VIA Rail President and CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano hopes to have major improvements funded to the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal "Corridor" in the federal budget due the 22nd, after the recent tabling of a federal review of the transportation act and the federal government's pledge to boost infrastructure spending.
Currently, freight takes precedence over passenger trains in the Corridor; the new report "Pathways: Connecting Canada’s Transportation System to the World" says a dedicated passenger line would be good for the country and would help lower highway congestion. It suggests that VIA Rail be freed to seek finance from the private sector for the $2bn cost of enabling a separate line (at present VIA Rail is not allowed to take on debt).
A dedicated line would improve reliability, allow 15 trains a day between each city pair instead of the current six, and raise average train speeds, reducing the journey time from Toronto to Ottawa to 2 ½ hours from 3 ¾ hours or longer now, and from Toronto to Montreal to 3 ¾ hours from 4 ¾ or longer at present. Train maximum speeds in use would only rise from 160 to 177 km/h (100 to 110 mph), but the main speed benefits would be derived from not having to slow down when VIA trains encounter freight trains.
Desjardins-Siciliano said the line could be finished by fall 2019 as around 75% of the tracks for a dedicated line could be provided either through purchase of rights of way from existing owners or rehabilitation of unused tracks. He would expect the number of passengers carried annually to rise from 2.1m to 6.8m within 15 years. Moreover, in a submission to the report, VIA Rail suggested the $317m subsidy it received in 2014 could be reduced or eliminated as a result. In addition since 2007, the federal government has provided VIA Rail with $1.2bn in subsidy for updating its infrastructure.
VIA Rail is also expected to ask the federal government to fund new rolling stock to replace the 40-year-old trains it runs on the line which would need to be replaced whether or not a dedicated line was available. New diesels would cost $1bn, while electric cars would cost $1.3bn, plus $850m for electrical infrastructure. In both cases these would be 'conventional' trains not high-speed ones. If VIA went with electric trains, it estimates it would save 10.8m tonnes of carbon over the 30 year life of the project.
The most recent study of high-speed rail in this corridor published in 2011 concluded that a 300 km/h electric train would cost $11bn to develop, half of which would have to come from the private sector, and it would take 14 years to build. Desjardins-Siciliano has said in the past he is against a new high-speed rail corridor, and VIA Rail is not pressing for this to happen. The Pathways report says that a high-speed link between Toronto and Montreal would bring net economic benefits and recommends, "dedicated passenger rail tracks that allow for eventual adoption of high-speed rail."