THE Canadian government unveiled details of its long-running High Frequency Rail (HFR) programme to create a dedicated line for passenger services along the Quebec City - Toronto corridor on July 6, including a commitment to invite bids later this year for contracts worth around $C 6bn ($US 4.7bn) for track infrastructure, catenary, signalling and trains.

Via Rail Canada’s concept to link Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto with a dedicated, electrified main line using sections of legacy rights-of-way was first outlined to IRJ’s sister publication Railway Age in 2015, with only scant details released since.

The government and Canada Infrastructure Bank committed $C 71.1m in funding to further explore HFR services in June 2019.

The HFR scheme envisages trains operating at speeds of up to 200km/h on new and existing track north of Canadian National (CN) main lines that Via Rail currently uses between Quebec City and Toronto. A reduced local service for existing stations would continue on the CN lines.

The proposed route map shows Via Rail would continue to depend on CN rail traffic control between Montreal central station and the Les Coteaux junction, before using Via Rail’s former-Canadian Pacific (CP) main line to Ottawa. Further cooperation is required to operate the new trains through the Mont-Royal tunnel owned by the new Metropolitan Express Network (REM) light rail network, which is due to begin operation with driverless trains next year.

The updated solicitation for service “delivery models” is similar to Via Rail’s original vision in which the infrastructure and trains would be publicly owned, while train operations would be franchised to independent operators, similar to the now-defunct British system.

A track sharing agreement will also be required with Ontario’s Toronto-centric Metrolinx commuter network that operates Union Station.

Transport Canada says 90% of the route will be electrified, reflecting pre-existing realities in and out of Montreal and Toronto. Siemens Mobility appears to be mostly likely to provide rolling stock for the project, as it delivers 32 trains to replace Via Rail’s existing fleet.