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Multi-billion dollar high-frequency rail project will seek bids in fall, transport minister says

Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra announced the government will seek bids for the construction of a high-frequency rail corridor between Quebec City and Toronto this fall with a potential price tag as high as £12 billion.

(C) Provided by National Post Transport Minister Omar Alghabra:

Alghabra made the announcement at a VIA rail station in Quebec City. He travelled there by train on Monday afternoon and said while VIA offers good service, his trip and many trips are slowed by having to share the line with other trains.

Load Error “While the trip was lovely, it took a long time, including interruptions by freight traffic,” he said.

High-frequency rail sees existing passenger trains travel on dedicated tracks, which allow trains to reach their top speeds and prevent delays from freight traffic, which takes rail priority, needing to move onto the line. Alghabra did not indicate Tuesday when shovels would go in the ground, but said the government is completing the final steps and will work with industry to determine how best to tender the project, before putting out a call for bids in the fall. “The high-frequency rail project will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canada in decades, and will transform travel in a busy transportation corridor,” he said. “Our government has been doing its due diligence in assessing this project, and is ready to move to the next phase.

A phased approach will help ensure the success of this project.” Alghabra said there is still work to be done to determine the exact scope of the project, but he said he expects 90 per cent of the route will be electrified and that it will cost between £6 billion and as much as £10 or £12 billion. “The final budget will vary depending on what the final product is going to look like and that’s why right now we are starting engagement with the private sector,” he said.

No details of how the project will be funded were announced Tuesday, but the government is likely to fund it through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a program the Liberals announced in 2017 and seeded with £35 billion for infrastructure projects that might attract private investors. A federal election is widely expected to take place this fall, which means moving ahead on the project will be something Liberals will be able to dangle before voters along the proposed route. Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, the party’s critic for transportation, said the announcement doesn’t offer any substance.

She said the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which is expected to fund this project, has not delivered. “Under Justin Trudeau, the failure of the Canadian Infrastructure Bank has been catastrophic for the completion of infrastructure projects. Canadians deserve modern transportation infrastructure.

This requires more than just hollow promises, re-announcements and more consultations. Conservatives are committed to building the transit systems that Canadians need,” she said in an email. When completed, the project is expected to shave time off train trips, removing as much as 90 minutes for a trip between Toronto and Ottawa as an example, as trains could travel up to 200 kilometres per hour.

While that corridor is VIA’s busiest route, it is still heavily subsidized by taxpayers, with Ottawa subsidizing every passenger by more than £30. The government projects that high-frequency service would triple the number of passengers taking the trains. The trains won’t move as quickly as high-speed trains, which move on specialized tracks and go in excess of 300 kilometres an hour.

Alghabra said the government considered a high-speed system, but the travel time would improve only slightly with significantly higher outlay. “Having studied high-frequency and high-speed rail, we concluded the high-frequency offers the best options for Canadians,” he said. “The high-speed rail would cost significantly more, and would take a lot more time to build.” Twitter: RyanTumilty

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