High-speed rail project creates issues for rural residents

A new report says a high-speed rail link could mean longer trips for rural drivers and emergency services, split up farmland and pose a barrier to wildlife.

A new report says a high-speed rail link could mean longer trips for rural drivers and emergency services, split up farmland and pose a barrier to wildlife.

While running trains at speeds up to 300 km/h from Edmonton to Calgary will create a number of issues for rural residents and communities, the report commissioned by the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties does not weigh in on whether high-speed rail is desirable or even feasible.

“We’re not saying we’re for or against at all,” said association president Donald Johnson. “That’s not the point of the exercise.”

The association undertook the report to ensure that the concerns of rural residents are understood and taken into account if the high-speed rail project moves ahead.

“It was a proactive approach,” said Johnson. “We felt like if you wait until this happens it’s too late.

The 129-page Study of High Speed Rail Impacts on Rural Alberta is being billed as the first of its kind. The study by Ottawa-based CPCS Transcom Limited identifies the impacts of the rail line and what can be done to reduce potential problems — such as putting in overpasses and underpasses, new fire stations and hospitals and ensuring they are suitable for farm machinery and livestock.

Johnson said it’s likely if high-speed rail was to go ahead it would only make sense if 300 km/h trains were used. The route would also have to be mostly at ground-level because of the cost of elevating tracks and would be fenced for safety reasons.

The study suggests the number of crossings would be lower than those on the existing rail line.

If that’s the case, some serious planning about crossings needs to take place, and rural communities need to be involved, said Johnson. One of the important issues will be how will emergency services access be addressed.

“If you get a fire, there’s going to be re-routing that’s going to have to happen.”

A high-speed rail line could make it more difficult to move farm machinery or livestock and also leave some landowners with divided farms.

“There’s commercial and economic potential impacts, not just for rural municipalities, but also for our small towns that are our service centres, like Innisfail and Olds and so forth.”

The study also looked at how a high-speed rail corridor might affect land opportunities. Rural landowners are leery of development restrictions being imposed on land that may not be needed for decades.

The association argues that it is clear from the study that if the government plans to go ahead with high-speed rail the best way to reduce impacts on rural communities is to get moving on the multi-billion project.

“The longer wait, the more development will take place that may interfere with route alignments,” he said, adding the government should consider picking a route now if it’s serious about the project.

Complicating efforts to make any predictions about the impact of the line is the fact no route has been endorsed by the provincial government and the effect on rural areas also depends on the type of rail line chosen, the number of crossings and other unknowns.

In the absence of a route, the study looks at three potential route options: on the existing Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way, next to Hwy 2 and a new corridor through less populated rural areas.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com