VIA pitches high-frequency rail project
As the Government of Canada looks for ways to transition to a low-carbon economy, executives at VIA Rail are doing their part to provide a transportation solution that will remove millions of carbon dioxide production each year.
Speaking at the Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Montréal, VIA Rail President and CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano discussed a proposed new high-frequency rail project, running additional service through Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, and Quebec City. The project is an initiative put forward by the VIA Rail management team, not by the federal government.
There are many parts of the country where VIA loses money, providing services to remote regions across Canada where it would not be feasible to charge travellers based on the cost of the service. But he suggests that “in the densely-populated, often-travelled Quebec-Windsor corridor, we believe there is a way to make money in that corridor.
The solution has the potential to provide a solution that is economically, environmentally, and socially beneficial. On an economic scale, Desjardins-Siciliano believes that the money made from the high-frequency service could eliminate the need for the taxpayer subsidy of VIA Rail, which is approximately $150 million per year. Environmentally, the new service could eliminate upwards of 10.3 million tCO2e/year by 2050 if the new service is run by diesel, and 13.9 million tCO2e/year if electrified. On a social scale, the service would provide better access for the middle class to the suburbs outside of the cities, where more affordable housing options are available.
The project itself involves leveraging the replacement of the aging fleet by adding a dedicated passenger line to the existing rail corridor. The additional frequency would triple the current service provided through the four major cities, with corridor ridership project for approximately 9.9 million by 2030. The project would take approximately four years to complete.
“It’s a low-cost, quick deployment solution to reduce road congestion, reduce the carbon footprint of Canadian travellers, and provide access to home ownership for the middle class.”
Before the process can move forward, the first portion of the funding needs to be made available to VIA Rail.
“We’re hoping in the upcoming federal budget — there may be money for us to renew the fleet,” Desjardins-Siciliano said. “If we get the monies required to renew the aging fleet that is using the corridor, that would be the impetus to leverage that billion-dollar-plus investment by allowing VIA to go seek private capital, with the government assets, to build out this service.”
With permission from the federal government, VIA Rail could seek third-party investment to help make the high-frequency project a reality. All signs would point to provincial and national pension funds, several of which already have experience with funding inter-city rail projects.
Check out ReNew Canada’s complete coverage of the 10th Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Montréal:
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Solving America’s infrastructure deficit
User pay models for new federal infrastructure?
Does the U.S. need an Infrastructure Commission?