High-speed rail in Canada

Canada is the only G7 country that does not have high-speed rail.[1] In the press and popular discussion, there have been two routes frequently proposed as suitable for a high-speed rail corridor:

Other proposed routes include a possible international high-speed rail link between Montreal and Boston or New York City discussed by regional leaders, though little progress has been made.[2][3][4] On April 10, 2008, an advocacy group, High Speed Rail Canada,[5] was formed to promote and educate Canadians on the benefits of high-speed rail in Canada.[6]

Early high-speed rail in Canada

CN Rail placed some early hopes with the UAC TurboTrain, in its Toronto–Montreal route during the 1960s. The TurboTrain was a true HST with the train sets achieving speeds as high as 201 km/h (125 mph) in regular service. The Turbo went 225 km/h in a speed run April 26, 1976.[7] Evidence exists that the CN TurboTrain obtained even higher speeds in test runs in 1968-69.[8]

CN's, and later Via Rail's, TurboTrain service were marred with lengthy interruptions to address design problems and having to cope with poor track quality (accounted for by dual passenger-freight use); as such, the trains were operated at 161 km/h (100 mph). The TurboTrain featured the latest technology advances such as passive coach tilting, Talgo attachment for rigid coach articulation and gas turbine power. The units were plagued with technical and reliability issues and were ultimately retired by 1982.

Beginning in the 1970s, a consortium of several companies started to study Bombardier Transportation's LRC, which was a more conventional approach to high-speed rail, in having separate cars and locomotives, rather than being an articulated train. Pulled by heavy conventional-technology diesel-electric locomotives designed for 201 km/h (125 mph) normal operating speed, inspired by the British InterCity 125, it entered full-scale service in 1981 for Via Rail, linking cities in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, but at speeds never exceeding the 160 km/h (99 mph) limit mandated by line signalling. It was the world's first active tilting train in commercial service.


The Calgary–Edmonton Corridor is about 300 km (190 mi) long and takes about three hours to traverse by car via the Queen Elizabeth II Highway.

A 2011 update to a 2004 study by the Van Horne Institute[9] concluded that "high-speed rail would bring significant benefits to the Calgary–Edmonton corridor and Alberta as a whole". The report also stated that the project would "generate between $3.7 and $6.1 billion in quantifiable benefits". The study considered three options:

  1. Upgrade of an existing Canadian Pacific freight route to allow trains up to 240 km/h (150 mph) using Bombardier's JetTrain, costing approximately $2.5 billion.
  2. A new dedicated passenger route, known as the "Green Field" route, also using the JetTrain, and costing approximately $3.7 billion.
  3. An electrified version of the Green Field route, using TGV-style trains running at 300 km/h (190 mph), costing approximately $5 billion.

The report also found that there was little incremental benefit in running at 300 km/h (190 mph) rather than 240 km/h (150 mph), and therefore recommended the first option.

On September 22, 2006, the government of Alberta announced that it was deploying video cameras along a stretch of the Queen Elizabeth Highway to measure the number of cars that travel between the two cities.[10]

The Calgary Herald announced on April 18, 2007, that the provincial government had purchased land in downtown Calgary for a possible station or terminal.[11] On April 7, 2011, Premier Ed Stelmach said that the land being purchased for the new location of the Royal Alberta Museum could be used as the Edmonton terminal.[12]

In 2011, Alberta premier Alison Redford said that the high-speed rail was a priority for her, saying "such an initiative could unite the province and send a message to Canada and the world about Alberta’s progress."[13] However, during the 2012 Alberta provincial election campaign, none of the four main party leaders would say that they deny the need for one, but are saying that it is a "maybe." In other words, it may take years to resolve the issue.[14]

The Standing Committee on Alberta's economic future studied the feasibility of high-speed rail between Calgary and Edmonton in 2014. The committee also held hearings on the subject in early 2014 in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.

