One of Transport Action’s concerns about the government’s decision to create VIA-HFR as a separate entity to conduct the procurement process has been the lack of tangible progress on the ground, other than the production of documentation and presentations.
At a meeting with the VIA-HFR team in Toronto on August 22, 2023, we were pleased to learn that this is finally beginning to change, with the commencement of field studies along two segments of the future route. The studies, which are being carried out this fall, will gather data on air quality; noise and vibration; water flows; fish habitat; and wildlife movements including game and fur species.
The data gathered will help the engineering teams mitigate environmental impacts and risks, both during construction and operation of the new service. While new electric trains will have no emissions, it is important to minimize noise for nearby residents. The studies could also identify where wildlife crossings may be needed, and understanding current and expected future water flows will be critical to ensuring the resilience of the new and upgraded infrastructure.
The field studies are being carried out on VIA Rail’s Alexandria Subdivision between Ottawa and De Beaujeu and on the CPKC Lachute Subdivision, currently operated by Genesse and Wyoming as the Quebec Gatineau Railway, between Laval and Quebec City.
The VIA-HFR team it also moving to make more information publicly available, and details of the field studies can be found at https://hfr-tgf.ca/field-studies-2023/
The field study area extending to De Beujeau rather than Coteau corresponds with the map produced by Transport Canada in 2021, which indicated HFR could use an alignment alongside CPKC’s Winchester Subdivision rather than rejoining the CN line to Montreal at Coteau as shown in the original proposal.
The bottleneck at Coteau constrains VIA Rail’s ability to run enough trains to meet demand both on the Ottawa-Montreal segment and on the Kingston Subdivision route between Toronto and Montreal, so it reasonable for the HFR route to avoid it, but with the HFR timeline now extending into the mid-2030s it would be problematic if nothing was done to alleviate that bottleneck for the next decade.