high-speed rail in Canada

High-speed rail has been extensively studied in Canada.  There was a joint Federal-Ontario-Quebec investigation in 2011.  The links below are all to the same 2011 “EcoTrain” report, just distributed from the websites of the three different partners.

There won’t be any high-speed rail in Canada for the foreseeable future.  If you want to skip the intervening detail, go to 2011 Study – Toronto to Montreal analysis.

UPDATE 2020-06-05: There is no plan for high-speed rail in Canada.  The only proposal is for high-frequency rail (HFR) in the Quebec City to Toronto corridor.  This HFR proposal would incorporate currently unused tracks, in an attempt to address one of the major issues on the current tracks which is that CN freight rail has priority.

There are two pages about the proposal:

In typical Canadian rail fashion, the government is… studying it some more.

$71.1 million in funding to further explore VIA Rail Canada’s proposal for High Frequency Rail
from Government of Canada takes next steps to further explore VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail proposal in the Quebec City-Toronto Corridor – June 25, 2019

The latest news is from January 28, 2020 on newswire dot ca

The Joint Project Office (JPO) between VIA Rail Canada (VIA Rail) and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) announced the hiring of a joint venture formed by AECOM and Arup, that will act as the Owner’s Engineers for the analysis of the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project in the Québec City – Montréal – Ottawa – Toronto corridor.
from High Frequency Rail: AECOM and Arup consortium selected as Owner’s Engineers

The Joint Project Office Owner’s Engineers will be doing… more studying.

So to be clear: no fast trains for Canada.  Just regular trains with more dedicated tracks.  If we’re lucky.

Also note that Ontario studied high-speed rail within the province (Toronto to Windsor).  They produced a report in December 2016.  Report also available en français.  This provincial proposal is dead as a doornail.


UPDATE 2017-05-19: In typical web fashion, all the links from 2013 were broken and gone with no trail to follow to find where they might have been relocated.  I have added new links where possible.

2011 Quebec City to Windsor study – Ontario MTO English (from Internet Archive)

Transports Québec : Étude d’actualisation concernant la faisabilité d’un train à haute vitesse dans le corridor Québec – Windsor, 14 février 2011

Transport Canada: English press release, English “Executive Summary”, French Exec Summary (from Internet Archive)

Library of Parliament HillNote Number 2012-06E High-Speed Rail in Canada – also available in French Le train à grande vitesse au Canada (from Internet Archive)

older 1995 study link – Transports Québec: Quebec-Ontario High Speed Rail Project, Preliminary Routing Assessment and Costing Study, Final Report, March 1995 (PDF) – Projet de train rapide Québec-Ontario, Évaluation préliminaire des tracés et des coûts, Rapport final, Mars 1995 (PDF) – and then see Québec-Ontario High Speed Rail Project, Final Report, August 1995 (PDF)

and Wikipedia has a page of course: High-speed rail in Canada

Other High-Speed Rail Corridors

Montreal-New York

New York and Quebec did connected studies.

Transports Québec : Étude de préfaisabilité pour l’implantation d’un train à haute vitesse Montreal-New York (PDF) is the French summary of New York State Department of Transportation High Speed Rail Study – see High-Speed Rail Pre-Feasibility Study: New York City to Montreal (“HSR Study”) (PDF) from February 2004

Also see Évaluation préliminaire des tracés, des technologies et des coûts d’implantation inhérents à un train haute vitesse entre Montréal et la frontière américaine (direction New York) (PDF) – Décembre 2003.

The Transports Québec page Projet de train à haute vitesse Montréal-New York is in the Internet Archive but no one saved the PDF documents linked from that page, so I will retrieve them for you myself from Quebec’s online documents library:


Vermont Agency of Transportation Boston to Montreal High-Speed Rail Planning and Feasibility Study Phase I (PDF) from April 2003

So we are not understudied in this area.  But no one wants to spend any money.

Toronto to Montreal

The bottom line of the 2011 study: “Developing the section between Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto could cost between $9.1 billion for 200 km/h and $11 billion for 300 km/h” and “as a whole, the Montréal-Toronto segment of the project would provide a positive economic impact“.

Nine billion is not a lot of money for HSR connecting Toronto to Montreal, particularly considering you get a net positive economic impact (you get more back overall in the economy than you spend to build the infrastructure).

For the two speed options, which in the study are E300+ (electric, 300+km/h) and F200+ the specific dollar figures are $869 million net benefit and $817 million respectively, and that’s counting as “losses” the reduction in revenue to airlines and airports (report page S-21, Internet Archive).


And that is with modal shares I consider ridiculous. At 300km/h, the modal share for business travel in 2031 would be 17%? Seriously? In 2031, 72% of business people are going to choose to drive rather than go 300km/h in first class on a train? (from page 58 of the EcoTrain report, in the Internet Archive)


This is in a world where today, Amtrak’s “high-speed” train (which only goes an average 120km/h, with a top speed of 240km/h) and its much slower regular train service together get seventy-five percent of the Washington-New York modal share.

In other words, even with ridiculously low modal shares and even inexplicably counting the diversion of traffic from airlines as a “loss”, Toronto-Montreal HSR still has a net positive benefit.

But no one will build it.  All it would take is some outreach to external funding sources (Chinese government? Richard Branson?) and some political will.  We have neither.

This post inspired in part by Tyler Brule in the Financial TimesMaple leaves on the line (April 26, 2013).  Brule manages to say things like “Have neither the government nor the private sector ever thought about the economic benefits?” without mentioning any of the Canadian political context or any of the multiple studies (including repeated studies of the Quebec-Windsor corridor).

UPDATE 2013-05-02: I left a comment on Mr. Brule’s article.  Here is the text in full:

Mr. Brule makes excellent points about high-speed rail (HSR): convenient for getting from city centre to city centre and more convenient than flying for short distances.  However his question “Have neither the government nor the private sector ever thought about the economic benefits?” is somewhat puzzling in the Canadian context.  The Quebec-Windsor corridor has been extensively studied for HSR, with the most recent report released in 2011.  A copy of the report is available at e.g. Transports Québec: http://www.mtq.gouv.qc.ca/portal/page/portal/entreprises_en/transport_ferroviaire/thv_quebec_windsor

Key findings: the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal route (the specific route that would have provided HSR for Mr. Brule’s trip to Ottawa) would cost $9.1 billion for 200km/h service and $11 billion for 300km/h service, and in both cases the investment produces an overall net positive economic benefit.  Other routes such as Montreal to New York have also been analyzed (available on the Transports Québec site).

What is needed is not more study of the economic benefits, instead what is missing is political will and private sector interest.  Perhaps Richard Branson or other transportation entrepreneurs are needed, in order to invest in this well-documented opportunity to improve Canadian inter-city travel options.