The report released in May 2014 stated that although Alberta was not ready for high-speed rail, the government should start planning for it by acquiring land along a transportation corridor.[15]

In 2015, the provincial NDP government stated it was reviving the possibility of a bullet train operating between Edmonton and Calgary. The Minister of Infrastructure, Brian Mason, said the government had issued a request for a proposal to undertake the planning and implementation of a study "to determine the future needs for the QE II highway" due to high traffic volumes. "The high-speed train between Edmonton and Calgary is something that we're beginning to ask about," said Mason. The line would cost between $2.6 and $7 billion depending on the type of technology used. Annual operating costs of a high-speed rail line are estimated to be anywhere from $88 million to $129 million.[16][17] Via Rail has stated that such projects 'pay for themselves.' and that the government should invest more in the Canadian rail industry. The Liberal government of Canada has also endorsed and prioritized investing heavily in national and provincial infrastructure projects.[18]

Quebec City–Windsor

The Quebec–Windsor Corridor is the most densely populated and heavily industrialized region of Canada. With over 18 million people, it contains approximately half of Canada's population, the national capital, and three of the five largest metropolitan areas in Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa–Gatineau). It is already the focus of most Via Rail service. There have been several proposals for a high-speed service, such as ViaFast, but no action has been taken so far. However, the former leader of the Liberal Party, Stéphane Dion, said in 2007 that he was in favour of developing a high-speed rail system as a way to fight climate change.[19] A high-speed line along this corridor could potentially provide international HSR services to the United States by connecting to the proposed Chicago and Ohio Hub Networks of the U.S. high-speed network. The intercity traffic in the area is currently served by several highways, Via Rail, and several airports. This corridor's population density is comparable to the Rhône River valley where the French TGV operates.

Early proposals

In 1998, the Lynx consortium, including Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin proposed a 320 km/h (200 mph) high-speed train from Toronto to Quebec City via Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal based on the TGV and the French Turbo-Train technology.

In 2000, Bombardier developed the JetTrain. The high-speed train prototype generates its power to turn the wheels with a 5,000-horsepower (3.7 MW) Pratt and Whitney turbine. The Jet Train visited Calgary and Toronto in March 2003. The prototype then visited Miami on 7 October 2003 and Orlando on the 11th. After these promotional stops in the United States and Canada, no government purchased the Jet Train. The prototype is stored serviceable at the AAR/FRA Transportation Technology Center, Inc., at Pueblo, Colorado, United States.

2008 study

On January 10, 2008, Dalton McGuinty (Premier of Ontario), and Jean Charest (Premier of Quebec) announced their two provinces would conduct a joint $2 million feasibility study into the development of high-speed rail in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor. The federal government agreed to participate in the study.[20][21] In February 2009, The EcoTrain Consortium, consisting of firms Dessau, MMM Group, KPMG, Wilbur Smith & Associates and Deutsche Bahn International, were awarded a contract to update the feasibility studies for high-speed rail (HSR) in the Quebec City–Windsor corridor. The study was expected to take a year,[22][23] but was delayed.[24] Michael Ignatieff, then-leader of the Liberal Party said in 2011 that he would agree to fund the Quebec corridor and described it as a means to unite the country, similar to early railway projects in Canada.[25] His NDP counterpart, Jack Layton, also pledged to fund the route.[26]

When the results of the study were released October 17, 2011, by the citizens group High Speed Rail Canada,[27] it revealed results for two technology alternatives: diesel traction and electric traction. Diesel traction would provide speeds of 200 km/h and would cost $18.9 billion for an entire Windsor–Quebec City system; a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system would cost $9.1 billion. Electric traction would provide speeds of 300 km/h and would cost $21.3 billion for an entire Windsor–Quebec City system; a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system would cost $11 billion. The study further revealed that a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system is the most economically viable section and could generate a positive net economic benefit using either diesel or electric traction.[28]

After the report had been released, politicians and Chamber in Windsor area argued that having the less-expensive "higher speed rail" connection between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor must be part of the consideration. Detroit is already part of higher speed rail initiative in the United States to connect to Chicago, Illinois, and to St. Louis, Missouri. They suggested that a study to include cross-border connection would account for greater economic impact.[29][30]

Developments after 2014

In an interview with CBC Radio on April 15, 2014, ahead of the 2014 Ontario general election, Ontario Minister of Transportation Glen Murray announced that high-speed rail will be constructed between London, Kitchener, and Toronto within 10 years.[31] Still in the planning stages, discussed stops included the downtown cores of these cities, and Terminal 2 of Pearson Airport. Further details were released by Murray in a speech April 30, 2014, in London.[32] Select results from a study prepared by a London, England–based consultancy, First Class Partnerships, was released to the public. The FCP study considered a range of options including continuing the existing service with LRC trains, incremental upgrading of the existing line with faster and more diesels, and construction of new sections of line.[33] However the full FCP study was not publicly released.

