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Halifax transportation committee backs talks with Via Rail for commuter rail

The proposed commuter rail system in Halifax would stretch from Windsor Junction to south-end Halifax. Global News

Councillors on the Transportation Standing Committee voted unanimously in favour of launching formal discussions to bring commuter rail to Halifax.

An unsolicited pitch from Via Rail put the issue back in the forefront this week after a report last year suggested the idea was too expensive.

Regional Council will have to agree with the transportation committee’s direction before staff will start discussions with Via Rail.

READ MORE: Halifax councillors to debate commuter rail proposal

Long-time proponent of commuter rail, Councillor Tim Outhit said there was a lot of interest in the proposal when the committee discussed it on Thursday.

“Everybody is interested and intrigued, but we had a lot of questions, a lot of suggestions, a lot of unknowns,” he said.

Councillors had questions about how the route would operate and what it would cost, but Outhit said those questions can only be answered if staff are allowed to enter formal negotiations with Via Rail.

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Via Rail’s proposal is to operate a rail line on existing tracks between Windsor Junction and south-end Halifax.

Via Rail already owns the cars that would be needed for the route, so Outhit said compared to light-rail and subways, the costs would be very low.

Last year’s report on commuter rail said startup costs would run between $36 million and $62 million, and estimated the annual operating cost would be in the order of $8 million. However, Outhit said Via Rail’s proposal is cheaper than that.

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