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tgv |  Montreal-Quebec in 1 hour and 30 minutes?  There, we're talking!

tgv | Montreal-Quebec in 1 hour and 30 minutes? There, we're talking!

Are we, slowly but surely, witnessing the construction of Canada's first high-speed train (TGV), between Quebec and Toronto?

It is far from done. But let's see the glass is half full: we've never been closer to having high-speed rail in Canada!

Something very encouraging in this regard happened at the end of February: for the first time in four years, a subsidiary of VIA Rail confirmed that it is studying speed options for a European TGV train for the new rail transit project between Quebec and Toronto.

We're talking about making a trip between Toronto and Montreal by train in less than three hours, Quebec-Montreal in less than an hour and a half, and Montreal-Ottawa in less than an hour. It will be faster than a plane and a car.

In short, it will be the decades-awaited revolution in transportation on the Quebec-Toronto axis!

“We will develop a scenario that users will love. And if we are in favor of doing that, we have to guarantee that Canadians will abandon their tanks and jump on the train. We're going to be able to do this,” Martin Emplo, CEO of VIA TGF, the VIA Rail subsidiary responsible for this project, said in an interview with RDI. On February 20: “It has to be fast.”

For four years, VIA Rail and the federal government have studied the possibility of building a high-frequency train (TGF) on rail lines dedicated exclusively to passenger trains between Quebec and Toronto. Initially, the train was to be more reliable and more frequent. Ottawa said high-speed trains, as in Europe, are very expensive.

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Over the past year, the Trudeau government has gradually shown that it is more open to the idea of ​​taking advantage of the upcoming work to have a train that is as fast as in Europe, in addition to one that is reliable and frequent. So the VIA Rail subsidiary asked three unions for options on where the trains would be faster.

Then, on February 20, to our colleague Julien Arsenault1Then, in front of the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Martin Emplo revealed for the first time the travel times the federations were working on. The pleasant surprise: the average speed of the options studied ranged between 155 km/h and 180 km/h. It's as fast as some European TGVs!

“We want efficient service”

The federal government, which will foot the bill, will make the final decision. But VIA TGF CEO Martin Emplo's vision is clear: he wants to convince Ottawa to pay more to get an average speed high enough to change Canadians' transit habits.

Photo by Martin Tremblay, Press Archive

Martin Emplo

We don't want a service that doesn't cost a lot [à construire]We want efficient service. Cost [final du projet] You will go with its profitability and use.

Interview with Martin Emplo, CEO of VIA TGF

For Montreal-Toronto, currently, it takes at least five hours by train. However, the “slower” scenario we want to present to the federal government is a 3 hour 30 minute trip, where the train will travel on average at 155 km/h. The fastest is a trip that takes less than 3 hours, at an average speed of 180 km/h.

For Montreal-Quebec, we work on travel times between 2 hours and 15 minutes and under 1 hour and 30 minutes (it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to drive from downtown to downtown). For Montreal-Ottawa, travel times range from 1 hour 30 minutes to less than 1 hour, while the journey takes 2 hours by car. “It's a big ambition,” says Martin Emplo.

After Mr. Emplo's visit to the Chamber of Commerce, we asked you, dear readers, if you are ready to change your transportation habits with the Quebec-Toronto high-speed train. Of the 87 readers who answered the question, 82 said yes. Few projects receive such support (94%).

In particular, Natasha Beausejour wrote for us: “It is time for Canada to offer alternatives to driving alone and flying to travel on the country's busiest corridors.” See what other readers are saying in the next screen.

At best around 2035

When can we take the famous Quebec-Toronto Express train? If all goes well, somewhere around 2035! Don't be surprised if the project is divided into several phases. This is the optimistic version.

Next step: By the end of 2024, its subsidiary VIA Rail must choose the consortium with which it will develop the project.

Then, sometime in 2025, the VIA Rail subsidiary and the selected consortium will submit to the federal government options to build the new Quebec-Toronto train line. This is when the federal government has to decide how quickly.

Obviously, the faster the train goes, the more expensive the project will be. Once the train reaches a speed of 177 km/h, federal regulations require crossing bridges across cities, which is safer than current crossings.

In the midst of the climate crisis, do we want a high-speed train that will change the way we travel between Toronto and Quebec by offering a fast, carbon-free mass transit option? Or TGF is cheaper, but it will not change our transportation habits, because it does not save time?

To ask a question, is to answer it.

In 2025, the federal government – ​​and perhaps Justin Trudeau's government – ​​will have to choose.

If Pierre Poilievre becomes prime minister, will this be the end of the high-speed train project? Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I think high-speed rail will survive the change of government in Ottawa. Firstly, because it is a very promising and popular project. Like all politicians, Mr. Poilievre likes what is popular with voters. Also in Alberta, the Conservative government led by Daniel Smith is considering the possibility of building a high-speed train between Edmonton, Calgary and Banff. If Ottawa funds both projects, it would be politically difficult to cancel one, let alone two.

In any case, for this long-in-the-making project to become a reality, it will be necessary, one day, to gain the support of both political parties aspiring to govern in Ottawa.

1. Read “Montreal-Toronto in Three Hours or Less”

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  • Between 65 and 80 billion
    In the past, the federal government estimated that a high-speed train covering more than 100% of the distance between Toronto and Quebec could cost between $65 and $80 billion. A high-frequency train traveling at an average speed of 120 kilometers per hour (which would never exceed 177 kilometers per hour) would cost $30 billion.