Monday, June 08, 2009

VIA Rail CEO: We’re ready for high speed rail role

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VIA Rail President and CEO Paul Cote says the passenger railroad is prepared for any role in high speed rail pursued by the Canadian government. While waiting, VIA will continue improving its existing system, tapping new capital investment of C$900 million (about US$800 million) since 2007.

"The current investment of $900 million that the government has allowed us to do will help to continue to build that foundation, because that is the key, when the high speed systems comes into play, if the government goes ahead," said Cote, testified last week before Parliament on high speed rail matters. "The ridership of the franchise needs to be built to achieve that."

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Cote told the House of Commons Transport Committee that VIA Rail ridership has increased 33%, and revenue has risen 110%, since 1990 as infrastructure and service improvements have been put in place. "I can assure you that the people at VIA Rail have the competence, the expertise and the motivation (to become a partner in a high speed rail project)," said Cote. "If we are allowed to do this and if the context permits, VIA Rail will be able to show its expertise, quality, and experience developed over all the years."

Cote also said VIA was encouraged by U.S. plans for high speed rail improvements, some of which include rail route directly or indirectly linking with Canadian locales, including Montreal, Vancouver, and Windsor. But Cote said any Canadian HSR approach would be incremental by design. The provincial governments in Quebec and Ontario, along with the federal government, are weighing plans forhigh speed rail linking Quebec City and Windsor that would take a decade tobuild and cost C$18 billion (US$16 billion).

A private consortium of firms, assisted by those governments, is expected  to make recommendations in 2010.

"I know that there is some impatience that some people would like it to be faster," Cote said. "But that's the way the governments decided to go. So we will offer our assistance to make it happen and at the end we will have a very well documented story line for high speed rail."

For now, VIA Rail will continue to use trains that travel up to 160 km/h (100mph) on the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, along rights-of-way shared with freight operations.