High-speed rail in Canada

High-speed rail in Canada

Canada is the only G7 country that does not have high-speed rail.[1] In the press and popular discussion, there have been two routes frequently proposed as suitable for a high-speed rail corridor:

A possible international high-speed rail link between Montreal and Boston or New York City is often discussed by regional leaders, though little progress has been made.[2][3][4] On another international line between Vancouver and Seattle, work is in progress to improve the existing Amtrak Cascades service, though it will not reach speeds normally associated with high-speed rail.

On April 10, 2008, a lobby group, High Speed Rail Canada,[5] was formed to promote and educate Canadians on the benefits of high-speed rail in Canada. All current and past Canadian high-speed rail studies are posted on their website.[6]


  • Early high-speed rail in Canada 1
  • Vancouver–Seattle 2
  • Edmonton–Calgary 3
  • Quebec City–Windsor 4
  • Windsor – London - Kitchener-Waterloo – Toronto 5
  • Other proposed routes 6
    • Windsor–Detroit–Chicago 6.1
    • Windsor–Detroit–Toledo–Cleveland 6.2
    • Toronto–Buffalo–Cleveland 6.3
    • Toronto–Buffalo–Albany–New York 6.4
    • Montreal–United States 6.5
  • Public opinion 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early high-speed rail in Canada

CN Rail placed some early hopes with the UAC TurboTrain, in its Toronto–Montreal route during the 1960s. The TurboTrain was a true HST with the train sets achieving speeds as high as 200 km/h in regular service. CN's, and later Via Rail's, TurboTrain service were marred with lengthy interruptions to address design problems and having to cope with poor track quality (accounted for by dual passenger-freight use); as such, the trains were operated at 160 km/h. The TurboTrain featured the latest technology advances such as passive coach tilting, Talgo attachment for rigid coach articulation and gas turbine power.

Beginning in the 1970s, a consortium of several companies started to study Bombardier Transportation's LRC, which was a more conventional approach to high-speed rail, in having separate cars and locomotives, rather than being an articulated train. Pulled by heavy conventional-technology diesel-electric locomotives designed for 200 km/h normal operating speed, inspired by the British InterCity 125, it entered full-scale service in 1981 for Via Rail, linking cities in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, but at speeds never exceeding the 170 km/h limit mandated by line signalling. It was the world's first active tilting train in commercial service.

In 1998, the Lynx consortium, including Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin proposed a 320 km/h high-speed train from Toronto to Quebec City via Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal based on the TGV and the French Turbo-Train technology. Recently, Bombardier and Via have proposed high-speed services along the Quebec City–Windsor corridor using Bombardier's experimental JetTrain tilting trains, which are similar to Bombardier's Acela Express, but powered by a gas turbine rather than overhead electric wires. These trains resemble the first TGV prototype (TGV001) powered by a gas turbine that were tested on the Strasbourg–Mulhouse line. After promotional stops in the USA and Canada, no government purchased the Jet Train. As of August 2012, the Jet Train now sits idle. The prototype is stored serviceable at the AAR/FRA Transportation Technology Center at Pueblo, Colorado, USA.


The Pacific Northwest Corridor is one of ten high-speed rail corridors proposed by the United States federal government. If the 466-mile corridor were completed as proposed, 110-mph passenger trains would travel from Eugene, Oregon to Seattle, Washington in 2 hours and 30 minutes, and from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2 hours and 50 minutes.


The Calgary–Edmonton Corridor is approximately 260 km long (about three hours by car), and is serviced by the Queen Elizabeth II Highway.

A study by the Van Horne Institute[7] concluded that "high speed rail would bring significant benefits to the Calgary–Edmonton corridor and Alberta as a whole". The report also stated that the project would "generate between $3.7 and $6.1 billion in quantifiable benefits". The study considered three options:

  1. Upgrade of an existing Canadian Pacific freight route to allow trains up to 240 km/h using Bombardier's JetTrain, costing approximately $1.8 billion.
  2. A new dedicated passenger route, known as the "Green Field" route, also using the JetTrain, and costing approximately $2.2 billion.
  3. An electrified version of the Green Field route, using TGV-style trains running at 300 km/h, costing approximately $3.7 billion.

