On­tario eyes high-speed rail

Toronto-Wind­sor trains would go up to 250km/h

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ONTARIO NEWS - AL­LI­SON JONES

A high-speed rail cor­ri­dor be­tween Toronto and Wind­sor, Ont., is in the works — an idea floated in On­tario for decades, but the premier says this time it’s hap­pen­ing.

A gov­ern­ment-com­mis­sioned re­port look­ing at the fea­si­bil­ity of such a project pegs the cost around $20 bil­lion and sug­gests look­ing to the pri­vate sec­tor for op­por­tu­ni­ties to part­ner on fund­ing.

Pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work and a $15-mil­lion en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment are be­gin­ning, with an aim of full service in 2031. The gov­ern­ment hopes that by 2041 the rail line would see 10 mil­lion users an­nu­ally and take more than five mil­lion cars off south­west­ern On­tario high­ways.

Trains on the planned rail link would travel up to 250 kilo­me­tres per hour, which is ex­pected to cut travel times be­tween Toronto and Wind­sor from four hours to two.

The gov­ern­ment says On­tario is be­lieved to be the first prov­ince to un­der­take a “rail trans­for­ma­tion” on this scale.

Premier Kath­leen Wynne said not only will it save peo­ple time, but it will serve as an eco­nomic driver along a cor­ri­dor that is home to more than seven mil­lion peo­ple and over 60 per cent of On­tario’s eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

High-speed rail has been de­bated since the 1970s, with ex­cuses that the coun­try is too large, the pop­u­la­tion is too small, and it’s not worth it, but it needs to hap­pen now, Wynne said.

“We have lost op­por­tu­ni­ties as a prov­ince be­cause we haven’t had this line in place,” she said Fri­day in Lon­don, Ont., a mid-point for the rail route.

“I get that there’s go­ing to be a ro­bust con­ver­sa­tion about how much it will cost — how much the project will cost, how much peo­ple will pay — we ob­vi­ously are go­ing to work to keep the costs down in ev­ery way pos­si­ble, but we’ve got to move ahead. We’ve got to not let this be an­other lost mo­ment. We’ve got to do it this time, folks.”

On­tario’ s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive trans­porta­tion critic dis­missed the an­nounce­ment as a re-elec­tion ploy.

“South­west­ern On­tario has been wait­ing on high-speed rail for years,” Michael Harris said in a state­ment. “Now, a year out from the elec­tion, the Wynne Lib­er­als have shown up in Lon­don to re­an­nounce an­other tran­sit project they will never de­liver on.”

Pro­vin­cial New Democrats rep­re­sent­ing south­west­ern On­tario rid­ings is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties “are won­der­ing to­day whether this is just an­other hol­low elec­tion prom­ise.”

In 2015, the gov­ern­ment tapped a spe­cial ad­viser on high-speed rail to as­sess the pos­si­bil­ity of such a project, and David Col­lenette con­cluded there is a busi­ness case for it. It would al­le­vi­ate pres­sure on the heav­ily-trav­elled High­way 401, free up air travel ca­pac­ity by less­en­ing the need for short-haul flights and spur re­gional de­velop­ment, he wrote.

Col­lenette, a for­mer fed­eral trans­porta­tion min­is­ter, rec­om­mended the first phase con­nect Toronto and Lon­don by 2025, then ex­tend the line to Wind­sor in a sec­ond phase.

The train would travel be­tween Toronto’s Union Sta­tion and Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Guelph, Kitch­ener, Lon­don, Chatham and Wind­sor.

Col­lenette looked at the pos­si­bil­ity of a line op­er­at­ing mostly on a ded­i­cated right-of-way with top speeds to 300 kilo­me­tres per hour, but found it would have been more ex­pen­sive than a line op­er­at­ing on a mixed-use rail­way.

A new pub­lic en­tity will be es­tab­lished to over­see the project.

FILE PHOTO

Premier Kath­leen Wynne says On­tario wants to be the first prov­ince to un­der­take a “rail trans­for­ma­tion.”

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