It’s a major project to bring high-frequency passenger rail service through the Peterborough area on a proposed Via Rail line between Toronto and Quebec City.
On Wednesday, Peterborough County council responded to a request from the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce to renew its support for the project and call on federal transport minister Omar Alghabra to back the estimated $4.4-billion plan.
Council didn’t discuss the matter but voted unanimously to send a letter to Alghabra.
“I would like to take this moment to express our support for VIA Rail Canada’s dedicated tracks for High-Frequency Rail (HFR) plan,” County warden J. Murray Jones stated in the letter.
“A dedicated passenger corridor will create significant economic development along the route, including an estimated 336,000 person-years of employment, helping to assure the prosperity of our hard-working middle class.”
The letter also includes a resolution passed by county council on March 15, 2017:
“Be it resolved that County Council supports the Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan’s letter requesting the Minister of Transportation seriously consider VIA’s proposal and work with the City and County of Peterborough, the Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan and VIA Rail to make this rail corridor a reality for the benefit of all.”
“For these reasons, I ask that you seriously consider VIA’s proposal and work with the County of Peterborough and VIA Rail to make it a reality,” Jones stated at end of the letter.
“I think in the case of all the county, the city and the region, this Via proposal is extremely important. We’ve dealt with this for years and we thought things were getting close but things are getting lost in the shuffle,” Jones said in a phone interview with Global News Peterborough Thursday morning.
“We’re trying to get back on track, so to speak. We don’t want them to forget how truly important this is for the economic health of our whole region. We have to keep pushing and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“The High Frequency Rail (HFR) project in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor is the flagship project of VIA Rail’s modernization plan,” stated Via Rail director of public affairs Philippe Cannon in an email to Global News Peterborough.
When asked what the next steps to making this project a reality were, Cannon pointed to comments made by former transport minister Marc Garneau in a Global & Mail article in Sept. 2020.
In that article, Garneau stated, “I’m hoping we’re going to be able to make a decision on that in the coming months.”
Pre-budget submissions for the spring budget are due Friday.
That’s why Joel Wiebe, the government relations coordinator for the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce sent emails to stakeholders, municipalities and other chambers of commerce in Ontario and Quebec to renew support for the project.
“We’re just asking people, who have supported the project in the past — and there’s a lot of them out there — to send reminders to the federal government that this is a priority for the budget,” Wiebe told Global News Peterborough Thursday morning.
“This is a vital project for progress for a large part of this country.”
In June 2019, the federal government and Canada Infrastructure Bank (BIC) pledged $71.1 million in funding to further explore Via Rail Canada’s proposal for HFR in the Quebec City-Toronto corridor.
A joint project office between Via Rail and BIC was created in Sept. 2019.
A report by The Canadian Press last summer stated that planning, including routes and station locations, could be completed by 2022.
A statement from Transport Canada, a division of the transport minister’s portfolio, reads in part: “this work is progressing well, and the Government of Canada will carefully consider the analysis provided by the Joint Project Office before making a final investment decision on HFR. As with any large scale infrastructure project, advancing in a phased approach will ensure there is sufficient rigor to inform a Government of Canada decision on this very important project.”
Transport Canada states the decision will ultimately consider the best interest of Canadian travellers, value for money and respect for the highest safety and security standards.
Global News Peterborough has contacted Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef’s office for comment on this story.