The Federal Government released its 2019 Budget on March 19. There had been expectations that the budget would contain a decision on the fate of VIA Rail Canada’s $4B+ High Frequency Rail (HFR) project. As discussed in our statement of October, 2018, posted on this website, this project envisions new dedicated trackage between Toronto-Ottawa (using the partially abandoned Havelock line) and between Montreal-Quebec (using north shore trackage accessed through the Mt. Royal tunnel), while improving the schedule on existing Lakeshore and South-shore routes.
Our October statement noted that the Federal Government was evaluating this and other proposals to add passenger rail capacity in this corridor. We urged the Federal Government to move forward promptly and commit to boosting passenger rail frequencies, speeds and on-time performance in this corridor.
In contrast to the expectations, the Federal Budget was silent on HFR. However, in a March 20 article in the Globe and Mail, Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne is quoted as saying “this is a project that is important from Quebec to Windsor . so we keep on working with VIA Rail” and that a range of options are being considered. Transport Minister Marc Garneau stated that the Government continues to study VIA Rail’s plan, including how HFR could work with the Montreal light rail project to both share the Mt Royal tunnel, and that funding could flow through the recently created Canada Infrastructure Bank.
Transport Action Canada is hopeful that improved passenger rail service in the corridor will be announced in the near future, with VIA Rail’s proposal enjoying cross-party support. In the meantime, we continue to celebrate the federal approval in December of nearly $1-billion to replace VIA Rail’s aging corridor fleet, as this is a necessary first step to any service improvement