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Is High-Speed Rail Back on the Agenda for Ontario and Quebec?

 Ontario and Quebec High-Speed Rail

Alstom High-Speed Rail Ontario - Quebec


Provincially, the Special Advisor for High-Speed Rail the Honourable David Collenette delivered his report: High Speed Rail in Ontario in December 2016.The Ontario provincial government under Liberal Kathleen Wynne was committed to building high-speed rail between Windsor and Quebec City. There was renewed enthusiasm that just maybe Canada could join the modern world and have a fast, efficient, safe, passenger rail transit system.

High-Speed Rail in Ontario

Sadly, the election of the Ford government brought an end to the idea as they shelved high-speed rail. The Ford government has pursued a  neanderthal method of transportation planning with the building of more highway lanes and announcing a new highway. (Hwy#413). 

This newfound optimism for the building of high-speed rail has nothing to do with the Ford government.

Federally, then president and CEO of VIA Rail Canada Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, now Siemens employee, was telling anyone that would listen in 2015, that high-speed rail was a bad idea. He was reversing a pro high-speed rail position that VIA Rail Canada had held for decades.

Desjardins-Siciliano pushed the idea of “high frequency rail” (HFR). This would involve trains running at conventional speeds along a long abandoned rail corridor.(2017 VIA Rail Map) The HFR plan as espoused by VIA lacked one thing, details! VIA provided no evidence to support their claims regarding train frequencies, route specifics, pricing or even how the trains would get in and out of Toronto and Montreal. 7 years later and the specifics are still lacking on the HFR plan.

Interestingly during his time at VIA Rail Desjardins-Siciliano as CEO/President, VIA awarded Germany based company, Siemens a $989 Million contract to build and maintain a new fleet of trains over Canadian company Bombardier, Coincidently, Desjardins-Siciliano joined Siemens after he left VIA Rail Canada.

VIA’s new fleet of Siemens Chargers, non high-speed trainsets is currently replacing VIA Rail’s aging core fleet of trains.

The HFR plan as proposed by Desjardins-Siciliano stalled at the station, as lack of any details to support the plan failed to emerge.

TRANSPORT CANADA TAKES OVER THE HFR FILE

Transport Canada, the federal government has taken over control of the HFR rail file from VIA Rail. In July 2021, the federal government made a significant announcement that the HFR line would be 90% electrified. Previously VIA Rail had proposed the HFR line would start off without electrification with the trains running on diesel.

A slew of announcements were made in 2022. On December 15, 2022, Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra announced the establishment of the VIA Rail subsidiary to support High Frequency Rail and appointed three founding members to its Board of Directors. Here is the website link. https://hfr-tgf.ca/

The idea according to Transport Canada is that HFR will transform passenger rail service in Canada through the creation of a faster, more frequent, accessible, and sustainable rail service among the major centres of Québec City, Trois-Rivières, Montréal, Ottawa, Peterborough, and Toronto.

WINDS OF CHANGE

On July 7th, 2021, respected passenger rail advocate and former Minister of Transport, David Collenette, had an opinion column in the Toronto Star titled, "Via Rail’s new plan is bold but can be even better.” He suggested if the new plan was modified to become true high-speed rail, the project would be a game changer. He further stated, 

"The government should be applauded for its initiative. With climate change bearing down on us faster than predicted, passenger rail has a better carbon footprint than automobiles or planes. That’s why the government has correctly decided to electrify approximately 90 per cent of the route, whereas VIA had originally proposed continued use of high polluting diesel-powered locomotives.

However, after committing to the significant cost of electrification, the government appears not to be taking the logical next step to engineer construction of the line to achieve true high-speed rail of more than 250 km/h, which would offer a real alternative to air travel.”


This definitely makes sense but will Transport Canada and the federal government go the next step and have true high-speed rail?

Dr. Lloyd Brown-John wrote a column, December. 30th 2022 in the Windsor Star titled, "Riding the rails at high speed in Canada is overdue". It also stated what many have long known, the Ontario-Quebec corridor needs high-speed rail.

It seems there are some rumblings for some people inside government and more overtly from the rail industry who believe that since the line will be electrified why not have true high-speed rail over 250km/h.

There will be losers if HSR is implemented in the new plan. Siemens will not be able to sell any of the company's Charger locomotives for the new plan as their trains are not able to travel at even the low end of high-speed train speeds of 250 km/h.

If there is a change in policy at Transport Canada and true high-speed rail happens between Ontario - Quebec, the big winners will be Canadians. As mentioned, they will now have the benefit of having a fast, efficient, safe, passenger rail transit system for generations to enjoy. Other countries, state and privately owned high-speed companies want to invest in Canada. After over a half-century of mistakes, will Canada will move forward and invest in high-speed rail?

Oui high-speed rail
High-speed trains - credit Matthew Halloran




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