The report also found that there was little incremental benefit in running at 300 km/h rather than 240 km/h, and therefore recommended the first option.

On September 22, 2006, the government of Alberta announced that it was deploying video cameras along a stretch of the Queen Elizabeth Highway to measure the number of cars that travel between the two cities.[8]

The Calgary Herald announced on April 18, 2007, that the provincial government had purchased land in downtown Calgary for a possible station or terminal.[9] On April 7, 2011, Premier Ed Stelmach said that the land being purchased for the new location of the Royal Alberta Museum could be used as the Edmonton terminal.[10]

In 2011, Alberta premier Alison Redford said that the high-speed rail was a priority for her, saying "such an initiative could unite the province and send a message to Canada and the world about Alberta’s progress."[11] However, during the 2012 Alberta provincial election campaign, none of the four main party leaders would say that they deny the need for one, but are saying that it is a "maybe." In other words, it may take years to resolve the issue.[12]

The Standing Committee on Alberta’s economic future studied the feasibility of high-speed rail between Calgary and Edmonton in 2014. The committee also held hearings on the subject in early 2014 in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.

The report released in May 2014 stated that although Alberta was not ready for high speed rail, the government should start planning for it by acquiring land along a transportation corridor.[13]

Quebec City–Windsor

The Quebec–Windsor Corridor is the most densely populated and heavily industrialized region of Canada. With over 18 million people, it contains approximately half of Canada's population, the national capital, and three of the five largest metropolitan areas in Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa–Gatineau). It is already the focus of most Via Rail service. The area is currently served by several highways, Via Rail, commuter and local transit, and several airports. This corridor population density is comparable to the Rhône River valley where the French TGV operates.

There have been several proposals for a high-speed service, such as ViaFast, but no action has been taken so far. However, the former leader of the Liberal Party, Stéphane Dion had said that he was in favour of developing a high-speed rail system as a way to fight climate change.[14]

On January 10, 2008, Dalton McGuinty (Premier of Ontario), and Jean Charest (Premier of Quebec) announced their two provinces will conduct a joint $2 million feasibility study into the development of high-speed rail in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor. The federal government has agreed to participate in the study.[15][16] In February 2009, The EcoTrain Consortium, consisting of firms Dessau, MMM Group, KPMG, Wilbur Smith & Associates and Deutsche Bahn International, were awarded a contract to update the feasibility studies for high-speed rail (HSR) in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. The study was expected to take a year,[17][18] but was delayed.[19] Michael Ignatieff, then-leader of the Liberal Party said in 2011 that he would agree to fund the Quebec corridor and described it as a means to unite the country, similar to early railway projects in Canada.[20] His NDP counterpart, Jack Layton, had also pledged to fund the route.[21]

When the results of the study were released October 17, 2011, by the citizens group High Speed Rail Canada,[22] it revealed results for two technology alternatives: diesel traction and electric traction. Diesel traction would provide speeds of 200 km/h and would cost $18.9 billion for an entire Windsor–Quebec City system; a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system would cost $9.1 billion. Electric traction would provide speeds of 300 km/h and would cost $21.3 billion for an entire Windsor–Quebec City system; a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system would cost $11 billion. The study further revealed that a Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto system is the most economically viable section and could generate a positive net economic benefit using either diesel or electric traction.[23]

After the report had been released, politicians and Chamber in Windsor area argued that having the less-expensive "higher speed rail" connection between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor must be part of the consideration. Detroit is already part of higher speed rail initiative in the United States to connect to Chicago, Illinois, and to St. Louis, Missouri. They suggested that a study to include cross-border connection would account for greater economic impact.[24][25]

This study was done by SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français or French National Railway Company) and funded by cities along the line. This study was not released to the public until the citizens group High Speed Rail Canada released it on October 6, 2014.[22]

