David Akin - Canwest News Service
OTTAWA - The MP who leads the non-partisan "rail caucus" in the House of Commons is pushing a new high-speed rail plan - a super-fast tri-city train link between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
"If you were to start a line that connected these three major centres, you would have a line that would be well-supported, would offer significant economic benefits, and, obviously, you'd have significant environmental benefit," said Dean Del Mastro, a Conservative MP from Peterborough, Ont.
Del Mastro said that, given the geography such a line would run through, the trains would probably be limited to speeds of about 240 kilometres an hour but that would still cut the rail ride between Ottawa and Toronto, which now takes a little more than four hours, down to about two hours.
It would trim the hour-and-forty-five minute trip between Ottawa and Montreal to around 40 minutes. An express between Montreal and Toronto could take travellers from downtown to downtown in about two-and-a-half hours. The fastest ride now takes about four-and-a-half hours.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest, at last fall's First Ministers Conference here, was trying to sell the federal government on the merits of a high-speed rail line from Quebec City to Windsor, Ont. using the corridor that runs along the shores of the St. Lawrence River and then Lake Ontario.
It's an idea that's been around for about two decades but various levels of government have balked at the multi-billion dollar price tag for such a service.
In most earlier formulations, such a high-speed line, which requires its own dedicated track, would service Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Ont., Toronto, London, Ont., and Windsor, Ont., but Ottawa would get left out of the picture.
Del Mastro believes that a less ambitious project that avoids the lakeshore right-of-way in favour of a sweeping curve north through Ottawa makes more economic sense.
"I think we're seeing around the world that rail works, that it makes sense," said Del Mastro. "It's a good way to flow goods and people."
Del Mastro said he and Transport Minister John Baird have not yet discussed the idea. Instead, Del Mastro hopes that those currently studying the viability of high-speed service in the Quebec-Windsor corridor consider his alternative. Last January, the federal government along with the governments of Ontario and Quebec agreed to jointly cover the costs of updating feasibility studies on high-speed service between Quebec and Windsor. Two earlier studies had been done in 1992 and again in 1995.
A spokesperson for VIA Rail said the company would not have any official comment on a Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto high-speed line until a feasibility study on future high speed services is completed.
"We are all waiting very impatiently for the results of these studies and then we will probably have more information," said Nadia Seraicco, a VIA Rail spokesperson.
Transport Canada was unable to say when those studies would be complete.
But documents obtained by Canwest News Service using access to information laws show that Del Mastro's idea is a plan that was being pushed last summer by VIA Rail's president, Donald Wright. Wright met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on June 16 specifically to discuss a high-speed link between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
Officials in Flaherty's office were not immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, high-speed rail enthusiasts say they're getting impatient with yet more studies. They say it's time for governments to commit to the kind of high-speed rail lines that are now common in many countries in Europe and Asia.
"In 20 years, there has never been more potential for a high-speed rail project and for rail renewal," said Paul Langan, founder of the advocacy group High Speed Rail Canada. Langan's group has organized a symposium on high-speed rail projects in Canada to take place later this month in Kitchener, Ont. "There is no logical argument not to have high-speed. The question just boils down to the political or public will."