Canadian Conservatives Again Downplay Plan for Montréal-Toronto High-Speed Link

Government will instead invest in capacity upgrades to get trains running at speeds last seen in 1973

A month and a half ago, Canadian conservatives agreed to a $3 million study for a high-speed rail link between Windsor and Québec City, via Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal, far and away Canada’s most important corridor. But their support may have been ephemeral.

Yesterday, Transport Minister John Baird said that the state would invest in upgrades to speed the connection between Montréal and Toronto, but that the government wasn’t necessarily focused on expanding the program to include a true high-speed connection between the cities.

The investments proposed so far, part of a $516 million package adopted in 2007, include two more round-trips daily between Ottawa and Montréal and infrastructure investments that will decrease the travel time between the latter city and Toronto to four hours. Today on Via Rail Canada, that trip takes between 4h40 and 5h30, depending on the time of departure. The slightly longer-distance trip between Paris and Valence in France on the TGV takes 2h10 today, so it’s obvious that the government’s investments won’t amount to anything close to true high-speed service.

Mr. Baird made clear that he wasn’t interested in moving forward quickly with high-speed plans, suggesting instead that “Before we make a $30 billion decision … what we should do is get the facts in front of us. That’s what Canadians would expect.” The problem, of course, that the facts have been considered again and again, at least 16 times since 1973. The Quebec-Windsor corridor would make for an efficient and well-used high-speed system. Studying the same-old-same-old, without a commitment of financial or political support, is not going to solve the problem.

7 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • The sad thing is that Canada can afford this project more than any other country. It had a 15-year run of fiscal austerity, so that now its debt-to-GDP ratio is the lowest in the G7 and less than half the USA’s. It could easily deficit-finance such a project as part of a fiscal stimulus program. It can also propose HSR link-ups between Montreal and New York, Toronto and New York, and Toronto and Chicago. The last one especially can do a lot to help manufacturing by increasing Michigan-Ontario integration.

  • planningpolitics

    @Alon, very true. The trouble is the current Conservative government has been dragging its heels on infrastructure spending for years. While they claim to be injecting money from the stimulus now, there’s still $7bn sitting in the bank for 2007 that hasn’t been spent yet.

    Nevertheless, the improvements they are seeking at VIA Rail are the type VIA’s board has been pushing for, and remain pretty good investments for now. Regardless of speed, just getting frequency up to world standards would be a great boon for us Canucks.

    As for true HSR, we’ll surely have a change in government by 2011, and that will be when the real progress begins.

  • I thought the Liberals weren’t much better on these issues. Chretien paid lip service to Kyoto, but made no real effort to reduce emissions. The defunding of VIA, GO, and the TTC seems to continue regardless of which party is in charge. Wasn’t it the Liberals who starved VIA of funds so that it had to cut the Canadian to three days a week?

  • planningpolitics

    No doubt that was the case. However, we must remember political parties aren’t ideologues on rail service – and those cuts were, sadly, a sign of the times. Canada is only in the excellent debt-GDP ratio you speak of because of massive sacrifices the whole country endured for 4 years in the 90s as Chretien brought the country from systemic deficit to surplus. (Canada only came back into surplus in 1998, so there were really only 10 years of surpluses, not 15).

    The difference is those cuts were pragmatic and were happening in every department across the country. They were an unfortunate necessity. And let us not forget, the same thing happened in the US under Clinton, with similar success at bringing both North American countries into fiscal health and economic prosperity. As fiscal health returned, the Liberal party did, in fact, begin to invest substantially in transit before their defeat in 2006.

    Now, we’re in a totally different situation, one we can all be excited about. After decades of global resistance to rail and investment in highways, there are telling signs that this can change. It’s unfortunate that while the UK, the US, and France move swiftly on investments in rail that the Conservative party is bucking the global trend and dragging their feet.

  • anon.

    The *current* Conservative government are a pack of slimeballs who have been doing very crooked things — frankly I’m not surprised that they’re underinvesting in infrastructure, they need that money to shovel into their own pockets.

    Perhaps a future Conservative, Liberal, Quebecois, or NDP government will do the right thing. The current one is a walking disaster and is only present thanks to suborning the Governor General and bribing opposition party members. Seriously, I can’t expect anything from them, at all.

  • Alex

    I think you are exactly right Alan, the Liberals were in no way better than the Conservatives on the issue of inter-city rail travel, and they were in power for much longer. Anon, do you base your accusation of rampant graft being why infrastructure hasn’t been better funded on anything in particular, or just a general feeling?
    I think HSR is a fantastic idea, and one that could work very well in Canada. But I think there is something to the argument that existing inter and intra city rail improvements would be a much more cost effective activity. Can we do both? Sure. But the government should be careful with out money and should invest in projects that delivers services most efficiently to tax payers. Dealing with the “low hanging fruit” type problems of the existing rail lines is likely to be such an investment.

  • Who’s Alan?

    And intercity rail doesn’t compete with intracity rail – it competes with rural highways and short-hop airlines, while intracity rail competes with buses and urban highways.

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