drive north from St. Thomas through Talbotville, you will have noticed over the past two weeks a 700-acre plot of farmland, zoned industrial, on the east side of Sunset Road has been sold.
The hot rumour of late has a theme park of some sort locating on this property, immediately north of the CN Talbotville rail yard.
But what if a saavy businessman, with a keen knowledge of waste collection, recycling and materials recovery, is the purchaser of this tract of land with a plan to haul Toronto’s garbage by rail to a transload facility where it will be off-loaded for the short trip by truck to the Southwold landfill site?
An individual like Bob McCaig, for example.
Do you see the common thread emerging?
My, we live in an exciting time. Watch this corner for more details.

That edition of City Scope elicited a terse response from Steve Whitter, director of new infrastructure development and contracted services for the City of Toronto, reported in the T-J June 21. Here are Whitter’s comments …

“There is nothing that would convince me as the individual responsible for looking after that landfill (Green Lane in Southwold) that would convince me to haul it (Toronto’s garbage) by rail. I tried it to Michigan in 2003 and it was a disaster.”
In a conversation with City Scope ten days ago, Steve Whitter, director of new infrastructure development and contracted services for the City of Toronto, emphatically rebuked arguments recently presented in this corner that garbage from the Greater Toronto Area will eventually be transported to St. Thomas by rail and then transloaded to truck for the short haul to the Green Land landfill site.
“We have absolutely no intention of going to rail haul to haul our trash to Green Lane,” stresses Whitter, lest there be any doubt about his intentions. “Absolutely zero.”
Well Steve, a chunk of Toronto’s trash is now being hauled by rail to Michigan and it’s proving far more economical, not to mention gentler on the environment, than the so-called “monster” trucks now hauling trash along Hwy. 401 to Michigan.
As noted here last month, First Waste Transload Inc. has begun moving industrial and construction waste by rail, after receiving a ministry of environment certificate on March 14.
The company has invested an estimated $30 million in a modern drop-off centre located north of Toronto and in more than 150 water-tight rail cars
Whitter is not impressed, and stands by his “economically not feasible argument.”
“If and when I am contacted about it, the answer will be no. It is not economical for a short haul. It really doesn’t make sense. You need three or four times as much equipment as you do trucks to haul it in. When going a long distance, the economies of scale do work out with rail.”
Funny you should mention that. Talk to CP Rail about their six-days-a-week dedicated train from the Formet plant in St. Thomas to Oshawa and back with frames for GM. It’s less than two dozen cars in length and I’m sure the railway is not running this as a money-losing venture.
Whitter insists he has not been contacted by First Waste and he doubts CN would be interested in hauling TO’s trash anywhere.
Well, guess where First Waste has located their transload facility? Right in CN’s MacMillan rail yard north of Toronto and the fledgling firm has negotiated a business partnership with CN.
And First Waste CEO Allen Shully emphasizes, “It is the same price to ship one rail car with 100 tonnes of garbage as it is to send one truck carrying 30 tonnes.”
So, wouldn’t it make sense, in light of astronomical diesel costs, to consider rail as an alternative?
Not going to happen, reaffirms Whitter.
“It’s not possible. When we go to tender to bring our waste to Michigan we will be specifying it be hauled in tractors and trailers.”
And that tunnel vision logic of Whitter will apply to Green Lane in 2010.
“Clearly it’s our landfill and it’s our waste. I can assure you when asked, my answer will be absolutely, unequivocally no.”
Well, I guess this corner has been unequivocally put in its place. However, we’re betting this isn’t the last of the trash talking we’ll hear from Toronto.

And, we reiterate … more to follow.

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6 thoughts on “Trash, trains and Talbotville

  1. Ian,

    The formet st. Thomas to oshawa automotive frame traffic was an all rail transaction, no trucks were utilized to transport the goods.

    The garbage in toronto would be transferred truck to train to truck adding to the cost and a 200 km haul is too short to gain economy of scale unless you eliminate trucks entirely…

    Whitter is right, and this unfortunately means ill be dodging more trash trucks on the 401 on my way to work… Too bad.

  2. Steve: Don’t bury this proposal just yet. Here is what First Waste Transload chairman Joel Wagman had to say a couple of years ago.

    “The sky is the limit for this project. Who knows how big it will become once Toronto starts to ship its residential waste to the Green Lane landfill near St. Thomas? With the train we will be able to ship anywhere.”

    First Waste Transload Inc. is the first Canadian company to move garbage out of a municipality by rail. They are now moving industrial and construction waste from Vaughan to Michigan in a partnership with CN – still a fairly short haul by rail standards.

    Here’s the difference according to Wagman.

    “But moving garbage by train from municipalities was not cost effective in the past. In the early days the highway systems were being built and gas was 10 cents a gallon. That meant trucks.”

    The train lines are already there so it’s back to the future and Wagman has negotiated a business partnership with CN. “We are going back to 1880 technology and it works. We are completing Sir John A. Macdonald’s dream.”

    Transload facilities, like the Future Transfer facility in Tillsonburg, are the way of the future and the infrastructure is in place in Talbotville. Steve, I’m still going out on a limb and predicting this will see the light of day. – Ian

  3. I hope you are right, but Joe Wagman invested 20 or 30 million dollars behind those words, he speaks like a true salesman 🙂 he also hopes he’s right too 🙂

  4. Steve: That’s what makes this speculative story so intriguing … people like Joe Wagman in Toronto and lurking at this end, Bob McCaig who, along with his brother, pulled off the massive sale of the Green Lane landfill to Toronto but has not retired from the waste management scene. – Ian

  5. Ian,

    The Rail Line that leads near the green lane landfill (the only chance of a direct connection) is presently being ripped up west of St. Thomas, this being the former Wabash/NW/NS and CN line. Rails to talbotville will stay for now, but there will be no chance of a direct connection, transload in talbotville is the only option once ford closes…

  6. Steve: A logical plan would utilize CN’s yard south of Talbotville where a transload facility could be constructed for the very short haul to Green Lane. However, when the Ford plant closes in Sept. 2011, the CN yard on that property could be a possibility with an even shorter haul to the landfill, bypassing Talbotville altogether.

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