In an interview with 'International Rail Journal' on May 2, 2014, FCP disclosed a few further details.[34] Unlike the earlier EcoTrain study, which proposed to build a completely separate line for HSR, FCP proposed to share the existing rail corridor from Toronto to Georgetown which is being upgraded with 4 to 6 tracks and will be electrified for use by GO regional trains and Toronto's Union Pearson Express. In addition the FCP noted substantial traffic potential for a HSR line between Kitchener/Waterloo and Toronto. This contrasts with EcoTrain, which dismissed that corridor as being too short a trip to be attractive for HSR. FCP also noted the route from Kitchener to London would be across "open countryside" and reduce land acquisition issues. Murray said that next step was to prepare an environmental impact statement, and that the line might be implemented within 8 years. The project faced significant technical and political challenges. HSR trains will need to share tracks with GO regional, freight, and airport express trains. Between Bramalea and Georgetown, HSR trains will share the corridor with the Canadian National Railways main line.

On October 2014, High Speed Rail Canada announced that it would release to the public a number of feasibility studies done on the corridor. One was the FCP study of a line between London and Toronto[35] and the other was a study was done by the SNCF and funded by cities along the Quebec–Windsor Corridor for a HSR line between Windsor and Quebec City.[27]

On December 5, 2014, the MTO has approved to start an environmental assessment on the best route for a high speed rail connecting Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor for 2015.[36] On October 30, 2015 the Government of Ontario announced that David Collenette would be the special advisor for high-speed rail.[37] Collenette delivered the Special Advisor's Final Report to the provincial government on December 2, 2016,[38]

On May 19, 2017, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transport Minister Steven Del Duca announced the first steps in having a high-speed rail route in place by 2025 from Toronto to London, extending to Windsor by 2031, based on the recommendations on Collenette's report. The environmental assessment for this will reportedly be coordinated with the Metrolinx project to enable two-way, all-day GO Transit trains to Kitchener and will be sharing that corridor. Premiere Wynne also said that design and planning will commence "immediately" along with the assessment. The announcement was criticized as a re-election tactic in anticipation for the 2018 Ontario general election as the Liberal Party announced similar plans in 2014, also ahead of a general election that same year.[39] However, with the election of a majority government for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the future of the high-speed rail proposal inherited from the Liberal Party became uncertain.[40][41] In late 2018, it was reported that the new Ford government, while not outright cancelling the high-speed rail proposal, was expanding its scope to include alternatives such as increased Via Rail service, more bus capacity or improved highway infrastructure.[42] The 2019 provincial budget paused all funding for the high-speed rail proposal.[43]

Other proposed routes


The Pacific Northwest Corridor is one of ten high-speed rail corridors proposed by the United States federal government. If the 750 km (466 mi) corridor were completed as proposed, 180 km/h (110 mph) passenger trains would travel from Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, in 2 hours 30 minutes, and from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2 hours 50 minutes. Dedicated line parallel to existing tracks would decrease this time into 1 hour, with 400 km/h (250 mph) speed.

Montreal–United States

(Montreal–Boston or New York via Albany)

In 2000, the United States Federal Railroad Administration proposed an accelerated line (200 km/h (124 mph)) between Boston and Montreal in order to link with the Acela Express and Northeast Regional service from Washington, D.C. to Boston and to serve northern New England communities along the route. The first phase of the study, which included public hearings, was conducted in 2002 with the participation of the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The second phase of the study was cancelled after New Hampshire withdrew its support.

In the 1970s, the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, announced his project to build a TGV (high-speed line) to New York in order to replace the slow and unreliable Adirondack service operated by Amtrak. More recently, Mayor Bourque tried to revive the TGV to New York project.[44] The topic has also been discussed between the governor of New York and the premier of Quebec, but no progress has been made since a pre-feasibility study conducted in 2003.[45] The line is problematic because most of the investment would need to be made through the sparsely populated Adirondack Mountains north of Albany. Between Albany and New York, relatively fast and frequent rail service is already available.

