A major project to bring high-frequency passenger rail (HFR) service through the Peterborough area will be getting money through the 2021 federal budget for the next steps.
The approximately $4.4-billion HFR project would see passenger rail that wouldn’t be shared with freight trains on a dedicated line from Toronto to Quebec City.
If approved, VIA Rail and Transport Canada will receive another $4.4 million in 2021-22 to continue their work with the Joint Project Office in order to advance analysis including risk factors with the project, the budget states.
In addition, the budget proposes to provide $491.2 million over six years, starting in 2021-22, to VIA Rail for infrastructure investments that would support the overall success of the HFR project.
“These investments will help reduce bottlenecks, improve fluidity and connectivity, and allow VIA to take an important step towards high-frequency rail in the corridor,” the budget states.
Maryam Monsef, Peterborough-Kawartha MP and minister for women and gender equality and rural economic development, said in an interview with Global News Peterborough Monday night that “this is a significant step forward and to see it in a budget is a reminder that COVID has also highlighted how vital these connections across regions are.”
“One of the great things about the VIA Rail proposal was the commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs,” she said.
Joel Wiebe, government relations coordinator for the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the move.
“It’s positive to see the federal government investing in Via high-frequency rail project. It’s something we’ve been asking for for a long time and something our community could really use,” Wiebe said.
“We’re looking for a little more clarity as to what it’s all for. They’re putting money into it, so that’s a good start, but it would be nice to see when they plan to start working on upgrading that rail line.”
In February, 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.
At that time, Peterborough city council and Peterborough County council supported sending a letter to federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to ask the project be considered during pre-budget submissions.
“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,” Peterborough County Warden J. Murray Jones said in an interview with Global News Peterborough in February.
“It’s good to see some funding in there to move the project forward. I know people can get frustrated by funding for studies and more studies, but we know the infrastructure needs to be upgraded regardless,” said Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien.