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Southern Ontario passenger rail plan shifting into high gear

Queen’s Park appoints David Collenette to steer Windsor-Toronto high-speed rail project
high speed train

Just days after Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle shot down a grassroots effort to restore passenger rail to northeastern Ontario, Queen’s Park tapped a former federal transportation minister to push high-speed rail in southwestern Ontario.

David Collenette has been appointed to lead the High-Speed Rail Planning Advisory Board, a priority item on the Wynne’s government’s agenda to put 250-kilometre-an-hour trains on tracks between Windsor and Toronto.

In the last cabinet shuffle, Cambridge MPP Kathyrn McGarry was pulled off dealing with forestry and endangered species issues in the natural resources file to expedite the government’s effort to deliver Canada’s first high-speed rail line.

McGarry was in Waterloo on Feb. 13 to announce the appointment of Collenette.

“High-speed rail will connect communities in our province as never before, creating new opportunities and increasing transportation choices for people across Southwestern Ontario,” she said in a statement.

Collenette was the government’s special advisor on the project and authored a report on the subject.

"High-speed rail will transform how people travel across Ontario,” said Collenette in a statement. “I am pleased to be able to continue to work to deliver this service for our province."

Estimated at $20 billion, the government contends fast passenger rail cuts travel times in half between major cities in the south, helps businesses in those communities attract the best talent and boosts their productivity.

"High-speed rail will bring exciting new economic opportunities to Waterloo Region,” said Kitchener-Centre MPP Daiene Vernile. “Providing efficient transportation at convenient times will strengthen the relationship between Kitchener-Waterloo and the rest of the province, making our region more accessible and connected."

The high-speed trains would travel on both existing and new track for the special intercity corridor. In catering to a market of seven million southern Ontarians, the proposed stops are Windsor, Chatham, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph and Toronto Union Station, with a connection to Pearson Airport.

“Moving forward with high-speed rail is part of Ontario's plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of rapid economic change,” said a government news release.

According to the government’s timeline, the entire service could be running by 2031. The formal environmental assessment process begins this spring.

North Bay-based All Aboard Northern Ontario launched an advocacy campaign last fall to restore passenger rail service, which was cancelled by the province in 2012 in a since-aborted attempted to divest itself of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

The group expects to release a regional bus and train transportation plan sometime this spring, followed by series of town hall meetings leading into the June provincial election. Their conceptual plan calls for a new and improved north-south rail service on the existing Cochrane-to-Toronto route.