Canadian HFR: From Proposal to Project

Written by David Thomas, Canadian Contributing Editor
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Vernon Barker will head VIA’s High Frequency Rail project. Photo courtesy the Manchester (U.K.) Evening News.

VIA Rail’s proposed High Frequency Rail (HFR) network of dedicated passenger right-of-way linking Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto has moved from plan to project with the appointment of a British railway expert as team director.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported on Nov. 6 that Vernon Barker, formerly with Siemens Rail Systems and FirstGroup in the United Kingdom, will be charged with assembling a full-scale project team as the funding pitch for the C$6 billion electrified line is readied for presentation to managers of Canada’s huge public pension funds.

Barker’s appointment was enabled by C$71 million in “pre-procurement” funding announced last June by VIA Rail and Canada’s young Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Investment bank CEO Pierre Lavalée said at the time the pre-procurement stage would very likely progress to a flurry of tender calls to rail industry suppliers.

A cheaper C$4 billion alternative would see diesel-driven trains ply the route, but that would be inconsistent with Canada’s climate change commitments. The HFR corridor runs through deep-green Quebec and heavily industrialized southern Ontario. Overhead catenary is the obvious environmentally sound choice. Quebec enjoys substantial surpluses of renewable electricity—a legacy of the province’s prescient 1970s binge in building massive hydro power stations in its mid-north.

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