Look at other high speed rail options, say farmers

An organization opposed to the province’s high speed rail plan believes it has a good alternative for the province – high performance rail.

High performance rail runs much faster than today’s passenger trains, but without the burden on farmland and rural communities of high speed rail.

Why it matters: The province’s proposal to build an $11 billion high speed rail link from London, through Kitchener and to Toronto will use prime farmland and cut off farms and communities because there can be no level crossings with high speed rail.

Intercityrail.org, an organization of farmers, rail experts and concerned urban citizens put together three meetings on high speed rail recently along the London-Kitchener corridor where the trains would run. Concerned citizens packed the Tavistock Community Hall during the first of the meetings.

The proposed line, and indeed the only option being considered by the environmental assessment, runs from London and follows the electricity corridor straight to Kitchener, passing near Thorndale, Tavistock and New Hamburg.

Ken Westcar, a long-time rail watcher and transportation researcher from Woodstock, said high speed rail is not what people are looking for. They want a rail system that works better than it does now, which would be much less expensive than building a whole new high speed rail corridor.

Ken Westcar.
photo: John Greig

“This is being sold like it’s a train set,” by the government, said Westcar. “You just have to put down track and run trains over it. But it is very very complex and is very difficult to engineer and execute.”

It’s also costly, with the price tag of phase 1 from Toronto to London budgeted at $11 billion by the province. Phase 2 would run from London to Windsor and would bring the total cost to over $20 billion.

“We can’t find any logic to it. Is it a political situation where the provincial government is a high speed rail club wannabe?” he asked.

High performance rail is a good alternative, he says, running at speeds up to 175 km per hour, which is the point at which level crossings at roads can be maintained so communities and farms aren’t cut off from each other. It can also run on the existing lines. American rail is moving in the direction of faster trains than now, but not high speed rail, he said.

Agriculture likely to get a seat at advisory table

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), which has come out firmly against high speed rail in its current form, has a verbal commitment that agriculture will get a seat at the advisory committee set up by the provincial government to hear from aboriginal groups and other levels of government.

“It’s a small win for agriculture,” said Crispin Colvin, an OFA board member, who is in charge of the high speed rail file for the organization. He has some trepidation that a seat will be made for agriculture until someone is appointed by the province to represent the sector.

“From the OFA perspective high speed rail downloads all associated problems with not one benefit,” to rural communities, he said.

He also said that a comprehensive and integrated transportation system is needed for the province and the OFA is calling for a study of the benefits and costs of high speed rail.

Intercityrail.org has convinced affected municipal councils to call for the environmental assessment of high speed rail to include other options. It hopes to convince London to do the same.

The high speed rail plan is a significant part of the governing Liberal’s June election platform. The Progressive Conservative party has said it will follow the process through to the end of the environmental assessment. The NDP has supported the idea of high speed rail, but have not made it a major part of its election platform.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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