The federal government has slowed down the schedule for a faster passenger train that will run from Toronto to Quebec City.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said on Thursday he expects the high-frequency rail line to be operational by the mid-2030s, rather than the early 2030s, which he projected in March.
“The forecast is that I would love to see the service up and running in the mid-2030s. That’s where we expect the service to be ready,” he told reporters, with construction starting “within a few years.”
“But it’s a long process, I know. But this is the best way to do it, because we want to do it right.” Alghabra said.
At a press conference at Montreal Central Station, the minister announced a request for proposals from three consortia that were shortlisted, the latest step in a venture announced in July 2021.
That year, Alghabra pegged the likely cost at between $6 billion and $12 billion. But on Thursday, he declined to put an approximate price on the company, saying the government will first have to evaluate the proposals.
“While I can get an idea of the total number, I also wouldn’t want to give Canadians an inaccurate number that I then have to change,” he said.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodríguez, a lieutenant of the Liberals in Quebec, said that a high-speed rail corridor — requested by some politicians in that province — that reaches peaks of up to 300 km/h is not feasible, given the number of stops the trains will make.
A high-speed rail corridor could require hundreds of millions of dollars in underpass construction alone, as the zip lines would not be able to accommodate highway junctions, said Vincent Robitaille, Transport Canada’s deputy deputy minister for high-frequency rail. Other infrastructure, such as continuous fencing, would also be necessary, along with the involvement of a group of local and provincial governments.
With a top speed of about 200 km/h, Via Rail’s trains will run on mostly new tracks on land largely owned by Canada’s two rail giants, CN and CP, he said.
“We can’t add more trains right now,” hence the need for more frequent and faster rail service, Robitaille said. “Freight trains make (passenger) trains slower. But it also limits the number of trains you can have.”
Passenger cars are expected to pass through Montreal, Trois-Rivières and other Quebec and Ontario municipalities that lie between Toronto and Quebec City at speeds of up to 200 km/h. The corridor would also include stops in Ottawa and Peterborough.
The three consortia selected to submit proposals are: Cadence, which includes SNC-Lavalin and its largest investor, the Québec Deposit and Placement Box, which manages the province’s public pension fund; Intercity Rail Developers, which includes Hatch and EllisDon; and QConnexiON Rail Partners, which includes WSP Canada and Toronto-based infrastructure investor Fengate.
Alghabra said it hopes to select a partner next summer.