Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's promise to build a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto and Windsor by 2025 is receiving push back by a group of farmers in the Township of East Zorra-Tavistock, east of London, Ont.

The farmers are concerned that the proposed route, which runs in a straight line from Kitchener to London, will sever hundreds of acres of farmland and make travel in the township a nightmare.

"This is going to cut off all the back roads. They're going to dead head them, just like the 401 is down there," said Harold Bickle, who farms crops on 4,000 acres in East Zorra-Tavistock. "Maybe there's going to be two crossings all the way across the township here. We'll have to drive way out of our way to get to the other way of the rail line."

Bickle was so concerned by the proposed line that he and a few other farmers organized a meeting on Aug. 25. More than 100 farmers attended that meeting to discuss the proposed route.

Emergency services also affected

And it's not just farmers who are concerned about high-speed rail passing through the township. Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman said paramedics and firefighters are also worried.

"It's almost like they thought that, 'Between the two cities we're going across an area that the people don't matter.'" - Ernie Hardeman
 

"With high-speed rail, you can't have level crossings. So the first thing that happens is every place where it crosses, it cuts off all other ability to get across," Hardeman said. 

"If they have to get across to the other side of the tracks, they may have to go two, three, four miles up the road to a crossing, and then all the way back to get to a fire they could see from the fire hall."

He wonders why the province didn't consult with the people in his riding before proposing to put a high-speed rail corridor in their backyards.

"I can assure you I never spoke to anyone," he said. "It appears that they decided that for a high-speed train, you need the shortest distance. So they took a ruler and laid it across the rural landscape from Kitchener to London and said, 'This is where we should be going.'

"It's almost like they thought that, 'Between the two cities we're going across an area that the people don't matter.'"

Alternatives to high-speed

A thorough study of alternatives to high-speed rail is what is needed, according to Hardeman.

For example, farmers like Bickle would rather see improved VIA service to the area, but if the government must go ahead with its high-speed plans, they want the route changed so that it follows Highway 401.

"It's not about putting it in someone else's backyard," he said, but "after it gets past London, it's going to follow the 401 all the way to Windsor."

The farmers plan to voice their concerns at three council meetings: one in Zorra on Sept. 5; another in East Zorra-Tavistock on Sept. 6; and a third in Blandford-Blenheim, also on Sept. 6.