Ontario's high-speed rail plan not so far-fetched this time: Hume

Ontario's high-speed rail plan not so far-fetched this time: Hume

When Premier Kathleen Wynne raised the possibility of a high-speed train line between Toronto and London last month, the response was a resounding thud.Can a government that has made such a mess of transit be trusted with a project as ambitious as this? And besides, why Toronto to London? Wouldn’t Toronto to Montreal make more sense?That’s what former federal minister of transport, David Collenette, thought. But then in 2015, Wynne appointed him the province’s special adviser for high-speed rail.“During my days in Ottawa,” Collenette recalls, “we always focused on the Toronto-Montreal corridor where the ridership was. After the premier asked me to do this, I quickly realized that there has been an explosion of growth west of Toronto. It became obvious there was a good business case for the line. The demand is already there, but it would increase once you have viable service.”For a population accustomed to getting around on Highway 401, high-speed rail is hard to take seriously. Talk of this sort has been heard since at least the 1970s; it goes in one ear and out the other. But in the meantime, Ontario has changed more than many realize. Old notions of a rural landscape dotted with a series of discreet cities and towns is giving way to a more regional configuration poorly served by public transit. At the same time, the 401 has reached a state of terminal congestion.Article Continued Below“I get the skepticism,” admits provincial transportation minister, Steven Del Duca. “The big issue for us is how do we get democratic buy-in from people. The costs are not inconsequential. I believe there’s a strong business case. In some cases, the shift away from the car has already started. We as a government have to prepare for whatever form that shift might take.”For this government that means autonomous vehicles as well as high-speed rail. More dubiously, it also includes widening parts of the 401 and extending Highway 407 in addition to the one-stop Scarborough subway extension.Though most Ontarians probably prefer car-based measures to fast trains, we are quickly being overtaken by the realities of gridlock and global warming. Canada’s rail reluctance is rooted in a mindset that favours cars and views trains as transit for those who can’t afford to drive. That means it need not compete; schedules are inconvenient and service minimal. Passenger trains here share tracks with freight trains, which are given precedence.


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