HFR project presentation to Toronto Railway Club

By Transport Action | Intercity Rail and Bus

May 14
Martin Imbleau speaking about High Frequency Rail to the Toronto Railway Club.

Martin Imbleau, President and CEO of VIA HFR – VIA TGF Inc, provided a presentation and project update to a lunch organized by the Toronto railway Club on May 10, 2024. While the government is currently running the procurement process for a “private development partner” to design, construct and operate High Frequency Rail, VIA-HFR is to become the public sector counterparty overseeing the contract and the project.

Once again, Martin Imbleau spoke of the project as a necessity – not a luxury – for the current generation and the next to enjoy economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection. He also urged the audience to be mindful of the tremendous cost of not building it, when ever other G7 country except Canada, and many other countries worldwide, have high-speed rail.

The presentation confirmed that the announcement in federal budget 2024 that VIA-HFR would become an “agent Crown Corporation” was intended to ensure the comfort of the future private sector partner, effectively making the multi-billion dollar contract a sovereign obligation of Canada.

There were no new announcements regarding alignment or top speed, all of which are in limbo pending the co-development process with the private partner, although the possibility of a new station in Trois-Rivieres, outside of downtown but designed to reflect present-day travel patterns, was mentioned. This might disappoint those hoping for the project to aid downtown rejuvenation in the mid-sized cities it will serve.

A further nuance in the way the project was presented on this occasion was the potential for it to be delivered in phases, with Martin Imbleau recognizing the talent shortage that is current impacting the many commuter rail and rapid transit projects currently underway. However, this could delay full project completion still further, which would be frustrating and unfortunate given the urgency of the economic, climate, and mobility challenges the project is designed to address.

Transport Action Canada has encouraged VIA-HFR to collaborate with TRACCS to invest developing the university and college talent pipelines needed in order for Canada to have the engineers and skilled workers to realise the project in a timely and therefore budget-friendly manner. If a project is to commence by the end of the decade, the time to be creating post-secondary programs for railway engineering and technical staff is now.

Questions asked after the presentation included whether the project was ready for a potential change of government at the next federal election, which Martin Imbleau answered by restating the High Frequency rail is not a political project of the current government but rather an essential long-term investment in Canada’s economy, and that cities, municipalities and Indigenous communities along the route are the key stakeholders driving the project forwards. This echos the testimony that many municipal politicians and Chamber of Commerce leaders have given to the House of Commons Transportation Committee, confirming the importance of delivering modern express passenger rail to ensuring sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

The three proposals from teams bidding to become the private development partner are expected later this summer, with a decision by the government following in the fall. Transport Action continues to urge the government to remove revenues and train operations from the private sector scope, reducing long term project risk and the risk premium that Canada is likely to have to pay the private partner, and return them to VIA Rail as Canada’s national, publicly-owned, and publicly-accountable passenger railway.

Note: Transport Action president Terry Johnson attended the event as a guest of VIA-HFR Inc.