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High-speed rail projects take shape in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta

November 1, 2021
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin businesses providing equipment or services to the rail and transportation sectors may find opportunities in the procurement process for several Canadian high-speed rail projects.

Canada’s government announced in July that its planned high-frequency passenger rail service (HFR) has the green light to move forward. Although it’s in the early stages, the high-frequency train will be the largest transportation infrastructure project Canada has seen in decades.

The project was first discussed in 2016, but getting stakeholders on board was a time-consuming endeavor requiring many negotiations. The proposed route is planned to span more than 800 kilometers (497 miles) connecting Canada’s most densely populated corridor—Toronto to Quebec City—with multiple stops in other urban areas. The initiative is a joint project between the Canadian government and VIA Rail Canada, funded in part by the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and a host of private investors. Projected costs range from $4.7 billion USD ($5.9 billion CAD) to $9.6 billion USD ($12.1 billion CAD) for the project, which could be completed and operating in the early 2030s.

The government had intended to start procurement in the fall of 2021; however, due in part to a planning interruption tied to the fall national elections in Canada, the process was delayed. Support for the project is crossing political party lines. An article in the Policy Options digital magazine said the “new train service could be a springboard for a train-centric sustainable post-pandemic transportation network.”

Transport Action Canada said two highlights of the announcements were that “the top speed for HFR had been raised to 200 kilometers per hour and that at least 90% of the route would be electrified.” Upgrading to 200 kilometers per hour is possible, for the most part. “If Transport Canada follows U.S. Federal Railroad Administration practices for Class 7 track standards, some additional crossing protection or replacement with bridges would be required where trains are going to run faster than 177 kilometers per hour,” Transport Action Canada said.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, a similar rail proposal is underway. Construction company EllisDon and multinational engineering firm AECOM formed Prairie Link, a partnership to advance the development of high-speed rail connecting Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary in Alberta. Unlike the HFR project in Ontario and Quebec, the Prairie Link Partnership is solely a private sector initiative.

Prairie Link said it has secured a memorandum of understanding from Alberta Transportation laying the foundation for cooperatively advancing the project’s development. With an estimated capital cost of $7.1 billion USD ($9 billion CAD), the project will be one of the largest transportation developments in Alberta’s history.

Both projects will require a solid network of suppliers and partners to secure success. Wisconsin companies may want to look into the possibility of participating in the rail projects.

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