The planned enhancements would reduce Toronto - Montreal journey times from 4h 42min to 3h 45min and Toronto - Ottawa from 4h 1min to 2h 30min by eliminating level crossings and segregating passenger and freight trains with new infrastructure.

Via Rail CEO Mr Yves Desjardins-Siciliano told The Canadian Press in an interview on April 14 that that a number of financing options will be presented to Canadian transport minister Mr Marc Garneau within the next few months.

Under some of these options, the bulk of the funding required for the project would be covered by pension fund investors, and Via Rail has already held preliminary discussions with potential private sector backers. The federal government would be asked to contribute around $C 1bn.

Desjardins-Siciliano says he hopes the government will make a decision on whether to go ahead with the project before the end of the year. "We'd like to think there will be shovels in the ground by the spring of 2017," he says.

The federal government's infrastructure plan, which was announced last month, allocates Via Rail just $C 3.3m over three years for an "in-depth assessment" of the proposals.

Last October Ontario's provincial Ministry of Transportation appointed former Canadian transport minister Mr David Collenette to look at options for high-speed rail on the Toronto - London - Windsor corridor.