Region needs better rail service but high speed isn't only option, says advocate

Some transit advocates see the latest proposal for high-speed rail in Ontario as an overdue improvement to transportation in the region, while others see it as a flashy, expensive attempt to impress voters in next year’s provincial election.

One advocate says high speed rail is overdue, another thinks it's too expensive to happen

A proposed high-speed rail line between Toronto and Windsor is seen as an overdue improvement to transit by some advocates and as a flashy option may not happen by others. (The Associated Press)

Some transit advocates see the latest proposal for high-speed rail from Windsor to Toronto as an overdue improvement to transportation in southwestern Ontario, while others see it as a flashy, expensive attempt to impress voters in next year's provincial election.

On Friday, the provincial government announced plans for high-speed rail between Toronto and Windsor, with the London to Toronto section opening by 2025.

Paul Langan, with the advocacy group High Speed Rail Canada, is hopeful this report will see action, unlike the previous 21 rail reports he lists on his website, dating back to 1970.

Langan told Craig Norris, host of CBC K-W's The Morning Edition, on Wednesday that he thinks there is political momentum this time and the costs — pegged at $7-12 billion — seem accurate.

"It's too bad they didn't do it in '96, it would've been a lot cheaper," he said. "But this is what happens when you keep waiting decades and decades to do stuff, the cost goes up."

Langan gives a variety of reasons why previous rail plans didn't get built. One of the main reasons is that passenger rail hasn't been viable in Canada for 50 years.

"We have a generation of people who think (high-speed rail) is futuristic. But there's a generation in the rest of the world who call this transportation," he said.

Canada's lack of rail culture had combined with politicians who previously thought they could get re-elected by adding another lane to Highway 401, Langan said, but he doesn't think that's the case anymore.

'Flashiest solution'

However, transit advocate Steve Munro isn't so keen on Premier Kathleen Wynne's announcement.

Munro told CBC News it's the "flashiest solution" for the corridor and residents won't see any results for at least a decade.

A better and cheaper option, he said, would be to improve the existing rail lines between Toronto and London.

"The issue of of getting from Kitchener to Toronto on that line is not a question of the length of time it takes to make the trip, but the relative infrequency of the service and that's at least as important as the speed," Munro said.

This proposal is a perfect example to why it can be so difficult to get new transit built, he said.

"You wind up with the idea that the only way you can build a transit option is to spend a lot of money," Munro said.

Munro and Langan are both unsure what will happen to the high-speed rail proposal if the Liberals aren't re-elected. (Associated Press)

Both Munro and Langan are concerned about what will happen to the proposal if the Liberals don't get re-elected.

Munro thinks because there is no alternative "reasonable proposal" on the table, nothing will change.

Langan says the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have been anti-rail for years, pointing to an idea by the Mike Harris government to push GO Transit service to the municipalities.

"Provincial conservatives have never supported it, they just criticize,"he said. "I'd like to know what their policy is and stop hiding in the bushes."

Prior to last week's announcement, Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga and the Progressive Conservative transportation critic, said the provincial budget didn't do enough to address the desire for better rail service in the region. 

"We have heard them loud and clear, easier access, faster access to the GTA is imperative. Not only into the GTA, but also back into the region back in the morning. There is still no rail option to date to come from Union [Station] to Kitchener-Waterloo," Harris said.