High-speed trains could be barrelling between Toronto and Southwestern Ontario within the next 10 years, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced today in London and Kitchener.

Ontario's Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and the Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, joined the premier at events in the two cities, officially kicking off the preliminary design process for the proposed service. The provincial government is spending $15 million on an environmental assessment to determine the specifications of the fast trains, which it intends to have operating between Toronto and London by 2025 and Windsor by 2031.

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorBombardier and Alstom are working together to develop new high-speed trains for Amtrak in the United States, image, Bombardier

The province also released a report by David Collenette, its special advisor on high-speed rail. The report by the former federal transport minister concludes that a strong business case supports construction of such a line and anticipates 10 million annual riders by 2041. Collenette's report proposes trains operating at 250 kilometres per hour (155 miles per hour) at a cost of $55 million per kilometre. Under this scenario, passengers could travel between Windsor and Toronto in just two hours, instead of four hours with the current train service. A journey between London and Toronto would be slightly longer than an hour, similar to the time for a GO train trip from Union Station to Hamilton or Barrie.

According to the report, HSR (high-speed rail) "will be a transformative investment in transportation infrastructure for Ontario, which in turn will trigger economic growth and development. Communities along the corridor have highlighted HSR as being critical to the economic potential of the corridor and its long-term prosperity.

"In particular, London and the Region of Waterloo have advocated strongly for frequent and fast rail services to support the growth of their high-tech industries. In North America, the Toronto-London portion of the Innovation SuperCorridor is one of the top regions in terms of the rate of technology start-ups and growth in technology employment. Currently this corridor lacks the required frequent, efficient transportation linkages to support Ontario's position as a leader in the knowledge economy."

A government news release adds, "With high speed rail expanding Ontario's innovation supercorridor to Windsor, businesses will be able to attract the best talent, increase their productivity and support a low-carbon innovation economy."

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorProposed high-speed rail network in Ontario, image, Government of Ontario

The report also cites the advantages of opening up housing opportunities in Southwestern Ontario as a way to take pressure off the overheated housing market in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, while continuing to protect the Greenbelt.

In this plan, the Ontario government would seek out partners to help finance and build the line. The news release explains that it would also establish "a new governing body to oversee the ambitious work required to design and implement high speed rail."

The proposed high-speed rail line would be electrified and operate on dedicated tracks. In some parts of the corridor, the new tracks would extend beside current railway lines. However, the government is also proposing to build totally new tracks in other areas, especially west of Kitchener.

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorA double-decker high-speed train leaving the Gare de Lyon in Paris, image, Wikimedia Commons

Originally, the province mandated Collenette to analyze the feasibility of fast-train service with stops only at Union Station, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Kitchener, London and Windsor. After consulting with local communities and researching other high-speed rail corridors, he recommended two more stops; in Guelph and Chatham. This would offer a seven-stop high-speed rail system "connecting economic hubs, increasing regional interconnectivity and spanning nearly 400 kilometres [250 miles] across Southwestern Ontario", the report states.

In the short term, the report recommends that the government expand Malton GO Station to serve Pearson Airport, offering an indirect connection to the airport from the HSR line. The report suggests that "an enhanced 'people-mover' system" similar to the current LINK train would span three three kilometres between the air terminals and Malton Station. A Pearson Airport / Malton HSR stop would allow passengers to transfer to GO Transit's regional express rail service and local MiWay buses.

In the long term, Collenette encourages the government to explore the benefits of direct HSR access to the airport, especially since the Greater Toronto Airport Authority is planning to develop a multi-modal transit hub at Pearson.

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorMap of the high-speed rail network in Japan, image, Government of Japan

High-speed train lines usually require major investment by governments, railway companies  or other private partners to build infrastructure that particularly supports fast trains.

Most modern railways—especially high-speed lines—incorporate continuous welded rail or "ribbon rails" on the track bed. In this form of track, smaller pieces of rail are welded together to form one continuous rail that may be several kilometres long. With few joints, this form of track is very strong, reduces vibration and misalignment, and provides smoother rides. Trains can travel on these tracks at higher speeds with less friction. Although welded rails are more expensive to lay than jointed tracks, they have much lower maintenance costs.

Most high-speed lines are grade-separated, meaning that their builders have eliminated level crossings and constructed bridges so that the tracks cross over or under all roadways. They also usually require dedicated tracks, so that freight and other passengers trains don't slow down the service.

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorMap of the inter-city express high-speed rail service in central Europe, image, EURail

Canada is the only country in the G7 without high-speed rail. However, Canadian governments and railroads have long discussed the possibility of such a project along the Windsor-to-Quebec-City corridor--the most populous area of Canada. The Canadian National Railway developed its Turbo service between Toronto and Montreal in the late 1960s in an early effort to supply such a service.

In 2008, then premiers Dalton McGuinty of Ontario and Jean Charest of Quebec proposed a joint feasibility study of a fast train line linking the two provinces.

Before the 2014 provincial election, Ontario's then transportation minister Glen Murray included a Toronto-Kitchener-London high-speed rail line in the government’s list of transportation promises for the next decade in its Moving Ontario Forward plan. In October 2015, the province appointed Collenette as its special advisor on the scheme.

High speed rail, Ontario, Toronto, Kitchener, London, WindsorHigh-speed rail train at Shin-Minamata Station on the Kyushu Shinkansen line in Japan, image, Wikimedia Commons

* * *

What do you think of the high-speed rail proposal? You can share your thoughts by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page, or by doing the discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.