Ontario will pursue plans for a high-speed rail line along the Toronto-to-Windsor corridor, reviving a proposal that has been in the works for decades and received a boost from a recent feasibility study by former federal transport minister David Collenette.
In her announcement Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne acknowledged the history of false starts, but asserted that “we’ve got to do it this time”.
The scale and complexity of the venture will likely be one of the main obstacles to be overcome. “The proposed plan is a massive and expensive infrastructure program, and politicians have preferred in the past to get elected by promising to expand highways in their ridings, rather than rail routes,” CBC News notes. Collenette’s report pointed to “political willingness to support the huge investment over more than one election cycle”, and Paul Langan of High Speed Rail Canada agreed on the lack of political will to complete the line.
But that’s not the only challenge, CBC reports. Many of the rail lines in southwestern Ontario belong to two private companies, the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways, both of which prioritize freight over passenger service. Collenette said some sections of the high-speed route would depend on agreements with CN and CP.
Another problem, Langan told CBC, is that Canadians are used to clunky, inefficient passenger rail service. “Unless they’ve travelled somewhere in Europe or Asia and have seen it for themselves, North Americans can’t envision high-speed rail,” writes correspondent Meagan Fitzpatrick.
Perhaps as a result, “demands to ease congestion on the province’s highways have been louder than demands for high-speed rail,” she reports. “Ontario added more lanes to Highway 401 near Toronto in 2016—and that actually led to an increase in car use and congestion rather than reducing it, according to Collenette’s report.”
A high-speed rail project will also have to contend with local opposition, a multi-billion-dollar price tag, and the years it will take to deliver benefits against the cost. “While its advocates say there are many benefits to high-speed rail, the arguments may fall on deaf ears for those whose backyards might literally have a new rail line running by it,” Fitzpatrick notes.