Canada seeks faster trains to Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto from St. Lawrence River communities


VIA Rail station in Alexandria, Ontario. The city sits on VIA-only lanes that are part of a Canadian government plan to increase the speed and frequency of passenger trains in eastern Ontario and southwestern Quebec. Photo: James Morgan

Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot may need to add a verse to his classic Canadian Railways Trilogy if federal plans to expand high-frequency passenger rail service go ahead.

These plans include stops in communities along the St.Lawrence River and north to Casselman and Alexandria, but municipal governments north of the Ottawa River in Argenteuil County, Quebec, also wish to be considered.

In July, the federal government announced that it was taking the first steps to prepare for the procurement process to build a new high-frequency train service in the Toronto to Quebec Urban corridor for VIA Rail, the federal agency that operates passenger rail service in Canada (similar to Amtrak in the United States)

Over the summer, the government asked Indigenous groups and communities for feedback on the project and hold discussions with the private sector to determine capacity and seek perspectives on the best possible delivery model. The government plans to finalize the delivery model and launch the private partner selection process this fall. The government has also stepped up dialogue with partner freight railways to negotiate dedicated routes inside and outside the city. centers.

The high-frequency train proposal involves the construction of dedicated passenger lanes. VIA currently shares tracks with the Canadian National Railway Company, a freight line, between Toronto and Montreal. In areas where the tracks are shared, trains often have to wait on the sidings and give way to freight trains. However, VIA has reserved lanes from Brockville to Ottawa and Ottawa via Casselman and Alexandria to The Coteau.

Federal government argues that reserved lanes would result in shorter journey times and faster trains that would reduce average journey times between Toronto and Ottawa by up to 90 minutes, more reliable on-time arrival performance of up to 95 % compared to a current average of 67%, more direct routes with improved connectivity between cities and to other modes of transport, more frequent departures between cities and a cleaner travel option using electrified technology.

The mayor of Casselman, Daniel Lafleur, has already asked VIA to increase passenger service to the municipality, as Casselman has become a popular place to live for commuters to Ottawa and Montreal.

“The train brings us a lot of travelers. It’s very good for Casselman. According to Lafleur, the government wants to put in place a high-frequency service by 2035. “We would like to see that happen,” he said.

Quebec city and county demand study

Meanwhile, municipal leaders on the north shore of the Ottawa River want the federal government to consider bringing passenger rail service back to the Gatineau railway line at Quebec City via Three Rivers. August 11 Argenteuil County adopted a resolution calling on the federal authorities and Quebec governments to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of returning the line to passenger use.

According to the Argenteuil resolution, the railway line was built after the creation of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, and Occidental Railway (QMO & OR) in 1874, which was to serve towns and rural areas north of the Saint-Laurent and Outaouais rivers. The line was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) in 1882 and passenger service on the north shore of the Ottawa River continued until 1981.

In 1994, CP announced it was cutting the line for freight service. In 1995, the county of Argenteuil convinced the Quebec government to declare Mirabel-Thurso rail corridor a particular intervention zone within the meaning of the law on spatial planning with the desire to maintain an active rail link.

Since 1997, the line has been part of the Quebec-Gatineau Railway Company, which is owned by Genesee and Wyoming for freight purposes only.

In November 2018, the county of Argenteuil supported a declaration issued by a forum of the union of Quebec municipalities calling for the encouragement of passenger rail service as a viable alternative for the mobility of people, and to reduce the number of trucks on the roads. roads, reduce traffic congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The resolution approved by the county of Argenteuil on August 11 highlights that in 2020, approximately 5 million people live in the region of the north shore of Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa in the province of Quebec, that integrated transportation is deficient or non-existent in the region and that expanding passenger rail service would be an effective way to mitigate climate change.


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