Canada Considers Québec-Windsor HSR Corridor, Again

High-speed line running through Toronto and Montréal getting another think-over

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday that Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is frowning on the idea of a high-speed rail line between Québec City and Windsor, via Montréal and Toronto, reports the Canadian Press. Mr. McGuinty, along with his centrist Liberal Party ally Québec Premier Jean Charest, have been strong supporters of the line, which would do quite a bit to connect the biggest cities in the two provinces. Mr. Harper’s conservative party has been notoriously uninterested in the project over the past twenty years of proposals, though recently the conservatives made a few moves that indicated they were interested in supporting the line.

Conservatives have agreed to spend $3 million to study the 1,200 km corridor once again. It will be considered by Wilbur Smith, an engineering consulting firm; Deutsche Bahn, the German rail operator; and a few other groups. According to the Toronto Star, the corridor has been studied at least 16 times since 1973. Ontario’s NDP Party leader Howard Hampton, on the left of Canada’s political spectrum, criticised the government’s reluctance to get moving:

“They’re going to study it again? You don’t need to study it again. The biggest issue is purchasing all of the land and purchasing some of the rail bed that belongs to CN or CP that you need to make this run… Everybody wants to study it because they think it will give them a good headline. We’re long past the study stage. Where’s the money to start doing it?”

The project, which I ranked as relatively worthwhile in the transport politic’s study of high-speed corridors,  would cost upwards of $30 billion if built at international high-speed standards, using electric propulsion and 200 mph trainsets. It would require a massive federal government intervention that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from the ruling conservatives, but it would reduce the travel time between Canada’s two biggest metropolises from 4h today to 2h18. Air traffic between the cities likely would, based on international experience, be almost entirely replaced by train travel.

The Québec-Windsor line has become Canada’s top rail priority over the past few years after Québec province dropped its efforts for a fast line between Montréal and New York City. Long-time Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau dreamed of implementing such a corridor and saw it as the third step in realizing his city’s dominance over rival Toronto, after the successful Expo ’67 and less praised (and very expensive) ’76 Olympics there. Those dreams have slowly faded as Montréal’s position compared to Toronto has diminished since the 1970s as a result of anglophone business moving to the latter city because of fears of a French Québeçois secession.

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