Why SW Ontario should care about Via's Toronto-Quebec high-frequency plan

The Canada Infrastructure Bank is providing $71 million to Via Rail to help fund the transportation agency's plan to build dedicated tracks for faster, more frequent service in Ontario and Quebec.

The money will be largely used for environmental assessment, consultations with Indigenous communities, and a technical and financial review to help the government make a final funding decision on the $4-billion dollar plan.

While the new, improved service — known as high-frequency rail — would run between Toronto and Quebec City, Terry Johnson says the plan has relevance for southwestern Ontario.

High-speed vs. high-frequency rail

Johnson explains that while high-speed rail operates above 250 km/h, high-frequency rail uses existing rail corridors and slower technology, but with more frequent departures.

The Chatham-based president of Transport Action Canada, a national advocacy group, says southwestern Ontario wasn't included in Via's plan because of the previous Ontario Liberal government's desire to build high-speed rail between Toronto and London and, eventually, Windsor.

"The federal and provincial governments didn't want to step on each other's toes," he explained to Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre. "[But] with the new provincial government looking at alternatives [to high speed rail] ... more Via frequencies are definitely back on the agenda in southwestern Ontario."

Tap on the player to hear Johnson's conversation on Afternoon Drive.

Johnson said he hopes that the Ford government chooses to ditch their high-speed plan and opt for a high-frequency option for southwestern Ontario, ideally by funding increased Via Rail service.

He noted that there is precedent for provincial funding of the national rail agency — in the 1980s, Ontario helped fund Via service between London and Toronto.