Via Rail’s return to Peterborough will take even longer now

By Joelle Kovach Examiner Reporter

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Via Rail’s return to Peterborough will take even longer now (

The federal government now plans to take until the mid-2030s — rather than the early 2030s — to set up a passenger railway to stretch from Toronto to Quebec City, with a stop in Peterborough.

And although Peterborough—Kawartha MP Michelle Ferreri says it’s a result of Liberal “incompetence” — adding that Canada needs a new leader — Mayor Jeff Leal says Via Rail is proposing a “mammoth” project that will certainly take time.

It’s a big project, but Ferreri said that’s not the issue: she said sea ports and airports are mired in delayed service, under the Liberal government, and she’s “not surprised in the least” that this same government cannot get its act together to promptly offer high-speed passenger rail.

“This is the type of incompetent service, in terms of our transportation — and all areas of the Liberal government — that we’ve seen,” Ferreri said in an interview with The Examiner.

But Leal said the construction project is large enough that it will absolutely take time.

It’s a huge undertaking, Leal said: he called it Canada’s largest infrastructure project since the construction of the TransCanada Highway or the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“I mean, I don’t think people appreciate the mammoth scale of what’s going to have to be done, here,” he told The Examiner.

At a Montreal press conference Thursday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra mentioned the longer timeline and also told reporters that a request for proposals from three consortiums had made it onto a shortlist.

While the minister has previously pegged the likely cost at between $6 billion and $12 billion, The Canadian Press reported that he declined to put a rough price tag on the undertaking Thursday, stating that the government will first have to assess the proposals.

For Peterborough, the Via Rail proposal is expected to mark a resumption of passenger rail service that was halted the early 1990s.

The Via Rail high-frequency proposal was made in 2019, allowing for more service in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City corridor by using a dedicated line, six years after the Shining Water Railway proposal to run trains between Peterborough and Toronto stalled.

But it’s taking too long for the Conservative MP Ferreri, who was on hand at the Peterborough press conference in March when Alghabra promised a train by the early 2030s — not the mid-2030s.

Alghabra had a chance to be honest at that time, Ferreri said.

“Why not tell people the reality? Why not tell people the truth?” she said.

Instead the government has failed to plan the rail project “properly,” Ferreri said, spurring delays and mounting costs.

“We’ve seen this over and over again. We have a Trudeau government that spends money in all the wrong places,” Ferreri said.

But Leal noted that when the passenger rail service was discontinued in Peterborough, the tracks were ripped up between Havelock and Perth.

“So that rail bed would need to be substantially rebuilt and re-engineered to accommodate high speed, high frequency rail. And that’s a big construction project,” he said.

Furthermore a high-speed train would need to cross both the Trent Canal and Otonabee River in Peterborough; Leal said that could potentially require two new bridges.

The mayor also said it will take “extensive consultation” with First Nation communities to run this track from Quebec City to Toronto, and that will take time.

“As it should,” he said, adding that he remains “pleased” the project is progressing.

However transportation’s in a “crisis” in Canada, Ferreri said, yet this Via project drags on.

“We’ve been talking about this Via Rail, for decades,” Ferreri said. “And so it’s like, just be upfront with people then. Just manage their expectations — and they can’t manage their expectations, because they can’t manage the project effectively.”

Unifor national president Lana Payne also blasted the federal government on Thursday for choosing two foreign state-owned railway companies from Germany and Spain as finalists for building the project.

Unifor, which represents 2,000 Via Rail workers nationally, called on Alghabra to collaborate more with Via Rail workers about the project and urged the preservation of Via Rail’s public ownership.

— with files from The Canadian Press