Prov­ince lays down track for pos­si­ble high-speed rail line reach­ing Wind­sor

Windsor Star - - CITY - ALLISON JONES The Cana­dian Press with files from Brian Cross

The idea for a high-speed rail cor­ri­dor be­tween Toronto and Wind­sor has been talked about for decades. But now On­tario’s premier says this time it’s re­ally 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.

Wind­sor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the an­nounce­ment.

“Fif­teen mil­lion dol­lars is a lot of money and cer­tainly I think it’s a good sign they’re will­ing to move for­ward with the next phase,” he said Fri­day.

“The big de­ci­sion point is ac­tu­ally mov­ing for­ward with con­struc­tion; that’s the big-ticket item and cer­tainly that won’t be done any time in the very near fu­ture,” Dilkens said. “But they can’t move for­ward with con­struc­tion un­til they com­plete the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment.”

He said if done right, high-speed rail could greatly ben­e­fit Wind­sor, both in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and tourism. When the time to get be­tween Wind­sor and Toronto — the eco­nomic cen­tre of On­tario — gets shorter, the po­ten­tial for in­vest­ment im­proves, he said.

“If I looked at the ideal sit­u­a­tion, with con­nec­tions into the United States, to Chicago and per­haps an eastern seaboard con­nec­tion and up to Toronto and per­haps to Quebec City one day, I think it could be a game-changer.”

The gov­ern­ment says On­tario is be­lieved to be the first prov­ince to un­der­take a “rail trans­for­ma­tion” on this scale. Canada is the only G8 coun­try that doesn’t have a high­speed rail sys­tem un­der con­struc­tion or in op­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment-com­mis­sioned re­port.

Premier Kath­leen Wynne said not only will the high-speed rail link 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, 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.

Cap­i­tal costs are not gen­er­ally fully re­cov­er­able through fares, but in­ter­na­tional high-speed rail sys­tems have typ­i­cally seen rev­enues cover op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs, Col­lenette wrote.

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

MOR­RIS LA­MONT

On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne, cen­tre, with Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca and Lon­don MPP Deb Matthews, an­nounced Fri­day in Lon­don plans for a high-speed rail con­nect­ing Toronto with Wind­sor by as early as 2031.

GETTY IM­AGES

Pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work and a $15-mil­lion en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment are be­gin­ning in On­tario for a high-speed rail line that could cut the Wind­sor-to-Toronto com­mute from four hours down to two.

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