CANADA’s Via Rail confirmed on November 14 that it is in discussions with Amtrak and other rail operators over a proposed extension of Amtrak’s existing Chicago - Detroit Wolverine service to Toronto Union Station.

Amtrak has also confirmed it is “in conversations with local, state and provincial officials about a proposed service.”

Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) for its part deferred to the two publicly owned passenger railroads for comment.

Under the scheme, passenger trains would return to the 113-year-old Detroit River Tunnel owned by CPKC. An under-reported condition of the CPKC merger approval was that the railway would open the tunnel to use by Amtrak, ending years of frustrated efforts by Amtrak to revive direct Detroit - Toronto service.

Amtrak last served Windsor, Ontario, from New York and Buffalo with its Niagara Rainbow, which continued through to Detroit until the end of 1979. This state-sponsored service stopped at the Canadian Pacific station in Windsor, which has since been demolished following a fire. Amtrak says Toronto and Detroit have not had a direct rail service since 1967.

Existing (dark blue) and future connections (light blue) under Amtrak's Connect US strategy. The proposed Chicago - Detroit - Toronto service is marked in green. Map: Amtrak
Benefits of merger

The merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern into CPKC was backed by Amtrak, which said the two railways had been positive partners and would advance opportunities for new passenger services.

“We can confirm that Via Rail is in private discussions with different partners, including Amtrak, to evaluate the possibility and estimate the potential costs of a project connecting Windsor to Detroit,” Via Rail told Railway Age.

“However, Via Rail believes it is premature to be holding a discussion on this project in the public sphere.

“At this time, Via Rail has not committed to financing this project and no funding requests have been made.”

Amtrak is more enthusiastic in describing prospects for the proposed service, stating that “improved frequency along the corridor, with connections to Toronto, will increase demand for rail travel and decrease traffic congestion. It says that improved passenger rail service and connectivity is critical to enabling further economic development in the Great Lakes region.”

Amtrak expects to offer a single daily round trip, with a Chicago - Toronto journey time of 9h 57min, and a Detroit - Toronto journey time of 4h 46min. It estimates a $US 62m annual economic impact by restoring the service and $US 202m in economic activity from one-time capital investments.