Meeting with VIA-HFR

By Transport Action | Intercity Rail and Bus

Mar 07

On March 1, 2024, Transport Action Canada president Terry Johnson, Ontario region president Peter Miasek, and board member Adam Mills met with VIA-HFR executives Jacques Fauteux, Director of Strategic Engagement, and Jim Gray, incoming Director of Community Relations in Ontario for the project in Toronto.

VIA-HFR Inc. would be responsible for the management of the contract with the private development partner for High Frequency Rail once a contract is signed by Transport Canada. VIA-HFR Inc is a Crown Corporation that is technically a subsidiary of VIA Rail Canada but reports directly to the Minister of Transport.

While we have serious concerns about the government’s chosen procurement model, we hope to maintain a strong relationship with the project to ensure the realization of reliable, frequent and faster passenger rail in the corridor as part of a Canada-wide passenger network.

Many issues were discussed the team, starting with the repositioning of the project as high-speed rail (HSR), which is defined in North America as top speeds above 200 km/h. “Speed and frequency are not mutually exclusive, and we need both,” said VIA-HFR CEO Martin Imbleau in a recent speech, addressing the confusion in terminology.


Transport Action received assurance that once the procurement finishes, the three-year co-development phase with the successful bidder (private development partner) will be as transparent as possible. Concerns were raised because Ontario is using a similar “progressive P3” model of procurement for its massive GO Expansion project. That project is nearing the end of its co-development phase and there has been very little information released nor very much public input on the project sought. We hope that VIA-HFR and its private development partner will work more transparently with the public to develop a successful project.

We also repeated our request for the complete release of the reports produced by the former VIA Rail Canada – Canada Infrastructure Bank Joint Project Office. Now that the three qualifying bidders on the project have all had access to these documents, there should be no cause for competitive concern or detriment to the procurement from transparency. The release of these documents would also help groups like ourselves to be able to accurately communicate details of the project to the public and make better informed contributions to the process.

Downtown Stations

VIA-HFR remains committed to intermodal connectivity, however the idea of not having downtown stations in Toronto or Montreal resurfaced in a recent speech by VIA-HFR CEO Martin Imbleau to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. Transport Action is extremely concerned that the project will suffer as a result, and not provide the expected benefits to passengers. Direct access to downtown areas is a major benefit of rail travel, and travel times will not be as competitive with flying or driving if passengers are forced to make a connection to reach downtown, or to change stations when transferring between HFR and other train services, threatening future passenger volume and revenue.

Need for Talent

President Terry Johnson noted the need for investment in talent development in rail-related professions in Canada, with major projects such as Eglinton Crosstown suffering as a result. Metrolinx and ONxpress have launched efforts to improve recruitment and retention of local talent, including through TRACCS. Transport Action suggests that VIA-HFR join these efforts and work with universities and colleges in the corridor to help develop a talent pipeline for the project.

Importance of Standards

We once again raised our concern that Transport Canada has not published track or equipment standards for high-speed passenger trains, and is still consulting on Enhanced Train Control technology, which will also be essential to the project. We noted that the private development partner would also benefit from passenger priority regulation to ensure it can effectively operate the existing corridor routes as envisaged in the RFP, and that HFR trains are not delayed on the short sections of shared track that they will use.

Other Issues

Other issues that were brought up at the meeting include the future role of VIA Rail Canada and the sustainability of long-distance and remote services if the private development partner assumes all services in the corridor as current RFP states, also noting the morale issues this uncertainty creates for existing VIA Rail operating employees.

Transport Action Canada is committed to the dream of fast, modern passenger rail in Canada, and will continue to support the project as best it can given the issues raised. It was noted that concerns over the potential private operation and maintenance of the project once complete has turned many groups that would typically be staunch advocates of sustainable transportation and intercity rail away from the project.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: