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High-Speed rail inching along with announcement of Request for Qualifications

Half a century after CN, and later VIA first raised hopes of high-speed rail in Canada with the problem-plagued turbo train, the federal government is taking another step in the high-speed rail quest.  Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant, the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, announced the launch of the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process.

The purpose of the RFQ is to identify and qualify up to three top candidates who will be invited to participate in the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, anticipated to begin in summer 2023. The procurement process will help select a private developer partner to work in collaboration with VIA HFR, the newly created subsidiary of VIA Rail, to design and develop the High Frequency Rail project that would serve the Toronto to Quebec City corridor.

On July 6, 2021, procurement for the Via Rail’s High Frequency Rail was announced. The service is planned to operated between Toronto and Quebec City partly along newly constructed tracks that would  pass through Peterborough, Ottawa, Montreal, Laval, and Trois-Rivières, and partly along existing right of way. The government’s initial announcement envisioned trains operating at a maximum speed 200 km/h (124 mph), but the government has challenged its partners to come up with a design that can reach speeds up to 300 km/h (186 mph). By segregating Via’s passenger rail services from freight lines, travel times in some routes are expected to be reduced by up to 90 minutes, and service reliability is expected to increase from an average of 67% to 95%.

Budget 2022 provided Transport Canada and Infrastructure Canada with close to $400 million over two years, starting in 2022-23, to continue advancing key project activities and undertake the procurement phase of the project.

The next steps in the High Frequency Rail procurement process include:

  • Evaluation of Request for Qualification submissions and identification of Qualified Respondents: April-July 2023
  • Launch of Request for Proposals: August-September 2023
  • Evaluation of Request for Proposal submissions: summer 2024

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