Guelph’s outdated rail crossings, not the will of city council, could be what prevents high-speed rail from coming to Guelph.
City council voted unanimously Monday night to support, at least in principle, the possibility of getting a high-speed rail stop in the city if and when the province builds a proposed high-speed line between Windsor and Pearson airport.
Skeptical Ward 3 councillor Phil Allt even went so far as to say that Guelph was more likely to get some form of “Star Trek-like” transporter system before it got high speed rail, given the physical limitations of Guelph’s rail infrastructure.
The province is currently seeking input on its plans for high-speed rail and city staff and members of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce met with provincial representatives in February to discuss Guelph’s desire to be part of the line when and if it gets built, which in a best-case scenario isn’t likely to be for another 15 years. They were told at that time the line would bypass Guelph.
But more recent discussions have opened the door to the possibility of a stop in Guelph.
Initial plans call for the high-speed rail system to have stops at Pearson International Airport, Waterloo, London and Windsor, bypassing Guelph, says a report to council by city staff.
“Recent discussions indicate that an alternative alignment through Guelph may be considered, depending, in part on City support,” reads the staff report.
The report was to get council’s backing to inform the province that Guelph wants in, which council did by a 13-0 vote.
But Allt and others have their doubts.
“It is far more likely that high speed rail will divert around Guelph,” Allt said.
“Let’s get up to 1950s and 1960s speed on that corridor,” Allt said.
Mayor Cam Guthrie rejected Allt’s comments.
“I’m pleased in the meetings I’ve had,” the Mayor said. “I think that many of the comments, councillor Allt, are not accurate.”
Guthrie said the city has to at least “get its foot in the door.”
Getting high speed rail in Guelph would require upgrades to several at-grade railway crossings in the city, where the rail line crosses roads at the same level as the road.
City staff said those crossings will eventually have to be upgraded anyway.
“Regardless of the final HSR alignment, the rail line will need to be upgraded at some point in the future for safety issues and compliance with recently introduced Transport Canada grade-crossing regulations,” the staff report says.
Earlier in the meeting, councillor Bob Bell said the city has to decide “if we want economic development or level crossings through town,” referring to the possibility of getting high speed rail to Guelph.
“We need to remove the impediment of level crossings and get in the game,” Bell said.
Monday's meeting was also a chance for council to discuss and formalize its wish list when it comes to upcoming Federal infrastructure funding being doled out.
The staff-prepared list, which the city would pay roughly $15 million and the Feds $45 million if everything got approved, is led by IMICO land remediation, a new snow disposal site, improvements to Metcalfe Street, transit vehicle and bus stop improvements and the rehabilitation of two storm water ponds.
"I don't want to jinx it, but the chances of us being 100 percent successful are likely not there," Deputy CAO Scott Stewart said of the wish list.