Over 900 people attended three information meetings held in southwestern Ontario this week
By Kate Ayers
Ontario producers and other rural residents gathered at three public information meetings this week to discuss their concerns about the province’s proposed high speed rail (HSR) between Kitchener and London.
The InterCityRail.org team, an organization that promotes evidence based solutions for passenger rail transportation in southwestern Ontario, hosted meetings in Tavistock, New Hamburg and Thorndale to educate the public about the proposed HSR plan and outline possible alternatives.
“The province’s decision to build high speed rail between Kitchener and London is not supported by any evidence that makes financial, environmental or social sense,” said Kelly Elliott, Ward 1 councillor in Thames Centre, in an InterCityRail.org press release this morning.
At the meetings, residents shared their concerns about the cost of the project, the loss of prime agricultural land, and the creation of dead end roads.
These changes to the rural landscape could lead to increased emergency vehicle response times and longer commutes for students, as well as increased road maintenance costs, the release said.
Attendees also worried about the possibility of rural properties being cut in half by the HSR, extended travel times for farmers, and the loss of habitat for native plants and wildlife.
Southwestern Ontario is home to some of the most valuable and productive farmland in Canada, residents added.
“The food that is produced by our farmers is critical to Canadian food security and a key factor in the potential to create truly sustainable local food systems in this province,” said Elliott.
HSR could threaten current local rail transportation in the communities of St. Marys, Stratford, Ingersoll and Woodstock, the press release said.
“To set (the ag sector and communities) up as competitors where there are winners and losers is counterproductive.”
As a result of these concerns, InterCityRail.org is advocating that the province expand its environmental assessment to review all viable options for enhanced rail service between London and Kitchener.
Indeed, the team has identified several alternatives to HSR, such as enhanced VIA Rail service. It would have lower costs compared to HSR, minimize the expropriation of land and minimize the need to dead end roads, the release said.
The group also urges the government to consider expanding GO service and Regional Express Rail.
For more information on HSR and potential alternatives, visit the team’s website or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also check out April’s issue of Better Farming, which provides more in-depth coverage of the proposed plan and rural responses.
Kelly Elliott photo