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Peterborough MP, mayor praise $71M funding announcement for Via Rail’s high-frequency rail project

Via Rail's high-frequeny rail project is one step closer to becoming a reality following a funding announcement in Peterborough on Tuesday.

Peterborough officials are praising the announcement of $71 million in new federal funding to advance Via Rail’s high-frequency rail proposal for the Quebec City-Toronto corridor — a service that would travel through the City of Peterborough.

On Tuesday morning, Peterborough-Kawartha Liberal MP Maryam Monsef announced in Peterborough that the government of Canada and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) are committing $71.1 million in new funding to complete “additional planning activities” over the next two years for the proposed modernized passenger rail system. She made the announcement on behalf of Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

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Via Rail has estimated the entire project will cost more than $4 billion. High-frequency rail requires dedicated tracks for faster trains so that passenger trains would not have to yield to freight trains on borrowed tracks.

“This project would bring significant economic growth to our community and the affected regions along the corridor,” Monsef said. “It also requires a significant investment. That’s why we have taken each step forward in a measured, thoughtful way.

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“We are not interested in creating buzz that leads to no results. We began by working with Via Rail to determine their business case, which we have determined would be good for the middle class and those working hard to join it. The next step is making sure we move forward in the correct way. That requires meaningful Indigenous consultations and environmental assessment.”

Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien echoed the MP’s sentiment.

“I am excited to see the Via Rail Canada project moving forward,” Therrien said. “The project has been in the works for a long time and will be of great benefit to the region.”

The CIB’s $55-million contribution and Transport Canada’s $16.1 million in funding will establish a joint project team, which will focus on environmental assessments, consultations with stakeholders and Indigenous communities, examining land and track acquisitions and providing a technical and financial review to help Ottawa make a final funding decision for the project.

“This train has yet to leave the station, but this is the furthest we have ever come on the idea of a passenger train,” Monsef said.

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“Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone moving forward.”

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This is the third phase in the government of Canada’s approach to the project. The 2016 federal budget provided $3.3 million over three years to conduct an in-depth assessment of Via Rail’s proposal. The 2018 federal budget added $8 million to undertake foundational work.

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Via Rail estimates corridor ridership would be 9.9 million by 2030. The time it takes to get from Toronto to Montreal or Ottawa to Quebec City could, according to Via Rail, be reduced by as much as 25 per cent with the faster trains.

Stuart Harrison, president and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, says Tuesday’s announcement is a “significant next step” for Via Rail’s proposal.

“This is no longer about feasibility; it’s about the process to approval,” he said. “There are a lot of people in Peterborough who have been working on this project, and we are very appreciative of the commitment from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and federal government.”

—With files from the Canadian Press