Windsor – London - Kitchener-Waterloo – Toronto

In an interview with CBC Radio on April 15, 2014, Ontario Minister of Transportation Glen Murray announced that high-speed rail will be constructed between London, Kitchener, and Toronto within 10 years.[26] Still in the planning stages, discussed stops included the downtown cores of these cities, and Terminal 2 of Pearson Airport. Further details were released by Murray in a speech April 30, 2014, in London Ontario.[27] The study, prepared by a London, England consultancy First Class Partnerships, considered range of options including continuing the existing service with LRC trains, incremental upgrading of the existing line with faster and more diesels, and construction of new sections of line.

The full study has not been released, but the summary table presented by Murray showed a scheme.[28]

In an interview with 'International Rail Journal' on May 2, 2014, FCP disclosed a few further details.[29] Unlike the earlier EcoTrain study, which proposed to build a completely separate line for HSR, FCP proposes to share the existing rail corridor from Toronto to Georgetown which is being upgraded with 4 to 6 tracks and will be electrified for use by GO regional trains and the shuttle service being developed between Toronto's Union Station and Pearson Airport. FCP also sees substantial traffic potential between Kitchener/Waterloo and Toronto, which EcoTrain had dismissed as being too short a trip to be attractive for HSR. The route from Kitchener to London would be across "open countryside" affecting at most 100 homes. Murray said that next step is to prepare an Environmental Impact statement, and that the line might be implemented within 8 years.

The project faces significant technical and political challenges. HSR trains will need to share tracks with GO regional, freight, and airport express trains. Although this is common in Europe, it is unusual in North America, only currently operating on the Northeast Corridor. Between Bramalea and Georgetown, HSR trains will share the corridor with the Canadian National Railways main line.

High Speed Rail Canada announced on October 30, 2014, that it would release the FCP study.[30]

On December 5, 2014, the MTO has approved to start an Environmental Assessment on the best route for a high speed rail connecting Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor for 2015.[31] On October 30, 2015 the Government of Ontario announced that David Collenette would be the Special Advisor for High-Speed Rail.[32]

Other proposed routes


(Detroit–Chicago via Kalamazoo or Toledo)



Toronto–Buffalo–Albany–New York

Montreal–United States

(Montreal–Boston or New York via Albany)

In 2000, the United States Federal Railroad Administration proposed an accelerated line (200 km/h) between Boston and Montreal in order to link with the Acela Express and Northeast Regional service from Washington, D.C. to Boston and to serve northern New England communities along the route. The first phase of the study, which included public hearings, was conducted in 2002 with the participation of the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The second phase of the study was cancelled after New Hampshire withdrew its support.

In the 1970s, the mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, announced his project to build a TGV (high-speed line) to New York in order to replace the slow and unreliable Adirondack service operated by Amtrak. More recently, Mayor Bourque tried to revive the TGV to New York project.[33] The topic has also been discussed between the governor of New York and the premier of Quebec, but no progress has been made since a pre-feasibility study conducted in 2003.[34] The line is problematic because most of the investment would need to be made through the sparsely populated Adirondack Mountains north of Albany. Between Albany and New York, fast and frequent rail service is already available.

Public opinion

In October 2009, EKOS Research Associates conducted a survey of 1,647 Canadians ages 16 and over to measure public outlook on and support for developing a high-speed rail system in Canada. The survey found that 80 per cent of respondents supported introducing high-speed rail in Canada (including 62 per cent who "strongly" supported it), while only 6 per cent were opposed.[35]


