High-Speed Rail Corridor a Possibility?
In case you missed it earlier this summer, the decades-old idea of a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto and Windsor is closer to reality.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced in May that the idea “is exactly what our economy needs,” saying plans are to have phase one of the project between Toronto and London ready by 2025.
The project would use a combination of existing track and new rail lines dedicated to the high-speed train and would include stops in Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Chatham, and connect to Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Reactions have been mixed.
Not surprisingly, the mayors of the various cities involved have expressed their support, touting how it will transform the corridor and unlock opportunities. And with seven million people living along the corridor, Wynne says current transportation options just aren't good enough.
But there are also critics.
First, there is the price: an estimated $12 billion for the first phase alone. Some say that’s not worth the 45 minutes or so that high-speed rail will knock off a trip from London to Toronto.
And opposition MPPs doubt whether it will actually come to be. In a joint statement soon after the announcement, a number of NDP MPPs from London, Windsor, Essex, Niagara, and Kitchener-Waterloo said:
"Although today's announcement was actually a re-announcement, it could be a step in the right direction and we have high hopes for this environmental assessment, but people in our communities are wondering today whether this is just another hollow election promise."
Then there’s the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which has expressed great concern over the impact the plan will have on farmers, farmland, and residents in the affected areas.
“This is not a traditional train track,” notes OFA vice-president Mark Reusser in a recent opinion piece. “It will be secured on both sides with steel fence that will be impenetrable by wildlife, farm equipment, or humans. The only place to cross the corridor will be at separated crossings either above or below grade. Because of the high cost of these crossings, they will potentially be 15 or more kilometers apart. All side roads that are not deemed necessary for grade separation will be closed.” Yes, you read that right....closed!
Provincial transportation minister Steven Del Duca gets the skepticism and concern. In a Toronto Star story in June, he observed: “The costs are not inconsequential. I believe there's a strong business case. In some cases, the shift away from the car has already started. We as a government have to prepare for whatever form that shift might take.”
That’s particularly true given the perpetual state of congestion on Hwy. 401.
Mr. Reusser argues a far more affordable and less intrusive option would be to utilize the existing track more intensively and effectively.
Cheaper, yes, but making rail attractive is not just about speed, but also frequency, capacity, and reliability, rail strategy consultant Michael Schabas, who was consulted by the Wynne government, said in a separate Toronto Star opinion piece.
While there are arguments to be made on both sides, it’s likely they stem from how someone is or isn’t affected by the plan.
So, what do you think?