Canada plans high-frequency railway between Toronto and Quebec

The government of Canada yesterday said it was moving ahead with an ambitious plan to build a high-frequency passenger rail service between Toronto and Quebec City, some 806km apart, connecting Peterborough, Ottawa, Montreal and other urban centres in the country’s most densely populated region.

One of the biggest infrastructure projects there in decades, the service is targeted to begin operating in 2030 with a private sector partner.

Trains could travel at up to 177km/h, cutting travel times from Ottawa to Toronto to as low as 3 hours and 15 minutes from the current 4 hours and 30 minutes.

More than cutting journey times, the so-called High-Frequency Rail (HFR) scheme is intended to solve chronic delays, low frequency departures and disruptions along the corridor arising from the fact that existing tracks are heavily used by freight trains.

With new passenger tracks, operator Via Rail believes it can triple passenger departures and improve on-time-arrival performance from an average of 67% now to 95%.

Via Rail’s map of the proposed new railway, with new dedicated passenger tracks shown in blue (Via Rail)

The HFR plan envisages the number of train trips taken in the corridor each year to rise from 4.8 million in 2019 to 17 million by 2059.

Canada’s federal transport agency Transport Canada began assessing the plan in 2016, since when C$82.4m has been spent on its development.

In 2019, a joint project office was established between the Canada Infrastructure Bank and Via Rail to spearhead it.

Yesterday’s announcement committed authorities to get feedback from Indigenous communities about the project and consult with the private sector on capacity and delivery models.

The government plans to finalise the delivery model and launch the process to select a private partner in autumn this year.

"Canadians deserve a fast and reliable train service," said transport minister Omar Alghabra, adding: "High Frequency Rail in the Toronto to Quebec City Corridor is a massive transportation project with the potential to transform passenger rail service by offering faster, more reliable, more frequent, and cleaner transportation service."

Top image: Quebec city at night with the Château Frontenac, an historic railway hotel, lit up (Wilfredor/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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