Farmers fear rail lines will devour properties, cause traffic headaches, says local councillor

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A rural politician is pushing back against London city council’s support of the proposed high-speed rail system to connect Toronto with Southwestern Ontario.

It could be the latest issue to divide urban and rural communities in the region, as farmers face off against urban residents who want quick access to the GTA.

Kelly Elliott, a Thames Centre councillor, said her constituents are concerned about the impact high-speed rail might have on their land and lifestyles.

She hopes city politicians will pay attention.

“There are going to be impacts to neighbouring communities, the rural communities outside London,” Elliott said. “As they’re pushing forward, I just hope they’ll keep their neighbours in mind.”

Mayor Matt Brown, who has long identified high-speed rail as a key council priority, said the economic benefits would be huge for rural and urban residents alike.

“This is going to have a significant positive impact on Southwestern Ontario,” he said. “A rising tide raises all boats.”

But he added it is important for community concerns to be heard.

“All of us have to recognize that this is fundamentally a game-changer for all of Southwestern Ontario,” he said.

The provincial government announced in May that it would begin a $15-million environmental assessment and design study for a high-speed rail link between London and Toronto.

Worry in the rural region stems from the fact that Transport Canada doesn’t allow level crossings with high-speed trains. Roadways would have to go over or under the rail lines. And that’s a problem for farmers, who are worried the rail lines may truncate their properties, creating dead-end roads and causing traffic headaches, Elliott said.

“A lot of people are concerned that their farms are going to be split in half by it,” she said.

“Right now the whole talk is that the province will put overpasses at major highways. Well, in rural areas, we don’t have major highways. Where do those overpasses fall?” Elliott said.

Marcus Ryan, a Zorra Township councillor in neighbouring Oxford County, echoed Elliott’s calls for urban politicians to take notice of their country cousins.

“Part of the true cost of that project should be to mitigate the very real issues of the rural municipalities it will cross,” he said. “I would hope that municipalities that do see an advantage would be understanding of the disadvantages for others.”

Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said his main concern is the prime agricultural land that may be eaten up by the rail lines.

He wants to see an agriculture impact assessment along with the province’s environmental one.

“We want the impact to be as little as possible. Can this rail line, through some of those key core areas, get elevated, so we can still have access?” he asked.

But Currie insists the federation isn’t “opposed” to high-speed rail. The agricultural community sees the benefits of reducing traffic volume on main arteries like Hwy. 401, he said.

“If there’s less congestion on the road, that will make it better for our folks to get their product to the next stage.”

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