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Building Toronto-Kitchener-London high speed rail line ‘unusually easy’

by Chris Herhalt WATERLOO REGION RECORD— A consultant's report the Ontario Liberals used to argue they could build a high speed rail line through Kitchener says a Toronto to London line would be a cinch, but it relies heavily on maps available to anyone with internet access.

"This looks to be an unusually easy route for a high-speed rail line, about as easy as you can get, in fact, both in terms of construction, and community and environmental impacts," consultant Michael Schabas wrote in a memo to Ministry of Transportation officials last March.

The 51-page pre-feasibility report says an electrified 320 km/h rail line stopping in London, Kitchener, Guelph, Pearson International Airport and Toronto could cost $2.5 billion, requiring a maximum of 100 buildings be demolished. But because the government wanted the report before it tabled the 2014 budget, the report has done without a significant in-person examination of potential routes, with the London,

England-based consultants opting to use Google Earth satellite images instead.

"Google Earth does make it much easier to look at alternative routes, but with the caveat that not everything is marked, and some of the imagery is five years old and will not show recent developments," Schabas wrote.

In an interview, Schabas said using Google Earth is a standard practice in his field."Satellite photos are better quality than we ever had before when we had to pay for it to be done for us. You still want to go and drive it because you might not see every building."

He said members of his team travelled at least part of the proposed route, and having lived in southern Ontario, and he is well acquainted with it. CBC News reported that First Class Partnerships billed the Ministry of Transportation $115,000 for the report.

"We would have taken more time and done more detail but I don't think we would have come to different conclusions," Schabas said of what his group would have done with a later deadline and more money.

With no mountain ranges or large bodies of water to pass through, consulting firm First Class Partnerships says the project would be far more feasible than rail projects underway on other continents.

They estimated that adjusting grades and constructing station and parking infrastructure for where the new train would stop in Kitchener could cost $200 million and take up as much as five hectares of space.

The report says trains could run through downtown Kitchener by "cutting" into the ground, to allow the track to run underneath streets like King, Duke and Waterloo. Passing by Guelph, the consultants suggest the track either bypass downtown to the south near Aberfoyle, or run through downtown, with a bypass taking the track north of Rockwood.

The report proposes that fares between Toronto and London could range from $189 each way for business class seats during rush hour, to $19 for economy seats purchased a month in advance.

Cambridge-based Paul Langan, spokesperson for the High Speed Rail advocacy group, said the feasibility study proves what he and his peers have been saying for decades — that southwestern Ontario could benefit immensely from a new express rail line — as VIA Rail service in the region is extremely poor.

"This part of our infrastructure is 50 years behind the rest of the world. How much is it going to cost to catch up, it's going to cost a lot of money. We have to accept that as a result of not doing anything for so long."

Through a spokesperson, Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca would not comment on why the report needed to be finished before the government tabled its 2014 budget. "Similar for all consultant reports, the Ministry evaluates the information contained within it. The report in question is a pre-feasibility study," Patrick Searle wrote in an email. "We will be following an environmental assessment process that uses best practices to complete the technical studies that will help Ontario to identify a service plan and route for high speed rail in the Toronto to Windsor corridor."

In an interview earlier this week, Del Duca distanced himself from the cost and fare estimates included in First Class Partnership's report, saying a four to six year-long environmental assessment process, beginning in 2015, would provide more insight into costs and other project specifics. The provincial government is now proposing the high speed rail line could end in Windsor rather than London.


  1. It sounds like it would be a great boost for employment in the region. But are people here ready for high speed rail? No more drinking beer and walking down the train tracks in the countryside!


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