A few months ago, elected officials in the Cavan-Monaghan and Peterborough County were asked to express support for a high frequency rail service on dedicated tracks running from Quebec City to Toronto with a stop in Peterborough.
The route would separate passenger and freight rail operations, creating higher capacity for sustainable transportation for both goods and people. Both the township and the County representatives supported the plan.
The dedicated tracks in the project would allow passenger trains to travel at speeds of up to 177km per hour, reducing travel times and improving train punctuality. The move could also reduce highway congestion and provide a low-emission travel alternative. This corridor represents 72% of all VIA passenger travel, which serves a diverse customer base consisting of students, seniors, tourists and business travellers who do not typically travel by train outside this area.
The project began in 2019 when the federal government established a Joint Project Office between VIA Rail and Canada Infrastructure Bank (BIC) to explore VIA’s High Frequency Rail (HFR) project. This is the flagship project in VIA Rail’s modernization plan, according to VIA’s Public Affairs Director Phillippe Cannon. It is viewed as having the potential to transform passenger rail service in the Toronto-Quebec City corridor, offering faster, more reliable service, and helping to encourage the shift to rail from more polluting modes of transportation. Currently VIA owns very little of the rails used by its trains, so it must give priority to freight trains which increases travel times and erodes the on-time performance of its trains.
While new routes involve the upgrade of discontinued and lower density rail infrastructure as well as new tracks established along part of the corridor, including the section linking Peterborough to Toronto and Ottawa.
The project received a boost in last week’s federal budget, where $4.4 million was earmarked for this fiscal year to support the planning work currently underway by Transport Canada and VIA Rail to advance their studies, along with an additional $491.2 million over six years to VIA for infrastructure investments to help lay the groundwork for the project, improving fluidity and connectivity but does not go the final step of committing funds for the actual construction of the rail line.
Canada is reportedly the only G7 country without high speed rail options, and this is apparently due to the lack of population density to warrant these travel options. The route between Quebec City and Windsor may be the exception. With a green agenda, money in the coffers of an infrastructure bank and a government with an appetite to jumpstart the economy, Canada may finally move beyond studying high speed rail to actually building one. KG