Peterborough will benefit economically from a new high-frequency passenger train service from Toronto to Quebec City, officials said Thursday.
At a press conference outside the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce (site of the former Canadian Pacific Railway passenger station built in 1884), federal government officials touted Monday’s announcement that the procurement process will soon be underway to build a new train service from Toronto to Quebec City. Estimated to cost between $6 billion and $12 billion, the project is expected to be finished by 2030.
Peterborough will be included in the Via Rail service, said federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who noted that on Monday his train ride from Toronto to Quebec City took 11 hours — including some traffic interruptions. The new corridor would bypass most CN Rail lines, reducing travel time by up to 90 minutes.
Peterborough last had passenger rail service in 1990.
“Cities like Peterborough need travel options that are fast, reliable and safe,” he said. “We’re committed to getting started on the next phase of the project.”
Alghabra says the high-frequency rail will nearly triple the number of annual trips taken by rail in the Toronto to Quebec City Corridor, rising from 4.8 million in 2019 to a projected 17 million by 2059. The service also boasts more frequent departures between cities with more reliable on-time arrival, up to 95 per cent from the current average of 67 per cent. Trains would travel up to 200 kilometres per hour on the corridor.
“Let me just confirm — 100 per cent of the high-frequency rail will go through Peterborough,” Alghabra said.
He also said the trains will be run “90 per cent by electricity, offering a greener and cleaner alternative to travel.”
He called it a historic moment for the city, noting the project is about more travel options, economic development and job creation, environmental sustaininablity and reduction of pollution.
“But equally — or maybe even more importantly — this project is about nation-building, about connecting our communities,” he said.
Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef says the announcement is a “significant milestone” moving forward towards the return of passenger rail service to the city.
She also acknowledged the previous work of the former Shining Waters Railway project — led by the late Tony Smith and current Havelock-Belmont Methuen Township Mayor Jim Martin — which for years studied the possibility of a passenger/freight service between Havelock and Toronto. She also thanked Selwyn Township Mayor Andy Mitchell, who first introduced her to the idea of a passenger service in the region.
Monsef says the new project will strengthen “connections” and create more “cohesion” between communities while spurring new economic opportunities throughout the region.
“This investment is going to create jobs and going to create opportunities — particularly for young people in our region,” she said. “Parents and grandparents are worried if their kids will stay here and find jobs in line with their potentials. This rail bed … this investment will ensure people from our region are benefiting from opportunities here and in the area….
“These connections are going to ensure that more skilled professionals are able to come here and are able to thrive,” she later added.
She also touted the importance of area First Nations, who have asked for their input before construction begins.
Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien echoed the focus on economic prosperity, noting her mother used to talk about taking a train to Peterborough when she was a child.
“It is so exciting today to hear the announcement, to know that things are moving forward,” she said. “We are at such a pivotal moment — coming out of the pandemic, dealing with a climate crisis — we know that our community, Havelock and Selwyn are growing. We know people want to be here and want to get here on ways that aren’t reliant on private automobiles. This is such an exciting project.”
She noted a location for station in the city hasn’t been decided, but highlighted the former CPR building as a good location.
Via Rail president and CEO Cynthia Garneau says the company has been “working tirelessly” to ensure the project becomes a reality. Two years ago, she said, Via and government officials (including Transport Canada) launched a project office in Peterborough to continue studies in the region.
“Now it is finally time — it is finally time to provide Canadians with a more modern mobility solution by creating dedicated infrastructure for passenger rail,” she said.
She echoed her previous commitment to work with First Nations communities, chambers of commerce and the federal government to deliver the service.
“It is a nation-building, growth-generating and environmentally friendly project that will transform the way people will move for present and future generations to come.”
Stu Harrison, president and CEO of the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, also praised the past efforts of the former Shining Waters Railway project, which he says caught the attention of Via Rail to have the city included as a key part of the rail corridor.