See also


  1. "Off the Rails – How Canada fell from leader to laggard in high-speed rail, and why that needs to change". The Walrus Foundation. June 2009. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  2. Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS), State of Vermont, Boston to Montreal High-Speed Rail (BMHSR) Planning and Feasibility Study
  3. Archived May 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. Mordecai, Adam. "This Future Map Of The United States Is Way Cooler Than Any Current Map Of The United States". Upworthy. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  5. "High Speed Rail Canada Homepage". Highspeedrail.ca. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  6. "High Speed Rail Canada Citizens Advocacy Group and Website Forms". Marketwire.com. 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  7. Langan, High Speed Rail Canada Paul. "TURBO TRAIN – Still Canada's Fastest High Speed Train". Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  8. Langan, High Speed Rail Canada Paul. "Did the CN TurboTrain Reach Speeds of 273 km/h in Test Runs?". Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  9. "Cost Update for Calgary/Edmonton High Speed Rail: An Integrated Economic Region | Van Horne Institute". Vanhorne.info. Archived from the original on 2016-01-17. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  10. "High-speed rail topic of survey". Calgary Sun. 2006-09-22.
  11. "Land bought for rail terminal". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 2007-12-18.
  12. "Downtown Edmonton site of new RAM". Edmonton Journal. April 7, 2011. Archived from the original on April 10, 2011. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  13. Gerein, Keith. "High-speed rail on premier's agenda". Edmonton Post. Archived from the original on February 10, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  14. Audette, Trish (April 12, 2012). "Alberta's political leaders say 'maybe' to high-speed train between Calgary and Edmonton". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2012-05-05.
  15. Langan, Paul (2014-05-24). "Train à grande vitesse au Canada : HIGH SPEED RAIL CANADA posts 2014 Alberta High Speed Rail Feasibility Study". High Speed Rail Canada. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  16. http://www.edmontonsun.com/2015/10/28/alberta-ndp-looking-into-speed-train-possibilities
  17. http://www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2015/10/28/transportation-minister-hints-at-calgary-to-edmonton-rail.html
  18. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/high-speed-rail-belongs-in-liberals-infrastructure-discussion/article27059566/
  19. "Canada Sees Climate Change Dollar Signs". Global Cool. Archived from the original on December 18, 2007. Retrieved February 11, 2007.
  20. "Via Rail says snowfall behind spike in ridership | CTV News". Ctv.ca. 2008-01-10. Archived from the original on 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  21. "Governments revive plans for high-speed trains between Quebec, Ontario". CBC News. January 10, 2008.
  22. "Ontario Ministry of Transportation | Québec City-Windsor high-speed rail study". Newswire.ca. 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  23. "It's time, finally, for Windsor-Quebec City high-speed rail rink". Dailycommercialnews.com. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  24. Langan, Paul (2010-04-13). "High Speed Rail Canada – Train à grande vitesse au Canada : April 2010". Highspeedrailcanada.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  25. Martin Oulette (14 March 2011). "Ignatieff says his Libs would consider financial funding for Quebec City arena". Winnipeg Free Press.
  26. "Layton touts NDP as federalist option in Quebec". Ctv.ca. Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  27. "High Speed Rail Canada Releases the 2010 SNCF International Socio economic study of High Speed Rail Implementation on the Quebec – Windsor Corridor :: Wire Service Media". Wireservice.ca. 2010-05-30. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  28. "High-speed Quebec City-Windsor rail link could cost $21.3B | CTV News". Ctv.ca. 2011-11-15. Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  29. "Windsor politicians disagree with rail study". CBCNews. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  30. Hall, Dave (17 November 2011). "Chamber urges rail rethink" (PDF). Windsor Star. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  31. "Liberals promise high speed rail in Kitchener within 10 years". CBCNews. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  32. "Liberals to study 71-minute Toronto, Kitchener, London rail trip". CNCNews. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  33. "2014 Glenn Murray HighSpeed Presentation.pdf – Google Drive". Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  34. "Ontario Government Backs Toronto-London HSL". Railjournal.com. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  35. Langan, Paul (2014-10-30). "Train à grande vitesse au Canada : High Speed Rail Canada to Release Toronto – Kitchener – London High Speed Rail Preliminary Business Plan by FCPWorld". High Speed Rail Canada. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  36. "Newsroom : Ontario Moving Forward With High-Speed Rail". 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  37. "Special Advisor, High Speed Rail". 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2015-11-01.
  38. "High Speed Rail in Ontario: Transforming mobility, connecting communities, integrating centres of innovation and fostering regional economic growth and development". 2016-12-02. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  39. "High-speed rail between Toronto and London by 2025, premier says". 2017-05-19. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  40. "Are the Tories going to take a second look at high-speed rail?". TVO. 2018-08-31. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  41. "High-speed rail may be a long shot for cost-cutting Ford goverment [sic]". The London Free Press. 2018-07-04. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  42. "Ontario considers alternative options for high-speed rail | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  43. "Ford government pauses high-speed rail funding, looking to enhance current services | Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 2019-04-15. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  44. "Pierre Bourque intéressé par le projet d'un TGV entre Montréal et New York". Lcn.canoe.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-14. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  45. Archived September 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

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