Canada:Rail Advocate Hails Proposed Ontario-Quebec Line a ‘Tourist Train’ to the ‘Binterland’
An Ontario passenger rail advocate has called VIA Rail Canada’s proposed $4-billion plan for a high-frequency rail (HFR) service between Ontario and Quebec “seriously flawed” ahead of Tuesday’s budget where it could receive federal approval.
High Speed Rail Canada founder Paul Langan lays out in a column a variety of issues, from safety concerns to secrecy around pricing and the number of stations.
However, Langan’s main complaint is that the trains will travel at “through sparsely-populated areas on an abandoned Ontario-Quebec Railway line” instead of offering a more efficient commute between Toronto and Montreal — its main hubs.
The proposed HFR project would include a new fleet of trains and dedicated tracks to increase reliability. The route would go from Toronto to Ottawa via Peterborough and Montreal to Quebec City via Trois Rivieres and the upgrade would take four years to complete.
In a recent interview with the Toronto Sun, Langan said we lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to high-speed rail service, and said the proposed HFR route wouldn’t improve travel time between Toronto and Montreal because it isn’t direct.
”You’re going to be on the same tracks as you had been before,” Langan said.
He said the new route is good for Peterborough, but then it becomes a “tourist train” to the “hinterland.”
“I mean they abandoned (the track) 50 years ago for a reason,” the Cambridge, Ont., resident said.
VIA’s own data bears this out to some degree.
According to an emailed statement from the Crown corporation, a trip from Montreal to Toronto on the proposed HFR service is estimated to take around four hours and 45 minutes — only 19 minutes faster than on a current train.
And this is slower than in the 1970s, Langan pointed out, when we had a turbo train that could make the trip in about four hours.
However, for other parts of the route, such as Toronto-Ottawa and Montreal-Quebec, travel time would improve by more than an hour. And the frequency would increase.
“VIA Rail would continue to operate the existing routes, as part of the HFR, residents along the Toronto-Kingston-Montreal-Drummondville-Quebec corridor would see improved scheduling and service tailored to their community’s needs,” VIA said in the email.
In the case of Montreal-Toronto, VIA said there would be 15 departures a day instead of six.
But Langan said there are other options.
“CP has a main line that runs between Toronto and Montreal right next to CN and their traffic is down to a standstill,” he said. “It’s only a question of time and years before you could buy that track.”
Langan added VIA is vague on pricing are where the stops would be. He shows two route maps in his column from 2017 and 2019 with the latter showing less stations.
VIA said in its statement that it is in talks with communities determine where the stops would go.
As for pricing, while VIA wouldn’t offer a full run-down of fares but said it was committed to offering affordable fares, and that an Toronto-Ottawa ticket would start at $48.
VIA started the development of the plan in 2014 and the federal budgets of 2016 and 2018 collectively provided $11.3 million to Transport Canada to study the plan.