  1. ^ "Off the Rails - How Canada fell from leader to laggard in high-speed rail, and why that needs to change". The Walrus Foundation. June 2009. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  2. ^ Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS), State of Vermont, Boston to Montreal High-Speed Rail (BMHSR) Planning and Feasibility Study
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Mordecai, Adam. "This Future Map Of The United States Is Way Cooler Than Any Current Map Of The United States".  
  5. ^ "High Speed Rail Canada Homepage". Highspeedrail.ca. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  6. ^ "High Speed Rail Canada Citizens Advocacy Group and Website Forms". Marketwire.com. 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  7. ^ "Cost Update for Calgary/Edmonton High Speed Rail: An Integrated Economic Region | Van Horne Institute". Vanhorne.info. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  8. ^ "High-speed rail topic of survey".  
  9. ^ "Land bought for rail terminal".  
  10. ^ "Downtown Edmonton site of new RAM". Edmonton Journal. April 7, 2011. Retrieved April 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ Audette, Trish (April 12, 2012). "Alberta's political leaders say 'maybe' to high-speed train between Calgary and Edmonton".  
  13. ^ Langan, Paul (2014-05-24). "Train à grande vitesse au Canada : HIGH SPEED RAIL CANADA posts 2014 Alberta High Speed Rail Feasibility Study". High Speed Rail Canada. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ "Via Rail says snowfall behind spike in ridership | CTV News". Ctv.ca. 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  16. ^ "Governments revive plans for high-speed trains between Quebec, Ontario". CBC News. January 10, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Ontario Ministry of Transportation | Québec City-Windsor high-speed rail study". Newswire.ca. 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  18. ^ "It’s time, finally, for Windsor-Quebec City high-speed rail rink". Dailycommercialnews.com. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  19. ^ Langan, Paul (2010-04-13). "High Speed Rail Canada - Train à grande vitesse au Canada : April 2010". Highspeedrailcanada.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  20. ^ Martin Oulette (14 March 2011). "Ignatieff says his Libs would consider financial funding for Quebec City arena".  
  21. ^ "Layton touts NDP as federalist option in Quebec". Ctv.ca. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  22. ^ a b "High Speed Rail Canada Releases the 2010 SNCF International Socio economic study of High Speed Rail Implementation on the Quebec – Windsor Corridor :: Wire Service Media". Wireservice.ca. 2010-05-30. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  23. ^ "High-speed Quebec City-Windsor rail link could cost $21.3B | CTV News". Ctv.ca. 2011-11-15. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  24. ^ "Windsor politicians disagree with rail study". CBCNews. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  25. ^ Hall, Dave (17 November 2011). "Chamber urges rail rethink" (PDF). Windsor Star. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  26. ^ "Liberals promise high speed rail in Kitchener within 10 years". CBCNews. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  27. ^ "Liberals to study 71-minute Toronto, Kitchener, London rail trip". CNCNews. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  28. ^ "2014 Glenn Murray HighSpeed Presentation.pdf - Google Drive". Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  29. ^ "Ontario Government Backs Toronto-London HSL". Railjournal.com. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  30. ^ Langan, Paul (2014-10-30). "Train à grande vitesse au Canada : High Speed Rail Canada to Release Toronto - Kitchener - London High Speed Rail Preliminary Business Plan by FCPWorld". High Speed Rail Canada. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  31. ^ "Newsroom : Ontario Moving Forward With High-Speed Rail". 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  32. ^ "Special Advisor, High Speed Rail". 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2015-11-01. 
  33. ^ "Pierre Bourque intéressé par le projet d'un TGV entre Montréal et New York". Lcn.canoe.com. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  34. ^ [4]
  35. ^ All Aboard? The Public Case for High Speed Rail, EKOS Research Associates, November 3, 2009

External links

  • 2011 EcoTrain Quebec-Windsor study
    • Ontario MTO: English, French
    • Transports Québec: English, French
    • Transport Canada: English press release
    • Library of Parliament: HillNote Number 2012-06E “High-Speed Rail in Canada”, Le train à grande vitesse au Canada
  • 1995 Quebec-Windsor study (English, PDF)
  • High Speed Rail Canada
  • Quebec–Windsor Corridor Jet Train, Canada
  • Calgary–Edmonton High Speed Rail: a report by the Van Horne Institute (2.45MB PDF)
  • Reviving the once-mighty railroad, BBC News – UK, 11:50 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 12:50 UK
  • high-speed rail in Canada