On­tario high-speed rail could roll by 2025, Col­lenette says

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - With a re­port from Bill Curry OLIVER MOORE UR­BAN TRANS­PORTA­TION RE­PORTER

On­tario is push­ing ahead with plans for a high-speed rail line, say­ing the first phase could be in ser­vice in just eight years.

Premier Kath­leen Wynne trav­elled to Lon­don, Ont., on Fri­day to an­nounce that the prov­ince would spend $15-mil­lion on an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment. She noted that the trip from Toronto took her two hours by road and said high-speed rail would cut that “sig­nif­i­cantly.”

The gov­ern­ment is act­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tions of David Col­lenette, who was ap­pointed spe­cial ad­viser for the idea. His re­port, re­leased on Fri­day, says there is a solid busi­ness case for high-speed rail run­ning be­tween Toronto and Lon­don by 2025. A later ex­ten­sion would push it to Wind­sor.

The first phase of the project – be­tween Toronto and Lon­don – is ten­ta­tively priced at $4-bil­lion in cap­i­tal cost, ac­cord­ing to Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca. This would roughly triple, he ex­plained, if “the hard and soft costs” are in­cluded. The whole project is pro­jected to cost about $20-bil­lion. It’s un­clear how this would be fi­nanced, although Mr. Col­lenette ar­gues the pri­vate sec­tor would be in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing.

“It’s a game changer for the com­mu­nity,” Lon­don Mayor Matt Brown said in a phone in­ter­view, point­ing to the eco­nomic vi­tal­ity of the re­gion. “What’s lim­it­ing growth, in many cases, is the con­ges­tion we’re see­ing.”

Oth­ers were more skep­ti­cal. Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive trans­porta­tion critic Michael Har­ris called the plan “a prom­ise in or­der to win votes” in a state­ment on Fri­day. And rail­way con­sul­tant Greg Gormick said the gov­ern­ment was of­fer­ing a “shiny” prom­ise rather than mak­ing cheaper and more prac­ti­cal moves to up­grade rail ser­vice.

“They re­ally be­lieve that the pub­lic can be bought off with the prom­ise of an ex­pen­sive sports car in the fu­ture rather than a used Chev today,” Mr. Gormick said in a phone in­ter­view.

The high-speed trains, run­ning on a mix of ded­i­cated and shared track, would be ex­pected to op­er­ate at up to 250 kilo­me­tres an hour. The re­port in­cludes a rid­er­ship pro­jec­tion – which Mr. Col­lenette said as­sumed a fare roughly 20 per cent more than that charged by GO Tran­sit – of 10 mil­lion an­nual rides by 2041.

“We’re grow­ing and we’re out­grow­ing our cur­rent trans­porta­tion net­work,” Ms. Wynne told re­porters in Lon­don. “This has been talked about for decades. … We’ve got to do it this time, folks.”

Fed­eral In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi said on Fri­day that high-speed rail in On­tario is the type of project that could be of in­ter­est to the pro­posed Canada In­fra­struc­ture Bank. The fed-

We’re grow­ing and we’re out­grow­ing our cur­rent trans­porta­tion net­work. This has been talked about for decades. … We’ve got to do it this time, folks.

Kath­leen Wynne On­tario Premier ”

eral gov­ern­ment has put for­ward leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a $35-bil­lion bank that would aim to en­cour­age pri­vate in­vestors such as pen­sion funds to take a lead role in fund­ing and own­ing ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects that have a rev­enue stream.

The dream of fast trains for On­tario and Quebec has been bat­ted around for decades – so long that it even be­came the ba­sis for a 2011 Rick Mer­cer bit on how “Canada has long been a world leader in high-speed rail study.”

The lat­est ver­sion is be­ing cham­pi­oned by Mr. Col­lenette, a for­mer fed­eral trans­port min­is­ter who was tapped by Queen’s Park to as­sess the idea’s busi­ness case. He was also the driv­ing force be­hind the Union Pear­son Ex­press air­port train, which failed to meet rid­er­ship tar­gets and was los­ing vast amounts of money be­fore the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment stepped in and cut fares. Rid­er­ship on the UPX has since gone up, but there is no longer much hope that the ser­vice will ever break even.

The On­tario gov­ern­ment had ear­lier mused about faster com­muter trains, which would not be quick enough to meet the in­dus­try stan­dard for high-speed rail. And Via Rail con­tin­ues to pitch its idea for higher-speed rail, a plan to re­duce de­lays in the most pop­u­lous area by buy­ing its own track.

Ms. Wynne ac­knowl­edged the idea’s long ges­ta­tion and said the younger gen­er­a­tion of On­tar­i­ans, who have seen fast trains else­where, won’t set­tle for more de­lays. She mod­i­fied the old apho­rism about plant­ing a tree to say that the best time to build high-speed rail was 40 years ago, but the sec­ond-best time is now.

Mr. Del Duca, who ap­peared with Ms. Wynne at the event, painted the project as a way to boost the re­gional econ­omy. He floated the idea that the train would al­low peo­ple to com­mute from Lon­don to Toronto and raised the prospect of a 73-minute jour­ney to Toronto’s Union Sta­tion.

GO Tran­sit does not cur­rently serve Lon­don, and it’s un­clear how much a fast train would cost. For com­par­i­son, a jour­ney of roughly the same dis­tance as Toronto to Lon­don on a high­speed train within France, to Paris from the city of Tours, cost a bit more than $60 for a round trip on a ran­dom week­day in June.

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