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Weston residents fear rail link to airport

Pack meeting on latest proposal

Coalition vows to use legal system


Fearing their property values will plummet and their community will die, Weston residents vowed last night they won’t be railroaded into accepting the proposed railway between Union Station and Pearson International Airport.

“This whole process is a shambles,” Mike Sullivan, spokesman for the Weston Community Coalition, said at a public meeting. “We will take whatever legal means we have to” to fight the air-rail link.

Residents packed the 2,200-seat Faith Sanctuary on Jane St. to see for themselves the latest proposal from GO Transit and SNC Lavalin — which will operate the Blue-22 Union-Pearson railway — on the future of the rail corridor through their neighbourhood.

GO Transit proposed a $40 million plan to dig a trench for three of the five sets of railway tracks in Weston. Those would be used by GO, VIA, CN and Blue-22. The two CP Rail tracks would remain untouched.

The trench would allow Church and King Sts. to remain open, linking residents on one side of the former village with schools and businesses on the other. But John St. would be closed to cars, with a pedestrian bridge built for access to the farmers’ market, the centre of the community.

GO officials told residents the trench would help muffle sound and make the corridor safer.

“This doesn’t hurt the neighbourhood as much,” said Joseph Giraudi, 75, a 30-year resident.

About 50 trains use the corridor daily now, but that would spike to more than 200 by 2009 if GO wins approval of its environmental assessment. It wants to start construction next April.

The neighbourhood coalition says it’s been told by realtors that houses will lose 25 to 35 per cent of their value due to the frequency of train service — one every 7.5 minutes between 6 a.m. and midnight — and the diesel fumes.

“A train every seven minutes? I don’t want that,” said Bob Carson, 50.

“My house will be worth nothing,” said Pauline Payne, whose home backs on to the tracks. She wants to sue to have her home expropriated. “I cannot put my house up for sale. They have ruined my life.”

Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) vowed the city would fight if GO’s environmental assessment recommends the closing of John St.

The issue has galvanized the local community, with angry residents, the business improvement association, heritage groups and others forming the coalition led by Sullivan.

The ire is focused on Blue-22, the privately run air-rail link that was the federal government’s idea in 2003, a legacy of former transport minister David Collenette.

Sullivan said that since public money is reconstructing the corridor, the environmental assessment should consider public transit through light rail, subways, busways and other routes �� perhaps Highway 427 — to the airport.

“SNC Lavalin will have the exclusive right to run the air-rail link forever, unlike the 407, which we’ll (eventually) get back,” Sullivan said. “We better stop this before it’s too late and somebody owns something that should be public transit.”

Alan Tonks, the federal Liberal MP for the riding, said he backed the idea of forcing GO Transit to conduct a “full” environmental assessment.