High-Speed Rail In Canada: Everything We Know About The Push To Finally Make It Happen
There's serious momentum.
It looks like the stars are aligning for high-speed rail in Canada. And this might be the time to make it happen. As the federal government advances its plan to establish a "high-frequency" rail link between Quebec and Ontario, politicians at the provincial and municipal levels are pushing Ottawa to dream bigger.
And at least one federal official has signalled the government is open to the possibility.
Here's everything we know about the push to finally bring high-speed rail to Canada.
What is Canada's high-frequency rail project?
\u201cHigh Frequency Rail is coming to a station near you! The project will transform passenger rail service in Canada through the creation of a faster, more frequent, accessible, & sustainable rail service for Canadians living in the Quebec \u2013 Ontario corridor.\u201d— Omar Alghabra (@Omar Alghabra) 1676649234
Canada is moving forward with its plan to bring high-frequency rail (HFR; or TGF in French) to the Quebec City–Toronto corridor, including Ottawa and Montreal. The goal of high-frequency rail is to bring faster, more reliable train service between Quebec and Ontario.
VIA Rail currently only operates on CN tracks, meaning it's subject to schedule and speed constraints imposed by freight traffic.
The biggest goal — and biggest challenge — is to find a place to construct new, dedicated tracks for passenger rail between and through Canada's largest cities. That could be especially difficult in Montreal, where, federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra has said, the goal would be to bring HFR to the Gare Centrale in the middle of downtown Montreal.
The federal government has already taken steps to lay the metaphorical foundation for HFR. In December 2022, it founded a VIA Rail subsidiary to lead project planning. And Alghabra announced in February 2023 that the government had launched what's called a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to identify companies that could become candidates for construction contracts.
Transport Canada expects to begin evaluating project construction proposals in the summer of 2024.
Alghabra has promised the HFR project will see trains reach top speeds of 200 km/h, compared to VIA Rail's current range of 60 to 120 km/h. HFR could therefore reduce the current rail travel time between Montreal and Toronto by 55 minutes.
Who's calling for high-speed rail in Canada?
To achieve high-speed rail (HSR; or TGV) service, a network generally has to have trains going over 200 km/h, according to the U.S.-based Environmental and Energy Study Institute. On newer networks, the institute says the expectation is more like 250 km/h.
The prospect of HSR in the Quebec City–Toronto corridor received renewed attention in early 2023 after French manufacturer Alstom, which produces high-speed trains for France, began floating the idea.
Since then, politicians at the municipal and provincial levels in Quebec have been pressuring Ottawa to go further than its HFR project. Both Quebec Minister of Transport Geneviève Guilbault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante haveexpressed at least some support for high-speed rail.
And two Montreal city councillors, Craig Sauvé and Serge Sasseville, have introduced a motion for the city to officially advocate for HSR.
"The enthusiasm is palpable for high-speed rail in the Quebec-Toronto corridor," Sauvé said in a February 16 press release. "It would be a huge legacy for quality of life and for the environment."
Could Canada actually get high-speed rail?
Yes. At least according to Minister Alghabra.
He said on February 17 that the government is "open" to HFR trains going faster than 200 km/h, but said that it will depend on what prospective private-sector partners propose following the Request for Qualifications (RFQ).
But, he promised, "if there is a proposal to increase speed" beyond the planned 200 km/h maximum, "we will consider it."
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