Canada Launches HFR RFQ

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Canadian Government has issued an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project for the Québec City-Trois-Rivières-Montréal-Ottawa-Peterborough-Toronto corridor.

“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,” Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said. “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 HFR project.”

The RFQ, the next step following the Request for Expressions of Interest that opened in March 2022, launches the formal procurement process. It includes, according to TSB:

  1. “The context and features of the HFR project (e.g., current challenges in the Corridor, purpose of the project, and objectives).
  2. “The procurement process, including the evaluation criteria regarding how proposals will be evaluated, security requirements for candidates, funding support for proposal development during the RFP process, and key principles of the commercial agreement for the execution phase.
  3. “The key players in the project (e.g., VIA HFR, private developer partner, VIA Rail, Government of Canada) and how they will work together.
  4. “Project outcomes that the private developer partner will be expected to meet or exceed (e.g., shorter journey times, more frequent departures, more reliable service, etc.).

“The High Frequency Rail procurement process is designed to encourage innovation, provide flexibility, and identify the optimal solution for the project,” TSB noted. “Therefore, RFQ respondents will have the flexibility to consider alternatives to meet or exceed the project results described in the RFQ. This would include opportunities to increase speeds beyond 200 kph (125 mph) on some segments, if it is cost effective to do so.”

“In addition to leveraging the knowledge and expertise of international private sector companies that have experience developing large-scale infrastructure projects, delivering the HFR project will require substantial Canadian expertise, Canadian labor, and Canadian companies throughout all phases of the project, including construction and operations,” TSB added. “The Government of Canada will be encouraging the private developer partner to maximize economic benefits to Canadians and Canadian suppliers while respecting Canada’s rules-based approach to international trade. [Also,] to qualify as a candidate for the RFP, RFQ respondents will be required to demonstrate a capacity for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples by developing the project to create mutually beneficial, socio-economic development opportunities.”

Overview From TSB/Infrastructure Canada

High Frequency Rail will transform intercity passenger rail in the Québec City to Toronto corridor through a variety of ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Providing more frequent services.
  • Offering more reliable and improved on-time performance.
  • Shortening journey times. For example, travelers will save at least 90 minutes between Toronto and Ottawa.
  • Adding new services to Peterborough and Trois-Rivières. and
  • Providing a greener rail system travel option using electrified technology.

As with any large-scale infrastructure project, the Government of Canada is using a phased approach to leverage input collected throughout the procurement process and to inform the next steps and decisions regarding the implementation of the HFR project.

The Government of Canada is implementing a robust cost management strategy for every phase of the project to ensure costs are contained. This strategy will include annual cost updates, recurring due diligence reviews, and open-book reporting to manage costs and to report changes. Partners will also be incentivized to innovate and seek cost reductions to create better value for money, while protecting the public interest.

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 HFR 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.

The Government of Canada is committed to engaging the public, including communities currently served by VIA Rail between Québec City and Toronto, and forming meaningful, nation-to nation relationships with Indigenous Peoples, to inform the project’s design and development on an ongoing basis. Anyone interested in sharing their views on the project, asking questions, or signing up for project updates is encouraged to visit the VIA HFR website.

The Government of Canada is committed to exploring options to enhance intercity passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario, including increased frequencies. Work is being undertaken to better understand the operating environment in Southwestern Ontario, and to explore options for enhancing service west of Toronto, including London and Windsor.

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