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Transport Canada to study high-frequency rail reaching Windsor

The federal Liberal government is “taking action” on high-frequency rail that extends to Windsor, says the head of Transport Canada.

(C) Provided by Windsor Star Canada’s minister of transportation Omar Alghabra speaks to media outside the VIA Rail train station in Windsor on July 22, 2021.

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk and Unifor Local 444 members stand in the background.

“Today, I’m happy to tell you that our government will be studying the opportunities to enhance passenger rail services in Southwestern Ontario, to see how we can improve service west of Toronto. This includes Windsor,” said Omar Alghabra, federal transport minister, in an announcement at Windsor’s VIA Rail station on Thursday. Earlier this month, Alghabra announced that the federal government is preparing to launch the procurement process on establishing high-frequency rail between Toronto and Quebec — with the call for bids to be put out this fall.

High-frequency rail involves dedicated tracks for passenger trains, allowing them to travel at top speeds and avoid delays from freight traffic. The possibility of high-frequency rail from Toronto to Windsor will be the second phase of the project, in collaboration with VIA Rail and the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Alghabra said.

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However, Alghabra could not provide a prospective timeline or investment figure. “We are examining options (for the second phase),” Alghabra said. “Today, I’m announcing our commitment to starting this work, and I look forward to coming back to tell you about what the next steps will include.”

Alghabra said he’s aware that high-speed rail reaching Windsor-Essex has been discussed for years, and the region has been anxiously awaiting federal word on the issue. “We want to do this as quickly as possible,” Alghabra said. “I know that the community has been promised this by other governments in the past, so I understand the skepticism. This is the first time our (current) government is making this announcement, and we are committed to delivering it.”

Alghabra added that the Toronto-Quebec project will run on electricity, contribute to a “green economy,” and result in faster, more reliable train travel. “With these improvements, the number of daily departures could triple,” Alghabra said. “This project will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canada in decades, and will transform travel.”

(C) Dalson Chen Federal transport minister Omar Alghabra (left) speaks with Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk and Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy at the VIA Rail train station in Windsor on July 22, 2021.

Joining Alghabra for the announcement on Thursday was Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk and Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy, as well as other Local 444 members. Kusmierczyk praised Alghabra’s announcement as “an exciting proposal for the future of rail in Southwestern Ontario.”

Pleased to join Transport Minister @OmarAlghabra and @LOCAL444UNIFOR to discuss community priorities and announce our ?? government’s commitment to improve @VIA_Rail services in the Windsor-Toronto corridor. pic.twitter.com/ZFM5rHgbOh

— Irek Kusmierczyk (@Irek_K) July 22, 2021

But Windsor West MP Brian Masse of the federal NDP pressed Alghabra on the subject — and other local issues.

In a letter to Alghabra that Masse shared publicly, the Windsor West MP expressed surprise that the minister’s earlier announcement was limited to rail between Toronto and Quebec. “I am fully aware that all studies and considerations for higher speed rail have involved the Quebec City to Windsor corridor,” Masse wrote to Alghabra. According to Masse, the lack of inclusion of the Toronto-Windsor segment in the first announcement was “out of the historic pattern.”

“This seeming anomaly must be corrected, especially as this undermines traditional passenger travel patterns,” Masse wrote. Masse also noted that U.S. Amtrak has raised the possibility of re-establishing passenger train service between Detroit and Toronto. “This unique opportunity must be seized,” Masse urged.

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