Transport Canada said a modernised passenger rail system with dedicated track would significantly improve the movement of people in Canada’s most densely populated regions and busiest transport corridor.

The funding, announced by minister of transport, Mr Marc Garneau, minister of infrastructure and communities, Ms François-Philippe Champagne, Via Rail president and CEO, Ms Cynthia Garneau, and Canada Infrastructure Bank president and CEO, Mr Pierre Lavallée, on June 25, will be used to establish a joint project team and fund work to preserve the option of interoperability with regional transit providers in Montreal and Toronto.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank was established as a Crown corporation in 2017 with a mandate to invest $C 35bn over 11 years to attract private sector investment for revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.

The joint project team, a cooperation between Canada Infrastructure Bank and Via Rail, will be established using the $C 55m in funding from Canada Infrastructure Bank and will:

  • finalise legal and regulatory work related to safety and environmental assessments
  • consult with stakeholders and indigenous communities
  • examine required land and track acquisition, and
  • complete the technical, financial and commercial analysis required for a final investment decision on high frequency rail in the corridor.

The remaining $C 16.1m of the funding, including $C 5m still available from Budget 2018, will allow Transport Canada and Via Rail to support Via Rail's contributions to the joint project team. It will also fund the technical work necessary to ensure the interoperability and integration of high-frequency rail with tracks used by local and regional transit providers in Montreal and Toronto.

This includes track work in Montreal’s Mont-Royal Tunnel to enable Via Rail’s trains to operate on the section of the Metropolitan Express Network (REM) light metro system. The preliminary work is required to allow the different rail systems to work together should high-frequency rail proceed in the future.

Transport Canada says adopting a phased approach will ensure there is sufficient rigour before the Canadian government can make a final investment decision for Via Rail's proposal.

A recent market sounding exercise revealed that there is significant market interest in Via Rail’s proposal for high-frequency rail.

Approximately 72% of Via Rail’s passengers travelled on the Quebec City - Toronto Corridor in 2018, which accounts for 66% of the network’s revenues. Ridership within the Quebec corridor is the most diverse, consisting of students, senior citizens, tourists and business travellers who do not typically travel by train outside of this area.