Ontario government unveils ambitious $21B high-speed rail plan
The Liberals have committed $15M to an environmental assessment of proposed line that would run between Toronto and Windsor.
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High-speed rail is finally picking up steam in Ontario.
After years of talk, the provincial government on Friday committed $15 million for a “comprehensive environmental assessment” for a rail line on new and existing track to handle 250 km/h trains running between Toronto and Windsor.
The estimated $21-billion project would slash the travel time from four hours to two.
“This is an idea that has been around a very long time. This has been talked about for decades. The best time to build high speed rail was 40 years ago. The second best time is today,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne in London, Ont.
“We need to get moving on this. We’ve got to do it this time, folks,” said Wynne, adding people want “action” not more “excuses” by politicians for not building fast trains.
The premier announced a new governing body to oversee the design and implementation of the rail line with planned stops at Union Station, Pearson International Airport, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph London, Chatham, and Windsor.
A first phase between Toronto and London could be up and running within eight years and the London to Windsor stage could be ready for 2031.
At $60 million per kilometre, the 350-km line would be a relative bargain compared to the planned one-stop 6.2-km Scarborough subway extension that has ballooned to $3.4 billion.
“Building high speed rail along the Toronto-Windsor corridor isn’t just a game changer for southwestern Ontario — it’s going to deliver benefits all along the line,” Wynne told reporters.
“The Toronto-Windsor corridor is home to over seven million people and 60 per cent of Ontario’s economy. At its centre is London. We’re outgrowing our current transportation network,” said the premier, noting young people are especially keen on low-carbon transportation alternatives.
Wynne said 10 million passengers a year could be using the line by 2041.
“Whether it means accepting a job that previously seemed too far away, visiting family more often or having ready access to the innovators who can take your business growth to the next level — high-speed rail will make a real difference in people’s lives and drive economic growth and jobs.”
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca noted that an extensive provincial report released Friday concluded there is a business case for high speed rail along the Toronto-Windsor corridor.
“This is a precedent-setting project. We want to make sure fundamentally that we get this right,” said Del Duca, predicting commuters could travel between London and Union Station in 73 minutes, a trip that can currently take three hours.
The report – prepared by former federal transport minister David Collenette, Ontario’s special advisor on high speed rail – suggested the private sector could help finance and build the massive project.
“There have been thorough market soundings with the private sector, organized by Infrastructure Ontario,” wrote Collenette, referring to the government agency that oversees the financing and construction of hospitals, court houses, and the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
“All of this work has led me to the conclusion that a business case exists for HSR (high speed rail) in the corridor, which would connect Toronto, Pearson Airport, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Chatham and Windsor,” he continued.
“I have also concluded that there are opportunities to engage the private sector in financing and delivering the project.”
Collenette pointed out the line could effectively pay for itself in improving efficiencies for Ontarians over the next few generations.
“Overall, HSR will yield over $20 billion in economic benefits over 60 years from passenger travel time savings, automobile operating cost savings, GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction benefits, benefits from reduced congestion on roads, and other wider economic benefits,” he wrote.
Such a scheme would also help the Liberals politically.
With an election set for June 7, 2018, the governing party is desperate to hold its one southwestern Ontario seat – London North Centre, which is represented by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.
Matthews, who Wynne praised for championing the project at cabinet, said the announcement is “good news” for London’s economy.
High speed rail would also be popular in Kitchener and could be helpful to MPP Daiene Vernile (Kitchener Centre) and Natural Resources Minister Kathryn McGarry (Cambridge).
Premiers have long promised high speed rail, which is commonplace in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and China.
In 2008, former premiers Dalton McGuinty of Ontario and Jean Charest of Quebec commissioned a joint feasibility study of a line from Quebec City to Windsor.
“This has been talked about for quite some time, but every once in a while there’s an idea whose time actually comes,” McGuinty said nine years ago.
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